Farm update: December 17

Hello! How are you? We’ve still got quite a lot of snow sticking around, but it’s been dry for a week and we’d love to have more moisture. We attended the annual meeting of our ditch company recently, and all of the stoic old-time farmers seemed quite thrilled at the snowpack thus far this year. It’s a big change for the better from last year, to be certain, and we hope the pattern continues.

Orchard Snow 01 sml

The peach orchard across the road.

Fall CSA wk5 01 sml

One of the most delicious items we received in our CSA was heirloom cornmeal, ground from Painted Mountain corn. We take corn so much for granted in this country – as Michael Pollan says, we’re “the United States of Corn” – and sometimes we forget how much of humanity has been nourished on this incredible grain. Growing heirloom corn for eating fresh and for grinding is just one way we can recapture some of the food sovereignty that we’ve lost. I made fabulous hot pepper cornbread and plan on making cheesy polenta this week.

Continue reading

Cooking Class: Udaipur, India

It’s been two months since we returned and N and I are missing our travels more than we expected. We thought we might revisit a few of our most memorable experiences here.

We went on lots of market tours during our travels and took a couple of incredible cooking classes, too. Udaipur, in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, was one of our favorite cities in India. It’s friendly and accessible, easy to walk and to navigate and filled with compelling sights and smells. While we were here, we went to an in-home cooking class led by a quiet, lovely Indian woman named Gita. She didn’t speak much English, but this was definitely one of those times when not many words were needed; the idea of food as a universal language is such an accurate cliché.

NJB_6253

Traditional masala boxes contain cooking spices. Women are often given these as a wedding gift to bring to their new husband’s home.

NJB_6313

Combining fresh tomatoes, coriander and garlic for tomato chutney.

NJB_6273

Toasting whole spices brings out their aromatic oils.

NJB_6286

Making aloo gobi masala, cauliflower and potatoes with peas.

NJB_6287

This will be the filling for our samosas.

NJB_6294

Rolling fresh dough for samosas.

NJB_6297

The dough, speckled with cumin seeds, is cut into quarters.

NJB_6298

Years of practice make this look easy.

NJB_6301

Filling the samosas

NJB_6307

…and into the fryer they go.

NJB_6326.1

You don’t need fancy kitchen gear to produce amazing food.

NJB_6377

Many homes in rural India still don’t have refrigerators or freezers, so you buy what you need and cook fresh food every day.

NJB_6394

Indian cuisine includes an array of incredible breads.

NJB_6386

Poori puffs up when it’s cooked over an open flame.

NJB_6404.1

The best part of any cooking class is sitting down together to eat delicious food!

NJB_6413

Our kind, generous host, Gita – a truly incredible cook.

We miss you, India!

32,831 miles later

About eight months ago, we decided to put our regular lives on hold for a brief period and venture out to see the world again. We were heartsick and weary and in desperate need of a break from pretty much everything except each other. So we gave away our chickens, threw a few clothes in a backpack and locked up our house. And thus it happened that on a chilly January day, we left Colorado for Japan.

Garden Snow 01

Colorado

Tokyo Fuji sunset 01 sml

Japan

In Japan, we visited monkeys in hot tubs and worked on farms. We ate ramen and tempura and so many other delicious things. We walked Tokyo and Kyoto and fell deeply, completely in love with a country so strange and different and welcoming and lovely that we cannot wait to return.

New Zealand 01 sml

New Zealand

From Japan, we flew to New Zealand. We rented a ragged campervan and drove the length and breadth of the country. We stumbled on an old sheep station and did some stunning walks and learned how macadamia nuts grow. And we discovered that we are perfectly content to live in a campervan…and we plan to do that again soon, too.

Cambodia 01 sml

Cambodia

After New Zealand, we were off to southeast Asia. We started in Cambodia with Angkor Wat and we also saw interesting things being made, like incense and rice noodles and tofu. Oh, and it was hot. (At least we thought so until we got to India, where we learned what heat really is.)

Da Nang 03 sml

Vietnam

We traveled overland to Vietnam, where we jumped on trains, dodged motorbikes, devoured street food and struggled to learn more about a conflicted country with a conflicted history.

Chiang Mai sml

Thailand

Then it was time for a brief rest in Thailand; we went to more markets and bicycled through rice paddies and learned how to make handmade paper. We didn’t ride any elephants but we loved our time on the Banana Pancake Trail.

Flower Market 01 sml

India

No matter what, we weren’t ready for the heat and noise and crush and total sensory assault that is India. We’ve never traveled anywhere that we loved and hated in equal measure – sometimes in the exact same moment – and this complicated country has for certain gotten under our skin. We’ll be back here, too, and much better prepared this time.

Madrid palace 01

Spain

We flew from India to England, with a brief jaunt to gorgeous Madrid. This is one hell of a city…we miss drinking canas and eating jamón y queso at 2AM with hundreds of other people in the city’s beautiful plazas.

