Tuesday, September 29, 2015

World Piece: Two Weeks in Switzerland

I left off with my blogging (and again, my apologies for not keeping up with it!) in Switzerland, where I arrived on July 29. I landed in the country’s capital of Bern, depleted from a debilitating stomach bug I picked up somewhere between Lebanon and Greece, and stayed with my lifelong friend Uschi Kamer for two weeks. We called her apartment “Kurhaus Kamer” as it really did serve like a true Kurhaus, a medical-spa-like place to recuperate.

Once I got rested enough, I boosted my immune system with exercise, biking around the medieval cobblestoned city, hiking up the Gurten Mountain (2800 ft above sea level) behind Uschi’s apartment to view the Alps, and --my favorite-- swimming in the glacial waters of the Aare River, bobbing downstream at a pace faster than a bicycle, only to climb out, walk back upstream, and float down again.
The magical glacial waters of the Aare River.
Swimming in this river is not for sissies!
After I weaned myself off my restricted diet of boiled white rice and Gatorade, we ate healthy homemade meals with staples that included Gruyere cheese, chocolate, red wine and apple pie.
The pies of Switzerland. So many choices, so little time.

Looking toward France.
We made some day trips to the countryside, to the Jura region on the French border, where we toured castles and cheese factories, lunched on trout, and practiced our French. Tout va bien! We made apple pie at Uschi’s family cabin and invited other family members up to share it.
Uschi's mom made a Schlafrockaepfel.  An apple stuffed with sugar & nuts
and baked in a "bathrobe." This was the most-viewed Facebook post on my trip.
We made a banana cream pie and took the bike to the train to the bus to the Land Rover to get to Uschi’s friend Monika’s farmhouse where we ate it with lunch. At the farm we got to meet Monika’s animal kingdom, tallying up the count to about 24 between the 3 sheep (freshly sheered by Monika to spin the wool and knit sweaters, of course), 4 new baby goats, cats, dogs, chickens, and turtles. We worked off the pie — and Monika’s homemade apple-hazelnut cake — by hiking up a boulder-strewn river bed.
Swiss Gothic.
Lunch in the mountains was a cultural exchange:
Uschi, Monika, Monika's mom, with American pie...and Swiss cake.

In between all the outdoor adventures, I took in plenty of Bern's cultural offerings. Uschi and I spent an evening watching jugglers, musicians, acrobats and other street performers at the Buskers Festivals.

Then I went to a free outdoor concert with another friend, Bobi, and we bumped into an acquaintance of hers, an older woman named Susanne. When I told Susanne I was currently on a round-the-world trip she said, “Oh, I did that. For my 70th birthday.” Just when I was thinking I had overestimated my strength and stamina, wishing I had done this big trip in my 20s or 30s and not at 53, along comes this beaming ray of light who I am convinced was placed in my path to remind me: You are NEVER too old. It is NEVER too late. Get out there and do it. Keep going.

It was the message I needed to hear at exactly that time, because after being so ill, as well as drained from hauling my 50-pound beast of a suitcase from country to country, I was contemplating cutting my trip short. But Susanne’s positive energy gave me the impetus to keep going.
This is the world traveler Susanne. She doesn't look over 70. She doesn't even look over 50!
I needed all the motivation I could get, as my next stop was Germany, the place I had been anticipating with a quiet dread. It was the place where my late husband was from, the place we had lived together, the place I had not been back to since his funeral six years earlier. But Marcus’s frequent flyer miles had made my round-the-world trip possible. And I was determined to honor him. And so….I booked my train ticket, left the peace and beauty and healing place of Bern behind and headed north to Deutschland.

Continued in the next post....


Saturday, August 1, 2015

World Piece Recap -- 2/3 of the way through

I’m two-thirds of the way through my 3-month World Piece journey and I finally have a moment to update my blog. I had every intention of posting here regularly but the trip got away from me and there was never enough time, energy or Internet connections. I have, however, managed to post on my Facebook business page nearly every day — a lot of photos and captions to help you follow along with my travels. You don’t have to be signed up for FB to see the posts. If you are not signed up for FB you will be able to read everything but just won’t be able to add your comments. If you are following me already, please know I read all the comments and I appreciate them so much. Here is the link: www.facebook.com/TheWorldNeedsMorePie

Here is a recap my journey so far. I have had some ups and downs, but overall the trip has been exceptionally positive.

