The New Landscape in Iowa

Iowa wind turbine
Planting crops around the wind turbine, farmers reap the benefits of both the soil and wind.

Entering Iowa from the northwest corner, hundreds of wind turbines rise majestically from the endless corn and soybean fields that are a staple of the Iowa landscape. Pulling into an access road, we drive up to a newly installed wind turbine that looks like it is ready to be commissioned. It is a GE wind turbine, and the GE on-site engineer has obvious pride as he describes the wind turbine specs, design, and geology of the area that makes this site so amenable to wind power generation.

He explains that this wind turbine is located on the Coteau des Prairies, sometimes referred to as Buffalo Ridge. The ridge is composed of thick glacial deposits that gently rise to about 900 feet, from the surrounding prairie flatlands.  The ridge runs eastward, from eastern South Dakota, through southwestern Minnesota, and northwestern Iowa. Numerous wind farms have been built along the ridge to take advantage of the high average wind speeds.

Iowa wind power accounts for about 20% of the electricity generated in the state and leads the US in percentage of electrical power generated by wind. Wind turbines will produce from 12 to 16 times more revenue per acre than corn or soybeans. And farmers can plant crops around the wind turbine, reaping the benefits of both. In addition, in the winter, winds are stronger, generating much needed revenue while the fields lay fallow.

Harn Soper of Soper Farms
Harn Soper at the site of Soper Farms organic vegetable operation
popcorn taster
Jarret, the facilities and livestock manager, with his daughter.

Meanwhile, we are on our way to Soper Farms in Emmetsburg, Iowa. This is the family farm of our friend, Jon. Soper Farms is a family-run enterprise, boasting 69 stockholders, ranging in age from 1 year to 90 years. They have served as absentee landlords of some 1,000 noncontiguous acres in Iowa. Jon’s cousin, Harn Soper, is in the process of converting 260 acres of Soper Farms from conventional corn and soybean row crops to organic vegetables and livestock. As Harn says at his website:

Without the hand of man getting in the way, nature very effectively creates, balances and evolves. It does so with all life forms interacting together. As farmers we have a choice between manipulating nature and managing nature in our pursuit to feed ourselves.

Our current farming model has evolved over many years onto a path of manipulation using GMO seeds and oil-based fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides as substitutes to nature’s abundant ability to nourish. As we’ve learned, this path, however well intentioned, has had a debilitating impact on our environment, our soil and the water upon which our farms depend.  The plan that we are building today follows the restorative path to manage nature as a partner so we too may create, balance and evolve.

chicken dog
Soper Farms official "chicken dog" trying to get to his hens.

Soper Farms’ five-year plan includes building a grass-fed cow/calf operation that harvests 160 organic cattle and 9,000 organic pastured chickens per year. Plans also include adding 80 acres of organic vegetable production to their operation.

We needed a farm store and the McNally’s Bake Shop building was a perfect fit,” Soper said. While the organic farm is the centerpiece of the endeavor, there is another side to the operation—an outlet for the farm’s produce. Soper  purchased the McNally Bake Shop building in Emmetsburg, and is converting the upper level to offices for sales and marketing and the development of value-added products like baked goods, cheese, and meat. Soper Farms intends to provide organic products for food stores and restaurants in the immediate area as well as food markets within a four-hour radius. The bakery will continue on the first floor and will expand to include a deli that will offer their fresh produce, beef, and chicken.

soper farm farmers
Jarret, his daughter and grandfather - 4 generations of this family are involved on the farm.

As you may have guessed, local farming and local food are an interest of ours, and as we drive across the country, Jay is reading aloud a very engaging book – Ben Hewitt’s, The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, published in 2010. It tells the story of a rural, working-class Vermont community -Hardwick, Vermont – that is attempting to blueprint and implement a localized food system. Book reviewer James Glave says it well:

This is what I love about The Town That Food Saved. It celebrates the possible and the necessary, it reveals the wonderful relationships and connections borne of an almost-complete local food system, but doesn’t shy from the enormity and messiness of the task. It reveals the rough outlines of how we might “take back” our food without descending into over-simplified strategies and pat advice about starting community gardens. What’s happening in Hardwick is less a conscious movement, and more a set of historical precedents embraced by a handful of eccentrics that happen to line up in the same direction. It’s an almost accidental critical mass, flailing its way forward.

