Food Memoirs Inspire Travel

My blog posts have slowed in the last month or so because much of my spare time is dedicated to eating an elimination diet and acupuncture appointments. I soak my feet in an herbal tea and I drink gallons of alkaline water. I haven’t felt well for about 2 years but when I broke out in hives in mid-February and they were still with me 6 weeks later, I knew I had to take the time to address my health.

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Pour kettle full of hot water on one foot bath tea bag and let steep for 6 minutes. Then add another kettle full of hot water and 3 pitchers of roughly equivalent size to soak for feet for 30 minutes. Keep water as hot as you can stand. This is intended to help draw toxics out of your body. 

I still don’t know what is  at the root of my health issues. I am in the club of women and men who live with chronic pain that western medicine isn’t good at diagnosing let alone providing relief. If I had to guess I’d say that our western lifestyle is toxic. I know I’d feel better if I could travel. But I had to cancel my Michigan adventure due to my most extreme sciatica episode to date.

My pets are glad to have me home. Yet I need to do something to satisfy my wanderlust.

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts as I cook and soak. Two of my favorites are about reading: What Should I Read Next? and Reading Women. They are both delightful and now the top of my dresser is heaving with books to read. When Reading Women podcast hosts interviewed author Chibundu Onuzo, she recommended several books I wrote down for future reading, including Longthroat Memoirs by Yemisi Aribisala. I already had on my list My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss as a recommendation from WSIRN? I took the plunge and purchased them both.

I read My Berlin Kitchen first because I heard it favorably compared to Ruth Reichl’s memoirs and because I’m curious about Germany — Berlin has been rising on my places to go list. Never fear, if you think it is a book full of German recipes, it is much more varied. The author is American/Italian with deep ties to Berlin. The book is really the story of growing up on two continents and with people she loves in 3 or more countries before and after the Wall fell. She tells her story in short chapters ending with a recipe. I marked 9 different recipes I’d like to try. I already tried her Uncle’s ragu sauce and it was a B+ (of course I did not cook it for 3-5 hours as suggested). This book made me want to go to Berlin, and return to Italy, and for others it might make you want to go to Paris. Not me. She also sends a lot of love to New York City and even Los Angeles. It is a fun read and I managed it in a weekend.

Longthroat Memoirs is much less accessible to me. I have been to South Africa and Capetown is near the top of my wish list because of the penguins, but Nigeria is not on my list yet. This is an ambitious book as it is introducing a complex culture (Nigeria is very large and has many ethnic cultures within), and a cooking style with whom few people have any familiarity. I also found her writing more convoluted to follow with many references I don’t get. To be fair, so does Weiss, but I know Laura Ingalls Wilder and why someone would pine to go to Prince Edward Island.

Also, I cannot envision making groundnut soup, also known as Nigerian River Province Soup or Bayelsa. Aribisala seems determined more to use food as an entry point to so many other subjects that it is probably miscast as a food memoir. And where would I get the ingredients! “There is the green leaf vegetable that cannot, and most definitely should not, be frozen spinach. There is afang leaf unwound from its symbiotic partner in the bush. There is afang leaf grown in town and snubbed by the bush afang. There is the pumpkin leaf that, in one unique language ‘ibok iyep’ (red blood corpuscle) for its nutritional powerhouse status.” (p 23)

So while the book doesn’t satisfy as a food memoir, it is essential reading if you want to spend more time in the diverse countries of Africa. I will give it to Grace Julie who has already traveled extensively in Western Africa.

Food is such an essential part of the travel experience. I will explore this in more detail in future blog posts.

World’s Best Botanic Garden at Kew

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I wanted to save money on my last hotel night in London before I caught my flight home from Heathrow, and still be able to do something interesting. I love, love, love the Royal Botanic Garden. If it is not the best in the world, it is in the top three. It also is conveniently located to hotels and a subway station. So my plan was to take the train from Essex to London and the Tube to Kew Gardens, check in and spend the rest of the day in the gardens.

IMG_1807Whoopsie, no one told the London Underground and they decided to do maintenance and close the station at Kew Gardens on Sunday.

I could recount the perils I faced finding my way to Kew, instead I am going to recount the many kindnesses I received:

  • UK Sarah driving me to the train station and staying until the train arrived.
  • Woman offering me the tip about taking the train to Kew Bridge station and then catching a cab.
  • Security man allowing me through with my goofy train/underground ticket.
  • Young man who carried my 50 pound bag up the stairs at the Kew Bridge station.
  • Pub man in Kew calling a taxi for me.
  • Hotel reception that included carrying my bag up the stairs and setting up my fan on a 90+ degree day.

Was it worth all the trouble? Definitely yes. Just look at this beauty!

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The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew is constantly changing. It has been a few years since I last visited and it now has a Treetop Walk. I really enjoyed the experience of walking through the tops of trees with a bird or squirrel view. Please don’t make people who are afraid of heights go up. I saw people really suffering. It is not for everyone.

Another new feature is The Hive, a fascinating interactive experience to celebrate the role of honeybees in nature. I love bees and this was a joyful time for me.