New Zealand was so beautiful, but was so cold! It’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I lived in my down jacket, wearing long underwear underneath my bib overalls, wrapped in the wool prayer shawl made by my host Grace Bower that was the impetus for traveling there in the first place. We put a lot of miles on Grace’s Nissan station wagon, and visited the Yummy Fruit apple orchard in Hawke’s Bay, made pies from the apples they donated in a pie class for 20 at a local college’s culinary school, and saw a lot of stunning untrammeled landscape. Soaking in NZ’s hot springs and drinking endless cups of “flat white” helped warm the bones.

Australia was all positive — I spent time with and made pie with very dear old friends, Kate Hayward and Foong Broecker, gave a presentation to the Sydney International Women’s Club, met former prime minister John Howard (my dad’s name too!) at a luncheon celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and got to bottle feed a baby kangaroo. And I sampled a lot of Aussie’s meat pies, some with mashed peas and potatoes on top. Talk about comfort food!  But it was in the friendships — new and old — where the real comfort was found.

In Bangkok, I had a cold for the first 4 days but I bounced back quickly (I credit the fresh fruit and healthy Thai diet for helping speed up my recovery), but after that I pushed full-steam ahead making 75 pies for the American Embassy’s 4th of July party. In order to accomplish that I moved into the pastry kitchen at the Grand Hyatt Erawan where I baked side by side with the Thai staff and came away with some very good friendships. They spoke Thai and I spoke English but we spoke the same language through our baking and our smiles.

India was a big challenge for me. They say you either love it or you hate it. I didn’t love and didn’t hate it, I just didn’t understand it. I did not experience a bad stomach like I had expected, but I cried every single day, which I had NOT expected. I don’t know why it was so challenging…I don’t think it was the poverty as much as it was the grime and garbage. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I wonder why this place is deemed so holy. I did, however, fling myself headlong into it. I taught two pie classes at the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai that were such a big hit they requested I teach a third. Instead of teaching another class I spent that day, courtesy of the lovely Deepa Krishnan of Mumbai Magic, touring India’s largest slum. I was impressed with the industriousness and work ethic there. These people are not hanging around, they are working 10-hour days and making money!  “Don’t call it a slum,” I was told. “It’s a neighborhood.” That was one part of India I actually understood.

After India, I was in Lebanon, in Beirut, a place the American government has placed on the  “do not travel there” list. Alas, I went, because I had an incredible host, cookbook author Barbara Abjeni Massaad. I stayed with her and her family (husband, 3 teenage kids, 2 dogs and 2 cats) in their  apartment. There was evidence of the war, now past, with ongoing effort to ward off any future uprisings. There are barricades, road blocks, military check points, and sandbags surrounding various places and numerous abandoned buildings. Still, it felt safe — except for the driving. There are almost no stoplights so each intersection or onramp is a free-for-all, which was very unnerving.

Barbara took me to a Syrian refugee camp about an hour from Beirut, toward the Syrian border. Talk about not heeding the “do not travel there” warning! We delivered 12 homemade apple pies (that took me 9 hours to bake in a 90-degree kitchen) to people living in tents. I am sorry to say our effort didn’t feel as noble as it sounds. There was tension in the camp and a fight was just breaking out in the very spot we were headed to, where friend’s of Barbara’s lived. (She spent two years visiting the camp, building up trust and relationships, and then photographing the people for a humanitarian aid project and soon-to-be-published cookbook called SOUP FOR SYRIA. You can pre-order it here. We had to leave the camp so there was no time to tell the story of the symbolism of the pie, and how we wanted to promote peace. But we can only hope that that little taste of comfort will lift the spirits of a few. You can never really know what impact you’re making. It’s a lesson in trust, humility, gratitude and so many other things.

One of the refugee families we visited was educated and had been successful in Syria. This family of 11 is trying to use their skills, both creative and business, to make a difference. The eldest son, Wissam, was a third-year mechanical engineering student when they had to flee their homeland. He is now a budding filmmaker, documenting peace efforts in the camp. I was very moved by this video he showed us. In Arabic these kids are saying, “We miss peace. We want peace.”