Hewitt has written a second book – Making Supper Safe – here he exposes the vulnerabilities inherent to the US food industry, where the majority of our processing facilities are inspected only once every seven years, and where government agencies lack the necessary resources to act on early warning signs. The most dangerous aspect of our food system isn’t just its potential to make us acutely ill, but the ever expanding distance between us and our sources of nourishment. Hewitt introduces a vibrant cast of characters and revolutionaries who are reinventing how we grow, process, package, distribute, and protect our food, and even how we protect ourselves.

Ben and his family live in a self-built, solar-powered house in Cabot, Vermont, and operate a 40-acre livestock, vegetable, and berry farm. Check out his blog about life on the farm:  Ben Hewitt – The Future’s in the Dirt.

Writing about Ben’s books reminds me of the Andy Couturier book:  A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance, which 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. Read my post Japan – Lessons in Simple Living for more details.

Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota

Allen's Rocket Motel, Custer, SD
Allen's Rocket Motel in Custer, SD (photo by Brian Butko)

Arriving late in Custer, SD we happen upon the Rocket Motel. Located in downtown Custer within walking distance of restaurants & shops, and with the coolest lobby we have seen so far, we take a room. The decor is black and white with a pristine white cotton bedspread and very fun black & white check curtains in the bathroom. It is as the LA Times says “immaculately maintained 1950’s motel.” Rates start at $70 in summer and $50 in winter, and the Crazy Horse Memorial is just a five minute drive north in the Black Hills.

Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, SD
Crazy Horse sculpture with Memorial in background

As I sit here writing and researching, I learn that the second “night blast” of the year at the Crazy Horse Memorial will be tonight – Sept. 6 – in observance of dual anniversaries; the 1877 death of Lakota leader Crazy Horse and the commemoration of the 104th birth date of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski born in 1908… an auspicious day.

Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948. The Memorial’s mission is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians. Outside on the deck of the Welcome Center is the sculpture that Ziolkowski created depicting the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, seated on his horse and pointing over the horse’s head saying “My lands are where my dead lie buried”. The mountain carving is a very large duplicate of Ziolkowski’s sculpture and is breathtaking to see in person. The size and scale of the mountain sculpture is hard to grasp. Just the head is as big as all of Mount Rushmore. The opening under Crazy Horse’s arm is the height of a 10-story building.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial on a glorious sunny day

Numerous accounts of Crazy Horse exist. Manataka American Indian Council has a brief biography online and Jay has read two books he recommends:

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen, the author tells the story of the treatment of North American Indians since European settlers arrived. Through interviews, attendance at Indian ceremonies and extensive research, he shares details of life for many tribes, both then and now.

Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by John G. Neihardt is widely hailed as a religious classic. Jay read from it as we traveled, and the story told by Black Elk is gripping, powerful, and full of fascinating first person history – growing from young boy to Lakota elder, the narrative includes “you are there” accounts of Lakota life, Black Elk’s visions, his travels to England where Black Elk met the queen, and much more. From the back cover:

This inspirational and unfailingly powerful story reveals the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West. In 1930, the aging Black Elk met a kindred spirit, the famed poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881-1973) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota elder chose Neihardt to share his visions and life with the world. Black Elk’s remarkable great vision came to him during a time of decimation and loss, when outsiders were stealing the Lakotas’ land, slaughtering buffalo, and threatening their age-old way of life. As Black Elk remembers all too well, the Lakotas, led by such legendary men as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, fought unceasingly for their freedom, winning a world-renowned victory at the Little Bighorn and suffering unspeakable losses at Wounded Knee.

As we leave the Custer area headed for Bear Butte, our next stop is the Sugar Shack just south of Deadwood, SD, located on US Highway 385. Our host at the Rocket Motel spoke very highly of this burger joint and was envious that we would be eating there today.

Sugar Shack in Deadwood, SD
Sugar Shack on highway 385, just south of Deadwood, SD

I go for it and order the “Bubba Burger” – the 1/2 pound homemade burger comes with pepper cheese, grilled onions, thick smokey bacon, jalapenos, and BBQ sauce (they happily serve it without a bun so it is gluten-free). Jay chooses a swiss cheese burger with grilled onions. The patties are juicy and delicious. The story is that the current owner – Kerri “Bubba” Johnston – has changed the recipe slightly since it first opened — all of the employees agree that the current recipe is the best it has ever been – works for us, we are two happy campers!


