Fairy Godmothers: Part II

April 8th, 2015

Our train pulled out of Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof and into thick flurries that painted the landscape white. We were heading East to Budapest in a Hungarian train, chosen over the more frequently scheduled and modern Austrian trains for its food. Yes, there are still a few places in the world where dining cars serve real food, good food, and in semi-elegant settings.

My stepmother, via her European hairdresser, had clued me in on this little-known fact years ago, and Dagmar knew exactly what I was talking about. Hence, we spent our 3-hour trip nestled into plush, red velvety chairs enjoying hot Goulash soup and nibbling on Palascinta—Hungary’s take on crepes. (Ours were stuffed with cottage cheese and apricot jam, powdered sugar sprinkled on top.)


Winter view of Budapest

Winter view of Budapest


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Fairy Godmothers

March 9th, 2015

A few years ago my Austrian friend Dagmar told me one of her dreams was to travel to Latin America to experience the exotic culture and food, the beaches and the pyramids. Without missing a beat, I said, “That’s easy–I’ll be your fairy godmother.”

“Now, here’s my dream,” I declared boldly. “I want to wear a ball gown and long gloves and waltz in the ballroom that once belonged to the Hapsburg emperors (the Hofburg). And I want to eat cake, lots of cake, in the best Belle Époque cafés. And then I want to take the train to Budapest and eat more cake, in more Belle Époque cafés, and soak in the baths–the old ones, when people knew how to really live–in between slices of Dobostorta and Esterhazy Torte.”

“Ok,” she replied.

“No, no. I’m just kidding, (but not really).”  I assured her. “Anyway, I read that Ball season is for tourists now—Travel & Leisure says so.”

“That’s not true!” Dagmar gasped, with a flare of nationalistic pride. “Our Balls are for Viennese, even though other people can attend. You must come and see for yourself.” And so Dagmar and I arranged an exchange, not of homes, but of dreams, both eagerly diving into our new role of fairy godmother.


Oaxaca Radish Festival---Band carved from radishes

Oaxaca Radish Festival—Band carved from radishes

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Naked Therapy

July 28th, 2014

European spas—they’re not like American spas. They’re more like sanatoriums, where staff dressed in white whisper softly and serious health treatments take precedence over beauty.

My first experience was in Italy, outside of Siena. I had had a particularly stressful week with The Entitled–a group of family (their family, not mine) and friends who refused to believe that Italy was no longer a country of peasants, and that said peasants, including myself, were suppose to cater to their every whim…at no additional cost.

Even though I hadn’t met anyone in the group before agreeing to host their tour, I had heard some of the names, seen one on TV and had read about another in HOLA!, the Spanish speaking equivalent of People magazine. But even with this important information, I was still not prepared for what I would encounter. Neither were the two women I was working with. In order to relieve the stress, Katy began chain smoking again after a 20-year hiatus, Sonia repeatedly chanted Madonna!! swirling her cigarette in the air, and I alternated between chomping on Advil and Xanax. The week ended with a multimillionaire pounding his fist on the dinner table—in a very elegant restaurant—demanding the car (or in this case, minibus) be brought around immediately. He was ready to go, even though the majority of people were still eating. That’s when I started to drink—white wine, red wine, limoncello, grappa. Whatever was available…It didn’t matter, I just needed to dull the memory of that man’s existence.



No, not the multimillionaire, but…

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Not for the Faint of Heart: Shaman Boot Camp continued

September 7th, 2013

Over a breakfast of sliced papaya and a health conscious Egg McMuffin wannabe, Doris told us about the time Lonely Planet asked her to explain Washuma ceremonies to their readers. She was the expert and they wanted to know what the most important part was. “Vomiting,” she replied. And like the people before me, I looked at her in horror and exclaimed, “What are you talking about? That can’t be part of the ceremony!”

Oh, but it is…if you’re lucky.

Traditional Peruvian costume

Traditional Peruvian costume

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Shaman Boot Camp

August 31st, 2013

As you may have gathered by now, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I jumped on that plane to Peru…and it just got worse.