Who knows if the pies had a direct effect, but it was pie that led us to this filmmaker and his message, and by sharing this it keeps the effort moving forward. So it all matters.

I arrived in Greece, my shortest leg of the trip, with a traveler’s "bug." I won’t go into the gory details about my compromised health, but sadly, I slept the entire five days I was in Athens. I finally saw a doctor, got on an antibiotic, and tried to change my flight so I could stay longer and make up for the lost days. If you’ve ever been to Greece in August you will know that the airline practically laughed in my face. There were no seats available for 2, even 3 weeks out. There was no outward sign of the country's financial crisis with this summer tourism season in full swing. And happily the media's fear-mongering about tourists getting mugged didn't keep travelers away. I had to stick with my schedule and fly onward, to Europe. I will just have to return to Greece another time. In fact, I loved the teeny tiny bit of it I glimpsed — seeing the islands from the plane, the landscape out the window of the airport train, and the historic streets around my bed & breakfast near the Acropolis—enough to know it warrants its own separate trip. I mean, this was the birthplace of pie and I was too sick to even eat one bite! So yeah, returning is a must.

On July 29, I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and made a beeline for Bern, Switzerland. Medieval Bern at the foot of the Alps is the first city in Europe I ever visited — when I was 22 — and no sooner did I arrive that summer I made some friends with two sisters, Eve and Uschi. Fast forward 31 years, we have been friends so long we are more like family. I was so depleted from being sick I tempted to bail on the rest of my World Piece journey and head back early to the US. Instead, the cure was coming to Bern. Old friends in a gentle, peaceful place (sheep are grazing right out my window and I can hear their neck bells tinkling like music) combined with vitamin C (as in chocolate!), I am in an ideal place for replenishing my reserves.

I fly back to the US on August 27 and I still have a few countries to visit— and a lot more pie to make and taste—before I head home. So keep following along (on Facebook).

I wasn’t sure when going into this project if I would have enough material to write a book about my journey, but I am now convinced that I do. There are many threads that connect the stories, the people and the places. It has all the elements of “the hero’s journey” and all the plot points that fall right into place of a three-act structure — as if it was planned that way. It wasn’t! I will likely be spending the fall back in Iowa where I plan to buckle down and write about the experience while it is still fresh and raw. But I have to get through the rest of the trip first!

Thanks for checking in.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Start of Leg 2: Surreal Times in Sydney, Australia

What the earth looks like between
Auckland and Sydney.
I flew into Sydney, Australia from Auckland on my birthday, June 14. When I got off the plane and came out of customs there was a camera crew waiting with my friend Kate standing behind them. When Kate told me she was going to try to get some publicity for my trip, I thought she had gone way overboard. Three cameras were pointing at me with their spotlights on. My World Piece project may be noble but it's not that newsworthy. I walked past them and their lenses did not follow me. Kate and I had a huge laugh when we saw that right behind me was the famous Australian rugby player, Jarryd Hayne, who was just flying in from California where he now plays NFL football for the San Francisco 49ers, and all the cameras rushed toward him. Phew!

Kate took me for a long walk around the city on my first day there. We walked straight into a pie shop! Called Harry's Cafe de Wheels, this famous place is a Sydney institution, around since the 1940s. Probably one of the first food carts -- long before they became popular -- Harry's sits on the waterfront of a wharf where military ships dock. No wonder they've been so successful -- they serve the ultimate comfort food: meat pies topped with mashed peas, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Barbra Streisand is on the wall of fame. I made a lemon meringue pie for her once,
when I worked at Mary's Kitchen in Malibu.

Sailors aren't the only ones
who appreciate comfort food.

The next day was a busy one. Kate goes to work by ferry and I joined her on her morning commute. A ferry ride on a sunny morning is the ultimate way to see Sydney Harbor -- or Harbour, as they spell it. This kind of transport would almost make me want a full-time job in the city. Almost.
Commuting with Kate. You know you're in Sydney
when you see the iconic Opera House.
I left Kate at her office and walked a few blocks over for a meeting with Sam Cawthorn, an author, amputee and motivational speaker. He is someone Grace in New Zealand thought I should meet, because he is an inspirational figure, so she sent me his contact details. Because I want to meet all the inspirational people I can, I contacted him -- and I asked him if he'd like to meet for pie. (Does one need any bigger agenda than just eating pie?)
Australia is such a fun & happy place, even the pie is smiling!