Historic Wallace, Idaho

creekside camping, Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
Relaxing in the quiet of the morning

After a surprisingly good nights sleep in our CRV camper we resume the drive east. Driving along Interstate 90, about 45 minutes past Coeur D’Alene, we decide to check out historic Wallace, Idaho. What a delightful surprise. The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and whole blocks in the business district have remained virtually intact for a hundred years or more.

Historic Smoke House BBQ and Saloon
Historic Smoke House BBQ and Saloon

Located in the silver mining area of northern Idaho, mining began here in the 1880’s and by 1900 Wallace became the hub of one of the world’s richest mining districts. Since 1884, the district had produced 1.2 billion ounces of silver. Miners still mine the mountains for silver and today old mines are being reopened.

Red Light Garage in Wallace, Idaho
Red Light Garage in Wallace, Idaho
red light garage, wallace, idaho
Red Light Garage proprietor, Jamie Baker

Thirsty after walking around town, the Red Light Garage catches our eye. A very friendly waitress makes us Arnold Palmers (iced tea and lemonade) as we sit at the counter and take in the collections (vintage musical instruments, license plates…) that decorate the restaurant and antique store. Soon we are talking with the owner, Jamie Baker, who is a local historian. He tells us the story of May Arkwright Hutton a suffrage leader and political activist, talks about the mining wars, and we wind up the conversation with the forest fire of 1910 that burned half of Wallace. Some of you may know the book written about the fire by Timothy Egan – The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. The largest wildfire in American history, based on size. In less than two days, it torched more than three million acres, burned five towns to the ground, and killed nearly one hundred people.

railroad station, Wallace, ID
Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum in Wallace, ID

Many stories emerged from the big burn. One of the most well known is Ranger Ed Pulaski’s heroic rescue of his crew in a mine tunnel. Holding his men there at gunpoint overnight, Pulaski managed to save all but 6 of his 45 men. In the 100+ years since the fire, the trail Pulaski’s crew used to escape became overgrown and almost impossible to locate. Then, in 2002, a local group partnered with the US Forest Service  to save the trail and mine site. The Pulaski Tunnel Trail trailhead lies about a half-mile south of Wallace on Moon Pass Road and is a moderately challenging two mile trail along the creek with large format signs along the way recounting the history of the fire.

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

New York City

Ice pops made from anything brewed: tea, root beer, espresso; markets galore – artisan, farmers, flea, antique; and exploring Brooklyn… here are some fun tips on the big Apple.

New York’s New Frozen Treats

“I HAD never been so grateful to see a banana. Peeled and skewered, just plucked from the freezer, it was nearly smoking from the cold. It was then plunged into molten chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt and slowly twirled under a shower of crushed almonds.”

36 Hours in Brooklyn

Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, is a destination in its own right. Ideas are where to stay, what to do and where to eat.

Markets of New York City: A Guide to the Best Artisan, Farmer, Food, and Flea Markets

markets of new york cityThis lovely little book is a guide to the traditional, charming and edgy markets of New York City: antique and flea markets, artisan markets, farmers’ markets, seasonal markets, and more. Markets of New York City also includes recommendations for great food in and around the markets and suggested routes for full or half-day excursions.

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.

Art Exhibits throughout the US in 2011

Norman Rockwell No Swimming
Norman Rockwell's No Swimming

“The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they’re always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.”

This sentiment by Norman Rockwell relates to travel as well… and we often incorporate a visit to a museum in our travels. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell is a gem and showing at the Tacoma Art Museum until May 30, 2011. Though there is a comprehensive collection of original magazine covers, we were especially drawn to his 44 paintings – as the museum states “unforgettable images of the innocence, courage, history and hopes of American life in the 20th century.” This is a traveling exhibit that warrants a visit. A good family experience… we took our somewhat reluctant nieces, ages 11 & 14, and they loved it. Future museum hosts are listed at the Norman Rockwell Museum website.

The catalog, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, traces the evolution of Rockwell’s art throughout his career – from reflections on childhood innocence in such paintings as No Swimming (1921) to powerful, consciousness-raising images like The Problem We All Live With (1964), which documented the traumatic realities of desegregation in the South.

