Happy Birthday The Same Sky!

The Same Sky - my travel memoir

The Same Sky – my travel memoir

Wow – a year ago this past weekend was my official book launch of The Same Sky, my travel memoir in Tibet and Southeast Asia after a failed relationship.  Looking back on that special night of the launch held at the splendid Tibet House, I feel blessed that more than 115 people came out for an evening of readings from my book, Q&A and stories from other travel writers.  And it wasn’t just any random audience – they were travel enthusiasts coming together to share the love of culture, exploration and self-reflection.

In the past year since the book launch, I’ve held three more events:  two Same Sky Cafe: Evening of Travel Storytelling in New York and another book launch in Vancouver, my old stomping ground.  There has always been a great turnout of interested travelers who come and listen to travel stories by me and other writers as well as view photography from Bhutan and Cambodia.  Wow the buzz and excitement in the room afterwards!

The night of my book launch a year ago

The night of my book launch a year ago

So why do I bother doing any of this?

To me, I want to pay it forward.

I moved to NY in 2000 feeling brokenhearted, lost and vulnerable after a particularly bad breakup.  I wanted to write about my story and how I escaped with just a backpack and journal to far-flung Tibet, Laos and Cambodia for three months to rediscover myself.  I needed to share what happened and to give hope and peace to others who also suffered calamities of the heart.  Now, years later, I finally published my story that has helped me pay it forward to others through my book and the travel storytelling events I put together.  Not only do I share the love of travel but other main messages surface:  you are not alone.  As you travel along your emotional and physical journey, you meet locals who have experienced war and death, and they can inspire you to believe in a strength you never knew you had.

And if those messages can touch someone’s heart whether through my book or at my event, then it has been well worth the effort.

Here’s to another opportune year for The Same Sky!

My book launch last year

My book launch last year

 

Q&A at my book launch last year

Q&A at my book launch last year

Great turnout of 62+ people at the Same Sky Cafe in NY (June 2014)

Great turnout of 62+ people at the Same Sky Cafe in NY (June 2014)

My book for sale at the events

My book for sale at the events

Book launch in Vancouver

Book launch in Vancouver

Most recent Same Sky Cafe event in Feb 2015 in NYC

Most recent Same Sky Cafe event in Feb 2015 in NYC

Panel discussion about the lure of travel

Panel discussion of travel bloggers about the lure of travel

If you ever want to treat yourself…take a cooking class in Maine!

imageI treated myself this month and took a cooking course all the way up in Camden, Maine for a few days.  Initially, I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if everyone in class was going to be uber amazing with their cooking skills, but as it turned out, everyone in class was very humble, friendly and open to learning.  Hands down, this was the BEST cooking course I had ever taken.

Reason #1:  We got to pick our own vegetables from their garden to make our food.  Not only was Salt Water Farm cooking school right on the water with a distracting gorgeous view, a beautiful expansive garden surrounded the building.  Yes, get on your hands and knees and start picking the kale, lettuce and herbs – we have to make a garden salad!

Pick our veggies and herbs from their abundant garden

We picked our veggies and herbs from their abundant garden

Our finished product:  a garden salad from the garden (literally)

Our finished product: a garden salad from the garden (literally)

Reason #2:  The cooking class was more than just cooking techniques and knifing skills.  We also discussed the importance of good organic eating and how best to buy the right products that are the healthiest for us and the environment.  (mental note:  remove Kraft macaroni and cheese from my cupboard – pronto)

We made a goat cheese kale frittata that was so delicious and easy to make

We made a goat cheese kale frittata that was so delicious and easy to make

Reason #3:  The instructor Annmarie was so patient as us “type A” New-Yawkers and Bostonians in the room peppered her with questions all at once.  She was so patient and she always answered with such great detail.  I learned a lot!  Including how to make the crust on this delicious blueberry pie.
imageSeriously, it was the best blueberry pie I’ve ever had.  When we all had sat down to eat later, I was tempted to get a second piece but I didn’t want to look like a pig!

imageSo overall, the class was great and I learned a lot about seafood and cooking procedures.  Did you know that you can bake a fish in the oven for just 6 minutes and then it continues to cook for a few more minutes after you take it out of the oven?  all this time I’ve been over-cooking my fish and smelling up the apartment.

