When I headed to Portland late last summer, I wasn’t thinking about eating my way through the city. I was on my way to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my college housemate, JulieAnn and her husband, Marlo. While I wasn’t envisioning dining out, I was thinking food. One of my assignments for the party was to bake cookies. Specifically, gluten-free cookies. I’ve been baking gluten-free for years as my daughter is celiac, my grandsons are gluten-sensitive, and I’m allergic to wheat. JulieAnn also has celiac. I arrived with a few tools of the trade and ready to make five different cookie recipes for the party.
The opportunities for us to expand our personal consciousness and awareness are everywhere, whether in everyday life, when we are faced with difficult decisions and challenges, or when we find ourselves faced with an existential, personal or medical crisis.
One of the more remarkable aspects of life is that there are always options and possibilities for us to explore as we search for answers. Sometimes an off-handed comment, a bumper sticker, or a line in a magazine or book will provide a spark of insight that helps us to move forward.
This section is devoted to books and magazines that I have found to offer inspiration, insight, opportunities for positive change and perhaps even comfort.
I hope that you will contact me if you have written a book you believe would be valuable to others seeking higher consciousness and growth. Similarly, if you have read something that you think will be helpful to our readers, I would be happy to review it or offer your reviews.
Receiving the Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, Sent by Queen Elizabeth II, Delivered by the Lord Lieutenant
Serendipity. I love this upbeat, joyful word that heralds its meaning: “the occurrence and development of events in a happy or beneficial way.” It perfectly describes my friendship with Janet Sawyer. We met by chance when Janet threw a fundraiser featuring vanilla for her hamlet in Farringdon, Devon, in Southern England, and a close friend of hers ordered a case of my vanilla cookbooks for attendees. At the time, Janet had no thoughts of opening a vanilla company. But that’s what ultimately happened. Less than a decade later, Janet experienced the ultimate in serendipity: Her business, LittlePod, was honored by Queen Elizabeth II with the Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, the highest honor bestowed on a business in the UK! Up to 200 companies are honored each year, but nearly all are well known, large, established businesses. Janet’s business acumen and creative marketing put her company, LittlePod, on the Queen’s radar a couple of years ago, but she never imagined that they would receive such a prestigious award.
In late March I received an e-mail from Simran Sethi requesting an interview regarding the cyclone that struck Madagascar two weeks earlier and how it would impact the already troubled vanilla market. I responded that I would be happy to talk and a date and time were set. What happened next was serendipity. Within a few minutes of our meeting, Simran and I realized we have been traveling the same path with the same concerns and seeking the same outcomes on behalf of those who grow the foods we all love that are becoming endangered in ways that most of the world is unaware.
Why I love Bob’s Red Mill flour and other products and use them daily
Bob Moore and I met at the January 2016 Specialty Food Show in San Francisco. I felt as excited as a teenager meeting Beyonce as Bob has been one of my heroes for a very long time. While waiting in line one of his employees commented that he really loves to talk with the public. I told him that I would do my best to keep our conversation short but it would be hard given my admiration for him.
Well over a year ago I started noticing ads for meal kit delivery services on Facebook. Hmmm, cool idea but not something I’d use. But the ads kept on coming, with enticing shots of produce and interesting entrees. In retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t bite sooner, but I love the farmers’ markets, talking with the growers, tasting the fresh produce and deciding what to prepare for the week. And, I do love cooking.
In my humble opinion, ecotourism is so much more fun and enlightening than staying at a resort full of amenities but short on soul. My visit to Costa Rica in March was full of soul, but even more, filled with many terrific experiences that I’ll savor for years to come.
Costa Rica has positioned itself as a world leader in responsible ecotourism. This is a wise move for a developing country with so many natural resources, a diversified, literate population, a relatively low crime rate (and no army!) and a stable economy. The Ticos, as they refer to themselves, say they were lucky that their country didn’t have resources like abundant gold, silver or oil, so their country was largely ignored instead of plundered like so many of the countries in the Americas.
Given all the bad press on the evils of sugar, we know we need to be judicious about our intake, but it’s oh-so-difficult! We’re hard-wired to love it; sweet is the first taste sensation a newborn baby experiences, and for many of us, sweets are downright addictive. Given that we’re constantly reminded to limit our sugar consumption to prevent obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and tooth decay, you can imagine my surprise when my favorite sugar — maple syrup — was recently declared a super food!
Happy New Year and Welcome 2015!
As we move more deeply into winter in the Northern Hemisphere I enjoy setting aside some time to reflect on what inspired me the last year and how this inspiration can be a catalyst for change and opportunities in the coming year. There were a lot of inspiring moments for me in 2014 but five stand out as exceptional.