Promising Exhibitions From Coast to Coast is a great resource article at the New York Times for a list of “promising” art exhibits around the country this year – many of them opening this summer. Here is a sampling:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you are visiting this year…  it can be enriching, educational and inspiring.


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

Osoyoos, British Columbia, in the Okanagan Valley

We are off to the Okanagan Valley. Driving through the North Cascades National Park on Route 20 in Washington State is a treat in the fall. This is Jays first time, so I drive to give him ample opportunity to take in everything. Near the summit we round a curve just as two bear cubs scurry over the far side of the road. We just glimpse their rears and cute furry tails.

Heading to Osoyoos, BC we pass through Winthrop, WA and stop in one of my favorite little towns – Twisp. The Cinnamon Twisp Bakery beckons like the sirens, and we head in for a hot cup of coffee and some lunch. After a delicious black bean/corn salad we are on the road again, nearing our intersection with Route 97, our path north to British Columbia. Only 85 miles to go.

Spirit Ridge Resort
Spirit Ridge Resort and NK' Mip Cellars appear beyond the grapevines and sagebrush.

Slowly the terrain turns to desert as we head north. We arrive in Osoyoos, British Columbia late afternoon. Just 5 minutes north of the US Border, the town of 5,000 is located on Osoyoos Lake, and surrounded by grasslands, highlands and mountains. As we make our way around the lake toward Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa, New Mexico and Santa Fe come to mind. Indeed, this region is Canada’s only desert and is dotted with sagebrush and cactus.

Drawn to autumn colors and quiet, we arrive in the Okanagan Valley just after the Fall Wine Festival. Still time to enjoy the warm October days and the benefit of lower rates at the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa.

spirit ridge resort sculpture
Dynamic metal sculptures populate the resort.

Ready to stretch our legs after a day of driving, we check in, then walk over to the NK’Mip Cellars tasting room. Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep) is owned and operated by the Okanagan People, one of Canada’s First Nations. While enjoying their Pinot Noir and Merlot, we learn that the NK’Mip Cultural Center is located within the resort compound as well, and make a note to check it out in the morning.

Passatempo is Latin for “passing the time,” and this bistro-style restaurant at Spirit Ridge Resort is the perfect place to finish the day. Good food and good wine with my sweetie. Plus, a panoramic view of Lake Osoyoos, the vineyards, and the desert. We are offered seating on the patio or indoors, and choose an indoor table by the window. Our lovely waitress helps me choose a Filet entree with Juniper sauce, mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables that is gluten-free. Jay decides on the Rack of Lamb. Both are beautifully presented, delicious, and enjoyed with glasses of Merlot, chosen after a small tasting of red wines. Many of the ingredients are locally grown and organic. (We return the next day for lunch and share a fresh Seafood Caesar Salad and delectable Polenta with fresh local corn).

spirit ridge grapevine
We take a path through the vineyard on our walk up from the lake.

After coffee and tea at a carryout across the way, we begin the second day with a brisk walk down to the lake and back in the cool morning air. The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is just opening as we return from our walk. The state-of-the-art interpretive centre is an architectural marvel sensitively constructed into the hillside. Extensive indoor and outdoor exhibit galleries create a fun, interactive learning environment with hands-on displays, education stations and two multi-media theatre experiences.

Warrior sculpture at Spirit Ridge Resort
Warrior sculpture welcomes visitors to the NK'Mip Cultural Center

We take our time looking at the exhibits (inside & outside) and discovering the fascinating stories and rich living culture of the Okanagan people. The outdoor area exhibits are amazing – we marvel at the metal sculptures. Then we buy two cold bottles of water and head out to explore the two kilometers of walking trails they have created. Enjoying the smell of the sage grasslands and pine forests along the way.

NK'Mip cultural center at Spirit Ridge
Outdoor exhibit at the NK'Mip Cultural Center at Spirit Ridge
spirit ridge cultural center woman harvesting
Another fantastic metal sculpture of a woman harvesting
spirit ridge cultural center spirit animals
Spirit animal sculpture at the Cultural Centre

As you can tell, we are walkers… but you could also spend time at the Sonora Desert Spa, or golfing at Sonora Dunes Golf Course, both at here at Spirit Ridge. And we are wine lovers, so we have a late lunch and go wine tasting.