It was a very hot day and I was already worn out from traveling all day. I found the gardens motivating me, still, some old men (one with a cane) were walking down the path faster than me. I stopped for an ice cream cone and it melted faster than I could keep licking and I used napkins to mop up my continuing mess. I tucked them in my bag because there wasn’t a trash can nearby. Later when I wiped sweat from my face, I must have spread chocolate all over my face! When I was on the treetops walk, a kind woman leaned over and whispered, “You have chocolate on your face.” I was chagrined but had to laugh. How long was I walking around with chocolate all over?

The Kew Gardens Hotel is a lovely, relaxed pub hotel. There is no A/C, but the fan did it’s work. The food was just okay but the environment was convivial and the staff super helpful. The journey to Heathrow Airport in the morning was a cinch. I hope I can return in a few years.

Following the Essex Serpent

IMG_1802While I was on my own in Winchester I did some book shopping and I found a book I had read about in the New York Times Book Review, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. It seemed like the perfect book to read while I was fossicking around the county with UK Sarah. When we caught up with each other, Sarah pulled a book from her bag that a friend had given her, “I can read it and then you can read it!” I laughed and pulled out my copy. So we both began reading the book on our journey from Winchester to Tollesbury.

We planned our activities and saved searching out the landmarks in the book for our last full day in Essex. We’d begin at Colchester and then because her main village was imaginary, we’d visit Wivenhoe (Wiven-HOE!) on the River Colne. Then for a bonus, we drove out to see Mersea Island because I kept it seeing it in the distance and I was curious.

Colchester is a fascinating city. It is fast growing now, but its modern development is built on an old Roman wall and around Colchester Castle.

We really had a lot of fun interacting with the book, the history, and the current people and place. We got caught in a lot of traffic on our way to WivenHOE! because University of Essex was hosting their open campus day for prospective students. Once we were out of town we had the roads much more to ourselves. It is always a bit amazing that so many people can live in England and yet there is still so much seemingly uninhabited countryside. Recommend the book and the day’s adventure!

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Wivenhoe on the River Colne

Here is a sample of the book to entice you to read it:

She arrives home with her arms full of dog-roses in creamy bloom and three new freckles on her cheek. She puts her arms round Martha’s waist, thinking how well they fit ther in the groove above her broad hips, and says, “They’re on their way–everyone who’s ever loved me and everyone I’ve ever loved.” (p. 231)

 

 

Maldon Promenade Park Offers Fun for All Ages

I can’t believe I was able to walk over 10,000 steps without even thinking about it. The Promenade Park at Maldon makes it easy to do. This is also a good activity for people of all ages.

 

We stayed along the river and followed the walkway out to the North Sea. It begins with the Blackwater Barges. There is an active sailing club that maintains these ships and works to restore them. They were sponsoring a “barge match and smack race” on Saturday. (We saw them from a distance!)

 

It is also the home of the Maldon Salt Company. As you look across the marshes and see the tidal influence you can imagine how salt is harvested.

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Byrhtnoth the Earldorman: there is a lot of history in Essex including Viking and Roman

I really enjoyed our time walking along the Quay and the river. Essex offers a gently refreshing family holiday.

Curious about Chelmsford, Essex

IMG_1570One of the things that bonded UK Sarah and me, while we looked for the tomato paste in Eden Market, was her recent ordination in the Anglican church. She attended seminary in Chelmsford and so she wanted to show me the city she knows so well.

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I loved the inside of the Cathedral. Lots of terrific art.

Chelmsford is becoming the shopping center for Essex with fashionable shops and a brand new John Lewis department store. We did dip in and out of a few shops and do our part for the local economy.

Places in Essex are not too far apart that you could easily visit Chelmsford and Muldon in a day. Or Colchester and Mersea Island. Currently it may not be a tourism center but it would not unfair to call it flat and dull. Slow down and you’ll begin to see the special attributes of the east coast, the saltings and tidal march, and smaller towns and villages.

Discovering Where Our Jam Comes From

If you travel much, then you’ve probably had jam from Tiptree in Essex. It’s a short drive from Tollesbury, so we planned to visit the Wilkin & Sons Ltd. jam factory. It is surrounded by the Tiptree strawberry farms and there is a small museum that chronicles the illustrious history of their preserves, including visits and honors from the Queen of England.

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We stopped at lunchtime and enjoyed toasted cheese sandwiches, which is something of a tradition for UK Sarah and me. I saved room for dessert. I thought the custard on my apple pie would be more like ice cream, surprised but still pleased it was delicious.

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Jokes about English food are out of date. They even have good coffee now. There are still some mysteries that I will never understand…

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like the number of mushy peas available.

Friend Time in Tollesbury

My friend UK Sarah lives in Tollesbury and descriptions of life in her Essex village were too lovely to visit England without experiencing the essence of Essex. We stayed at her home in Tollesbury and made day trips. Our days were ordered though by drinks or dinner with friends, walks in the village and to the sea, and time for reading. No point in being in Tollesbury if you don’t actually spend time in Tollesbury.

I understand why she and Roy were glad to move back. While their boat Ocean Dancer is home for the next few months. This is where they will weigh anchor at the end of their adventure.