Our first day was billed as a field trip—a journey to sacred hot springs high in the Andes. Our bodies needed to be cleansed before we could begin. We stopped at a small market and Francoise and I each bought two bags of coca leaves: one for altitude sickness, the other for readings when Doris would check our progress as well as give us tidbits about our future.

Back in the van we soon turned onto a narrow, dirt road that hugged the edge of a jagged mountain. There was no guardrail on the pot-holed path, only a view of hairpin turns and a desolate valley below—WAY below. In the distance, herds of llama munched on yellow grass and stone huts dotted the barren landscape.


Living in the Andes

Life in the Andes

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The Shaman

August 10th, 2013

I wasn’t home for more than a few weeks when my friend, Francoise, told me that she was going to Peru to study with a shaman. How interesting, I thought, and then went about my day.

I continued my routine of watching continuous episodes of Downton Abbey while fantasizing about Ivan and Victorian cookery and holding office hours at my cafe. This isn’t time allotted for bookkeeping or employee relations, rather it’s a series of sacred moments set aside for friends to stop by and gossip, drink bottomless cups of coffee and pop hot-from-the-oven cookies into their mouths. But, even with all these distractions, I couldn’t get the shaman out of my head.


Heritage Corn: Peru

Heritage Corn: Peru

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Summer Love

June 25th, 2013

I had a crush on him before I met him. Not a heart thumping, weak at the knees kind of crush…because I didn’t even know what he looked like. It was more a crush of intellect and intrigue.

I first heard of Ivan Day from a friend of mine, a Cambridge historian, who raved about his cooking classes in England’s Lake District. He was one of her mentors, a true scholar, a man of quirky, obscure knowledge. I knew from her description of him that we were destined to meet.

My opportunity arose with the French airline workers’ strike. Semi-stranded, bidding my time in Paris, eating too many buttery croissants and sipping café au lait, I moved on to greener, and I mean much greener pastures. I hopped the Chunnel in anticipation of meeting my crush and indulging in a weekend of Victorian Cookery.



16th century kitchen

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Heathcliff and the Villagers

June 20th, 2013

I called out to Heathcliff, but he wasn’t there. Alone, walking through a pasture, dodging sheep pellets, in northern England, I thought of the famed character who once roamed this part of the world. You see, I was pretending to be Cathy, Heathcliff’s love and obsession, before her tragic demise. I was the beautiful, young Catherine, frolicking in the fields, surrounded by nature…and sheep, lots of sheep. I must admit they were handsome creatures, as in just shampooed and set, fluffy and seemingly clean.

If you remember in last week’s blog, I arrived to the Penrith train station and was whisked away by an eccentric stranger named Ivan, a scholar of culinary history and an advocate of Agnes B.’s patented ice cream machine. He drove me through the rolling, green hills of Cumbria, dazzling me with details of his jelly mold collection and then dropped me off at a desolate house on a large sheep farm. This is the part of the story I didn’t tell you before.


Crake Trees Manor

Crake Trees Manor

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June 15th, 2013

The email arrived that morning: Your flight has been cancelled due to an airline workers strike. I was just about to leave my small hotel near the Marseille airport, but the message stopped me in my tracks.

After more than an hour on hold the airline representative gave me two choices: take the next available seat–a week from Tuesday, or receive a full refund.

“But I have to get to London in order to catch my flight home. I can’t wait until next week!” No one seemed to care, so I took the refund.

Perched Villages

Perched Villages

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The Seriousness of Lunch

June 10th, 2013

I had a companion in France, a co-pilot of sorts. We met in the rental car parking lot and parted ways three weeks later at the Marseilles airport. His name was Jean Claude. He was high strung and easily agitated–a drama queen, if truth be told. We drove though Provence together, following a trial of medieval castles and crystal clear rivers.

Jean Claude loved the open road, but parking lots made him nervous. He would screech if I came too close to another car, and was always on my back when I maneuvered into a tight spot. Watch the front bumper! No, the side door! He loved telling me what to do. I can’t say I liked it, but I learned to appreciate it. The one time I chose to ignore his rants I hit the wall of a building–no damage done.


Nyons with its Roman Bridge

Nyons with its Roman Bridge

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