Our favorite vineyards, all about 10 km north of Osoyoos in the Black Sage Bench area:

  • Church and State
  • Hester Creek Estate Winery
  • Oliver Twist Estate Winery
  • Stoneboat Vineyards
  • Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, where we have a delicious and romantic dinner that night in the Sonora Room Restaurant. Jay dines on the special, a perfectly grilled pork chop served with a homemade pasta incorporating fresh squash and cabbage served with a cider, calvados, beef stock and butter sauce. Outrageous! I have the Fraser Valley Duck Breast, equally sublime, with roasted new potatoes and autumn vegetables. This night all diners receive a complimentary appetizer of Jingle Bell Red Peppers filled with cheese and a complimentary dessert – mini squash creme brulee. Good thing we walked a lot today. And yes, we savored a bottle of Burrowing Owl Merlot, I think it was a 2007, but not sure. Excellent.


Fresh from the Okanagan Valley and Joie Farms is an inspiring new cookbook ~  MENUS from an ORCHARD TABLE: Celebrating the Food and Wine of the Okanagan by Heidi Noblemenus from an orchard tableA collection of outstanding seasonal recipes from Joie Wines and Farm Cooking School’s renowned outdoor orchard dinners. Menus for an Orchard Table allows readers to re-create some of Joie’s most extraordinary dishes, with essays on the Okanagan’s wine country cuisine and superb photography. The recipes are divided into the courses served at Joie’s orchard dinners, which balance regional wines with the accompanying dishes. Among the selections are Chilled heirloom yellow tomato soup garnished with tomato confit and chive oil, Country lamb and olive terrine with Joie pear and shallot compote and brioche, and the Bittersweet Chocolate Tarte with port. Unfortunately, the cooking classes are no longer offered, but the spirit lives on in her cookbook.

Notes from our travels to Tokyo

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 Tokyo… Kyoto will follow.

Arriving in a foreign land is surreal. We board a plane that climbs to 35,000 feet, cruises for hours and then the door opens and we are half way across the globe. Amazing. Tokyo is amazing. Spreading for miles – seemingly never-ending, populated in numbers beyond conception, yet mostly experienced as orderly and clean.

The train station is where the vast sums of people are apparent. We experience Shinagawa Station during morning rush hour when thousands of Japanese head to the office clad in dark suits and white shirts. A low buzz of sound like an active beehive filled the air as orderly masses approached the precision run trains. Shinagawa, one of the oldest stations in Tokyo, opened on June 12, 1872. It is very near the hotel we are in. Mastery of the train system is useful as taxis are very expensive.

This is my first visit to Japan and the toilet in our hotel room is a main source of interest: heated toilet seat, button on toilet for bidet, we think, one button with male symbol and another for female – pushed female lots of action in bowl but nothing interacted with me. We are impressed with their energy efficiency, as you enter the room you insert your key/card into a slot that activates electricity – everything turns off when you leave and remove your key.

The hotel includes breakfast – extensive buffet options – very international with familiar western options of eggs, bacon and an extensive Japanese buffet with miso soup, fish, rice…

Easter Sunday we take the JR train to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family. Cherry blossoms, blooming azaleas and rhododendrons fill the gardens.

Tokyo Imperial Palace Garden with cityscape in the background
Tokyo Imperial Palace Gardens with cityscape in the background
Tokyo Imperial Palace Garden
Idyllic pond in the Tokyo Imperial Palace Garden
View of Tokyo Imperial Palace
View of the moated Tokyo Imperial Palace

Lunch is fun. We find a noodle soup place in the lower level of an office building with customers coming and going. We select and pay for our soup at a machine, then give the token/receipt we receive to someone at the counter. We can see the cooks in action behind her. A few minutes later a big bowl of steaming broth with rice noodles and chicken arrives. Tasty and cheap.

Full and satisfied we walk to the Ginza area. We are drawn to the elegant and historic Mitsukoshi department store. I read up on the history and learn it was founded in 1673 as a kimono shop, ten years later in 1683, the owners took a new approach to marketing, and instead of selling by going door-to-door, they set up a store where buyers could purchase goods on the spot with cash. My favorite floor is the  food department on the lower level – a wow! A bazaar of food with Harrod’s and many other Japanese food specialists.