Serena Rain Joined The Vanilla Company
We’re delighted that Serena became part of our team in May. She manages our social media marketing, handles our public relations and whips up new recipes and photos for our recipe section. I have been excited by her fresh ideas and the insights she brings to the business. We are now on Pinterest, new recipes are posted every few days on Facebook, Google + and Twitter and she believes in and supports our mission of focusing greater awareness about the value of pure vanilla.
I love that The Vanilla Company is now a full-fledged family business!
For the last several months I’ve been stuck in dental purgatory — or is it hell? I’m not sure, but wherever I’ve been, it has included a root canal, a serious infection and two
Each late December the media rehashes the year’s breaking stories and we all tend to reflect on how we fared. This year, no one’s disputing that it has been a tumultuous and wild ride, not just here in America, but around the world. And as we say goodbye to the last decade, most of us are licking our wounds and crossing our fingers that the new year will somehow bring redemption, including a stronger economy and happier, more hopeful stories.
The end of a year, and especially, the end of a decade, deserves our attention. However, as this year draws to a close, there is nothing but uncertainty lying ahead of us. Will the dreadful economy shift? Will the wars end? What about a sense of security? How can we bear so much uncertainty?
The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next. — Ursula LeGuin
When I think of Easter, childhood memories float to the surface. Always a new outfit and hat, morning services at a local church, a family party either at our home or that of family friends, and baskets filled with chocolate treats, dreadful candy eggs in bright pastels, jelly beans and very cool Cadbury eggs with the yellow “yolk” centers.
One year I received a perfect little duckling from my grandmother. I loved it as it looked exactly like a real duckling. I made it a little home, complete with a water dish and played with it for a very long time. It never occurred to me that it had actually once been a duckling somewhere, sacrificed to be used as a child’s Easter toy.
New year, new possibilities. Woo-hoo! So many days stretching into the distance like a long, white beach begging to be explored.
Each year the media reminds us that we have yet another chance to start on a fresh page, whether it’s the diet or exercise that will transform our bodies or the best ways to reorganize our homes and lives.
What’s not to like about that? Anything’s possible – at least for the first few weeks.
But habits run deep and long-term change means true dedication, not easy in our modern, activity-filled lives.
My life is very intertwined with the beginning of each year, in large part, because my birthday falls exactly two weeks after the year begins so I have two clean pages in front of me. For as long as I can remember, I have used the waning weeks of the old year and the beginning of the new to take stock of my life, to consider the last year – what I learned, how I made use of opportunities or blew it because I didn’t, what things really matter, what to let go of and what to incorporate as I continue my journey on our beautiful blue planet.
Remember when you were a kid and you wondered when you’d be grown up and what it would be like? And have you noticed that since becoming a grownup you haven’t figured out if you are really grown up, or even if you’re one of the big kids?
Apparently this never changes. I mean, let’s face it, when you’re pushing 70 you’re a grownup. But having been the youngest and smallest in my class, and having always aspired to be a teenager, or an adult with a cool job or someone who has done something really important, I apparently haven’t quite grasped that I’m one of the big girls after all.
As a result, when I was invited to join Les Dames, I had the feeling of, Wow! I get to be with women who have really done something special!
With that in mind, you can imagine my shock and surprise to learn that the San Francisco chapter had voted me in as their first and only Living Legend. It wasn’t until I needed to write a biographical sketch about my work with vanilla and farmers that I realized that maybe I actually had done a few things and that a few of those things had made a difference.
This last week I made two cheesecakes, decadent baker that I am, one to celebrate the arrival of a Kenyan farmer, the other for my brother’s birthday. I substituted ginger snaps and pieces of candied ginger for the predictable graham crackers. It gave the cakes a nice sweet bite, both in the crust and then with small pieces of ginger on the top. I doubt I’ll use graham crackers ever again!
Although we Americans and Europeans use ginger mainly in baking, it’s been a culinary mainstay in Asia for at least 5000 years. Apparently it was popular in ancient Rome and then was forgotten about until Marco Polo brought it home to Europe after one of his world-changing expeditions.
That isn’t exactly accurate. I drove myself there and I’m not sure that I could find a store in Stockton that carries Numi’s Pu’ehr, but they should.
Friday I drove to Stockton to pick up 500 pounds of Maui Brand plantation white sugar (aka evaporated cane juice) for the vanilla sugars we make. There was a break in the weather, and though I can’t say I was excitedly anticipating a trip to Stockton, I had no choice but to go as they weren’t going to deliver the sugar to us.