So Sam and I met, and talked, and ate pie for breakfast. Steak and Mushroom pie at Pie Face, an Australian pie shop chain that expanded to the US and now is fighting to survive a bankruptcy filing. But that's not relevant as their doors are still open and their smiley pies are still good. 

Sam asked me about World Piece. I explained my mission, which I might have been downplaying a little bit as it prompted him to quote Marianne Williamson, pounding his chest as he spoke -- 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-- and then he told me I needed to shoot more video for my social media sites and made me promise that I would do that because it would make me more successful. Hmmm...well, I still like my still photos and writing essays. He told me how much he loves what he does, and then we said goodbye. I'm not sure which was fuller afterward, my belly or my head.

But the day got even more "Dreamtime" after that. (Had to throw in an Aborginal term since I'm in Australia.) First the ferry ride, then the smiling steak pie and pep talk, and then....lunch with the former prime minister of Australia, John Howard! Where am I and how did I end up here?!?!  

It was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. Kate's parents had been invited to a luncheon and had two extra places -- for Kate and little ol' American me. I had to laugh because it was the ultimate cultural experience, a window into an octogenarian underworld as the lunch was hosted by the English Speaking Society and some other organization that might as well have been called Save the Monarchy. I could be a neutral observer and marvel at the different ways in which people view the world -- or how they think the world should work, still work after all several centuries. Whether Australia is part of the Commonwealth or an independent republic, it's a really great country and I feel really excited/lucky/privileged to be here and experience it -- even if just for 10 days. 

The funniest part -- well, maybe not funny because it forces me to admit my lack of knowledge of world history -- is that I had to Google "Magna Carta." It is basically a charter of liberty, the first document to declare that no one in society, not even a king or a queen -- is above the law.

No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or dispossessed or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

Good to learn something "new." That's why it's good to travel. You can fill in the missing pieces of your education, while dining on a lunch of grilled salmon and lemon tart with dignitaries and well-dressed white-haired ladies.
My dad's name is also John Howard.
Though apparently no relation. I wonder if
this John Howard likes pie as much as my dad.

My next post -- if I can keep up with my blog -- will be about my presentation at the Sydney Women's International Club.  So check back soon. There's more to come. More pie, more people, more countries. 

Only two and a half weeks into it, the World Piece journey has been a great, fulfilling -- and mind-opening -- adventure so far. Thanks for following along! I'm posting daily on Facebook -- and you don't need to be signed up for FB to read it -- so check there for updates in the meantime. https://www.facebook.com/TheWorldNeedsMorePie

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

First Pie Class of the World Piece Journey: New Zealand

My first pie class of the World Piece tour was in Napier, New Zealand. Brett Zimmerman (aka Mr. Z), a friend of Louise Watts (my host Grace's daughter), is a cooking teacher at a local college. (College in NZ is high school in US terms.)

Mr. Z offered use of his classroom -- 6 large stainless steel tables and seven -- seven!! -- ovens. YES! PERFECT! THANK YOU!

The first thing we did was go shopping for pie tins. There is a restaurant supply warehouse just 2 blocks from the school. And luckily they had pie tins. The only kind they had were "very deep dish" but I didn't mind. We had plenty of apples to fill them. My pie mentor Mary Spellman taught me to make pie in generous portions: "Don't be stingy," she always said if I put too little filling in a pie dish. Besides, America has a reputation of doing thing BIG. So big pies were what we would make.

Meet Mr. Z. He is not just a cooking teacher, he's also a rugby coach.
This is what the classroom looked like before we made a mess.
Pastry gems are some mysterious cross between butter & shortening.
Seemed ideal, and the price was right (FREE!), but the texture was hard.
As for the taste, it was okay, but I wouldn't recommend the stuff.
Gorgeous apples from The Yummy Fruit Company.
From left to right: Ballaret, Granny Smith, Lemonade.
Lemonade is a new variety, a cross between Gala & Braeburn.
Ballaret are tarter than Gr Smith & easier to peel. Perfect for pie!