Tokyo Street Scene
Tokyo street scene a la Beatles Abbey Road Album

Monday – Jay is working and I take a cab to Shinjuku – this is the area Lost in Translation was filmed. High energy, Times Square like. I walk through Tokyo Hands – our friend David’s favorite store – with everything from stationery to nails. I buy some lovely rice paper and a bag of tiny shells. Shinjuku is divided – the east side is constant chaos – shopping, eating, lots of young people. While the west side is high rises, luxury hotels and government buildings. With an estimated population of over 300,000 Shinjuku is a city in it’s own right.

Tuesday on my own, I take a cab back to the Ginza area. Mostly walk around, people watch and window shop. I check out Matsuya department store where I find an area devoted to Japanese artisans – many are present to talk about their work – paintings, prints, textiles, pottery.

Later I head to the Okura Museum of Art on the grounds of the lovely, historic Okura Hotel. The museum has an austere atmosphere, only a few people are present – offering a calm respite from the downtown energy.

Tokyo Okura Museum Sculpture
Ancient stone sculpture at the Okura Museum in Tokyo

From the hotel website I read the museum’s history: Back in 1917, an avid collector of Buddhist artwork by the name of Kihachiro Okura established, on his own land, a museum in which to hold and display his treasures. Over the years, this collection was added to by his son, the founder of Hotel Okura, Baron Kishichiro Okura, whose interests included modern Japanese painting, or Nihonga. Today, the Okura Shukokan Museum of Fine Arts houses some 2,000 items and 35,000 volumes — a collection that contains a number of officially registered National Treasures, Important Cultural Objects, and Important Art Objects.

Evening energy levels rise in Tokyo. Apartments are small and utilitarian, so many seek camaraderie with friends and co-workers in the bars after a long day at the office. Nightly we witness the packed tables, shrouded in cigarette smoke, everyone animatedly talking and drinking. It’s worth enduring the smoke to experience the high energy.

As often happens after a trip my antennae are tuned to that country. So when I come across a positive review for The Haiku Apprentice – a memoir by an American diplomat who joins a haiku group in Japan – I am on it. The book is not written to teach haiku yet I find myself dabbling in the medium as I read along during my commute and learning more about the country and people I have just visited.


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

New Zealand Travel Books

Good travel books can be an essential ingredient for trip preparation as well as a ready reference while on the road. Though there are other travel books on New Zealand, the three below were the ones we used for planning our trip. We ended up packing them all, and used them almost every day as we roamed around the country.

You may click on the book images or titles below for more product information and reviews at Amazon.com.

Eyewitness Travel Guide: New Zealand

This guide presents a visual tour of New Zealand. Every page has multiple color photographs so I recommend it to the visually inclined, like myself. The images got me psyched for the adventure ahead. This book is packed with information. As most guide books do, it begins with an overview of NZ including the landscape, flora & fauna but also featuring architecture, National parks & reserves, Maori culture & art, NZ artists & writers, wines, and sporting events. The bulk of the book divides NZ into seven areas with excellent street maps of the major downtown areas and roads maps of interesting areas with suggestions of what to see and do. Geared toward culture more so than off the beaten path adventure. A small guide that easily fits in a purse or day pack.

National Geographic Traveler: New Zealand

Our first time using a National Geographic guide book. The author devotes a good 50 pages to the history of NZ and the Maori culture with perspectives of the two islands in terms of the arts & literature, food & drink, and land & landscape. He then divides the two islands into nine areas and interweaves history, interesting facts and tips throughout the book in sidebars. This is a medium size book that’s easy to pop in a day pack. There are color photographs but they are small and fewer than might be expected from National Geographic.

Fodor’s: New Zealand

Fodor’s was a gift from a good friend. Due to it’s size we were not planning to bring it along. Once in hand we appreciated all the detail and information it contained so we packed it as well, knowing that traveling by car made it a little easier to have extra stuff.

Other New Zealand Travel Books

Other guide books for New Zealand worth checking out include: New Zealand Driving HolidaysFootprint New Zealand, Frommers New ZealandLonely Planet’s New Zealand (Country Guide) or Lonely Planet’s New Zealand’s South Island (Regional Guide).