The best part about the course was that I never felt it was too complicated or difficult to replicate at home.  Super easy and I can’t wait to try the recipes at home.

We made this delicious seafood stew with lobster, fish, clams and squid.  Super easy!

We made this delicious seafood stew with lobster, fish, clams and squid. Super easy!

One last note…I almost didn’t make it to this course.  Why?  I was faced with taking a small 6-seater plane from Boston to Rockland and I freaked out.  I was so afraid!  Alas, good weather and a patient pilot who let me sit behind him on the plane, plus an elderly woman who held my hand saved the day and I arrived safely to take my cooking class.  Yeah!

Smallest plane I've ever been on!

Smallest plane I’ve ever been on!

 

Eating a Japadog in Vancouver and other food highlights

These mussels are to die for - so fresh and delicious.

These mussels are to die for – so fresh and delicious.

One of my favorite pastimes when I visit Vancouver is EATING at all my favorite restaurants.  I tick off the food on my “to eat” checklist during my limited days in Vancouver.  Plus I pair the eating with meeting family & friends, and voila!  I couldn’t be happier.

1.  Best Mussels Ever – Blue Canoe (Steveston, BC)

When my sister Sharon and I first tried these itty-bitty pieces of heaven last year, I demanded that we come back again.  The mussels in cream sauce melted in my mouth.  We were told that their seafood including their mussels are caught fresh every morning and with the restaurant right on the Steveston dock, you can’t get fresher than that.  The fries were also fabulous.

2.  Best Value for Breakfast – “The Boss” or Dai Ban (Metrotown or Chinatown)

My mom and I have been going to “The Boss” for years, just for breakfast. Where else can you get two fried eggs, a small piece of steak, a breakfast bun, a small bowl of noodle soup & a tea for $6.50? This Hong Kong style cafe reminds me of NYC diners with the multi-page menus serving all kinds of international food 24 hours a day.  To top it off, the food tastes excellent and it’s mine and my mom’s favorite breakfast place when I visit.

I remembered years ago when my hubby Eduardo first went to Vancouver to “meet the parents”.  He must’ve passed with flying colors because my mom pulled me aside after the first day and said “Let’s take Eduardo to ‘The Boss’ restaurant.”  The rest is history.

The famous Japadog food truck in Vancouver!

The famous Japadog food truck in Vancouver!

3.  Best Exotic Hotdog – the Japadog Food Truck!

Admittedly, when I heard that Vancouver now has a Japadog food truck, I found it odd.  So off we went to check it out in Kitsilano, where the brightly colored truck sat on the curb.  I perused the menu.  Shrimp tempura nestled between 2 buns? (My niece Jadyn tried it – not too bad!)  Yaki soba in lieu of the hot dog?  I finally picked the one I did want called “Okonomi” with teriyaki sauce and bonito fish flakes that decorated the juicy sausage.  My sister Sharon tried the Terimayo with teriyaki sauce, seaweed and mayonnaise on top.  Yum!

My nieces and I in front of the Japadog food truck in Kitsilano

My nieces and I in front of the Japadog food truck in Kitsilano

The list goes on and on…chances are you’ll get a fab meal at most places in Vancouver.  Richmond is famous for their Chinese cuisine and it’s also very affordable. Sushi restaurants galore – Ebisu in Richmond and Vancouver is a crowd-pleaser.  I also dined at a tiny local sushi place in Dunbar with my friend Jenny and the fish was so fresh and tasty that I didn’t want to leave.  East is East has the best chai tea and my sister Sharon and I loved their lunch  thali specials.  Ahhhh….Vancouver never disappoints!