Before the class, Mr. Z used some of the apples to give me a lesson in knife-handling skills. We carved swans. He had worked in some fancy pants restaurant and they made these as a garnish, not to eat. He said he worked 14-hour days at that job. No wonder his days were so long! It takes a lot of time to create these carvings. It was fun to learn, but I prefer using apples for pie.

Swan in progress.

Not bad for my first (and last) attempt.
Luckily I did not slice my fingers
 off in the knife-handling exercise.
Especially since this was only
 the beginning of my trip.
Pie is always better with butter. I came to the right country as
New Zealand makes really good butter. 
We had about 18 students for the class. (I didn't actually count them, Grace did, but I think the number was more like 16 because she included me and Mr. Z in the headcount.) Participants ranged in age from 17 to 70. Mr. Z had sent out email invitations to the school administrators, his cooking students, his catering business helpers, and a few local Hawke's Bay friends. 

Neil, one of the first participants to arrive.
Check out those pants! A patchwork extravaganza,
he told me they're 20 years old. 

This cutie pie is Sam. She showed up in braids and someone asked her if she was the Pie Lady.
I wanted my pic taken with her since, based on our matching hairstyles,
we were obviously kindred spirits.

And there is it, the teacher's corner. More like "Show & Tell."

No matter where in the world I teach a pie class, it is pretty much always the same format. Introduction, overview of what we're going to do, demo, turn everyone loose, and then watch the flour fly.

The Pitchfork Pie Stand lives on in every pie I make!

"Rolling dough is like horseback riding, you have to take control of the reins."
Yep, that analogy works in pretty much every country.

These are some of Mr. Z's students. They love baking.

Mr. Crazy Patchwork Pants and Miss Cutie Pie Braids. They were a great team!

This table of ladies includes a florist, a school nurse, and a librarian.
They made the most beautifully decorated pies.

My host, Grace Bower, was clearly having a great time. She is not only an
excellent knitter of prayer shawls, she also is an excellent pie maker.

This is Mona. She's a food judge. But this night she was on the other side of the table.

A crimping lesson.
Neil had to leave early so he took his unbaked pie home with him. On his bike. He had to ride one-handed. In the dark. I never did hear if the pie made it or not. I'm pretty sure no news is good news. I had to hand it to him for his adventurous can-do Kiwi spirit.

The culinary students went to extra lengths to make their pies pretty.
Not for extra credit, but because they enjoyed the artistic process.

Making progress. 

The first pie to come out of the oven belonged to Mona the food judge.
Her pie could have won any pie contest.
I wore my running shoes for the class. I know from having used classroom kitchens before that when you have multiple ovens dispersed through the large room it is a real workout to move between the tables and around the people (dodging rolling pins and trying not to slip on the pie dough that's fallen on the floor) to get to the ovens. You don't want your students to do all that work preparing the pies only to have them burn!

I couldn't read the dials on Mr. Z's ovens as the numbers were worn off. They were in celsius so I couldn't understand them anyway. But thanks to my sprinting and squats and the effort of rotating pies around on the oven shelves, every single pie came out looking....well, YUMMY.

See? No pies were harmed (or burned) in the making of this film.

After all these years and all these oven burns, pie still makes me happy. 

Louise Watts presents the "Apple Award" to Mr. Z. The hand-blown glass artwork
came from Utah and Grace determined that people who have contributed something good
should be bestowed with the award--or at least have their picture taken with the apple.

Every pie class ends with a "Victory Shot." This one was no exception. Look at all those happy people. And look at all those gorgeous pies! Pie really does make the world a better place.

And to think is only the first class of the three-month, 10-country, round-the-world journey. Here's to many more pies and many more happy people.

Thank you, New Zealand -- Grace Bower, Louise Watts, Brett "Mr. Z" Zimmerman & the William Colonso College, Paul Paynter & the Yummy Fruit Company, the Ibis & Novotel Hotels in Rotorua, and many others -- for making the first leg of World Piece a fun, safe and successful one.

Next stop: Australia (June 14 to 24)