 

 

Cezare – an Old Friend & His Message of Hope

Eduardo, Maria and Cezare

Eduardo, Maria and Cezare

As soon as we walked in the door, Cezare shouted enthusiastically:  “Please, sit down!”  “You must stay for a long time!” and “Please, you will have lunch with us!”  Then came the food:  BBQ pork ribs, cheese, salad, bread and saucisson.

“Oh my god, we just ate at IHOP.  I can’t eat any of this,” said my stepdaughter Prescilla through clenched teeth.

“Ssshh,” I said.  “Let’s be nice to Daddy’s friend.  They haven’t seen each other in years.”

Earlier that day, we were driving through Matawan, NJ where my husband Eduardo had lived for 12 years during his previous marriage.  So many memories, I thought as he pointed out his old hang-out spots.  Then we drove past a house with its neatly manicured lawns and colorful flowers that decorated the front.

“He’s alive!” he said.  “Let’s go in and visit.”

Cezare was Eduardo’s neighbor and their back lawns used to be connected.  At 85 years old, Cezare was still strong as an ox and cared for his garden long after retiring as a landscaper. For more than a decade, their friendship strengthened.  After spending hours doing yard work, the men would relax and chat over homemade wine and eat his famous grilled Sicilian ribs.

Then over time, as his marriage started to disintegrate, Eduardo spent less time taking care of his backyard.  Cezare saw less of his friend, and then the visits stopped altogether when Eduardo moved away to NYC.  That was eight years ago.

A delicious Italian lunch for us (that was our second lunch that day!)

A delicious Italian lunch for us (that was our second lunch that day!)

Cezare couldn’t stop beaming the moment we walked in.  First the look of surprise at seeing his old friend after all these years.  Then a flurry of English, Spanish and Italian words as they caught up on each other’s lives.  They understood each other and that’s what mattered.  Eduardo looked so happy to be reunited with his old friend.

When Cezare first greeted me, he pulled me close and kissed me on the cheek.  Then he shook my hand so firmly that I thought it was going to fall off.  He looked great for his age and I could tell from his tanned face and weathered skin that he still spent most of his waking hours outside taking care of his beautiful garden.

His wife Maria was lovely too – she was a plump Italian mom who couldn’t stop serving us food.  “You married good man,” she told me with her thumbs up.

During our meal, in broken English, Cezare shared about his grandson getting married and how it was harder for him to get around and take care of his garden now that he was older.  “Your baby?” he asked, probably referring to how Eduardo had a little baby at the time.  He laughed and pointed at Prescilla, “She’s not a baby anymore.  She’s 14!”

After much eating (after all, it was our second lunch!), and  as we were getting ready to leave, Cezare looked pensive.  He quietly asked what had happened.  Eduardo said that back then he had to leave, that his marriage had ended and he needed to move on.  I sensed the feeling of loneliness that Cezare must’ve felt years ago when his friend had left without saying goodbye.  And that for many years, he probably wondered if Eduardo was happy and If he’d ever see his dear friend again.  He was like a son to him.

Then Cezare patted Eduardo on the back and said, “Ah you happy.  You have new family.  Good!”  Then he boomed out an Italian phrase with the words “prima vida” over and over again as we headed to the car.

Later I asked Eduardo what Cezare had said before we left.  He grinned and said, “After a difficult period, sometimes you reach the prime of your life.”

Yes, I think that’s true.

 

 

Arm-Wrestling with a Tibetan Monk

Who won this arm-wrestling match?

Who won this arm-wrestling match?

I came across this old photo and a flood of memories came back:  I was  arm-wrestling with a Tibetan monk at a Buddhist monastery just outside of Lhasa.  What started off as a joke turned into a serious arm-wrestling match.  And when I lost (even after using both arms), I had to down a cup of yak butter tea, which was a strange concoction of bitter tea with a thick film of yak butter on top.  Not too tasty.  But I was glad to drink it because all the monks I met were so good-natured and generous.  I found the Tibetans to have a wonderful sense of humor and a positive attitude, despite the hardships they often face.  Moments like these remind me of how the best parts of traveling are not so much the places we see, but the rich and heartfelt experiences we share with the locals.