Bushby 01 sml

England

We finished with some restorative time in the Midlands’ lush, rolling hills, where the innumerable shades of intense green defy belief. Hours of walking with only cows and sheep for company and then perhaps a brief stop at the local pub for a pint of Tiger. It’s not the worst way to spend a day.

Denver Moon

Colorado

And that brings us to now. We’ve been home for about three weeks and we’re struggling to adjust. This is not the country we left; it has been immensely challenging to reconcile the joy and freedom and lovely people of our travels with the rage and divisiveness and fear currently smothering all of us like a dense fog. But we’re back on our bikes, we’re volunteering on a goat farm and we’ve planted our garden. And this fall, we’ll be out on the road again to search for our farm property in earnest. Thanks for joining us on our travels over these past months and please stay tuned, friends, as our journey has just begun. We’re off to find Quiet Farm.

The photos we didn’t take

N took a lot of remarkable photos during our round-the-world trip, but you won’t see us riding elephants, cradling sea turtles, posing for selfies with tiger cubs or swimming with captive dolphins. (We’ve certainly swum with wild dolphins in the middle of the ocean, but we don’t have the photos to prove it.)

NJB_4032

Animal tourism is all of a sudden a hot topic. Last year, SeaWorld announced that it would cease its controversial orca captive breeding program. In May, Ringling Brothers Circus performed its last show; ticket revenue had dwindled for years once the animal attractions were eliminated. And last autumn, TripAdvisor – one of the world’s largest ticket sellers for tourist attractions worldwide – announced that they would no longer sell tickets to most animal attractions. All of these stories, and many more, clearly indicate that knowledge about this topic is growing, and quickly.

A recent Oxford University study indicated that between two and four million visitors per year pay to visit animal attractions that are considered harmful to animal welfare. Most of this is done out of ignorance, not cruelty. If you’re an American tourist, for example, you might assume that other countries have strict standards for the animals’ health and wellbeing (even though America doesn’t). The reality, however, is that most animal attractions are in desperately poor countries, and the “trainers” might be impoverished people simply looking to feed their family. The possibility of strict regulations, competent oversight or of punishments meted out for violations, is laughable just about everywhere.

NJB_3561

As such, animal tourism was a major issue during much of our trip, particularly in southeast Asia. If you visit Thailand for the first time, one of the things you’ll notice quickly is that elephants are ubiquitous. They’re used in high-end art and on cheap tourist trinkets.

NJB_4051

Elephants advertise beer here too.

Their elegant silhouette can be seen everywhere, and nowhere more glaringly than in the racks and racks of tourist brochures found outside just about every restaurant and guesthouse in Chiang Mai, where these photos were all taken. (Please know that elephant riding and other abusive animal tourism is available all over Asia; we just spent the most time in Thailand and therefore found its constant and unrelenting promotion here particularly overwhelming.)

NJB_4028

Look at all the options you have! Definitely go for the cheapest one. The animals like it there best.

NJB_4017

NJB_4031

NJB_4016

Notice words like happysanctuary and home? These places are anything but.

Many people don’t know that elephants aren’t physiologically designed to be ridden. Despite seeming sort of like a giant, floppy horse, elephants’ spines aren’t built to support weight. Plus, elephants are fundamentally wild animals, and in order to be “domesticated” enough for tourists, they have their spirits broken. They’re also naturally social creatures with intricate familial relationships, and in these camps they typically exist in solitude. And adult females are routinely slaughtered in order to capture wild calves. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea. Elephants are not supposed to be a tourist attraction.

NJB_4019

Tired of this lecture? We haven’t even discussed cuddling tiger cubs yet! Tigers aren’t like house cats and they’re not thrilled about you pawing them. Most of the “tiger sanctuaries” in Asia sedate the tigers before letting the tourists in, just to ensure that the creatures are docile enough to avoid incidents. Oh, and sometimes they’re heavily involved in wildlife trafficking, too! Really some good people here. Absolutely give them your money.

NJB_4035

Don’t these look like fun? The animals are absolutely thrilled to have such an opportunity to enhance your vacation.

Or perhaps you’d rather donate your money a little closer to home, to a place like Lion’s Gate in Colorado, which recently euthanized all of its animals even after other sanctuaries volunteered to take the lions, tigers and bears. These people do not care a fig about animal welfare, and don’t let the cute pictures make you think otherwise. Animal attractions rake in billions of dollars every year, and since there is massive profit to be made from charging people to “experience” (i.e. unintentionally mistreat) animals, it will continue to happen.

NJB_4026

Could we discuss how animal tourism provides jobs and livelihoods in some of the world’s poorest countries? Of course. Should we talk about zoos, which in some places are top-notch research and breeding facilities and in other places absolute horror shows, especially when the population is starving? Sure. Maybe we can discuss the fact that – at least in America – we raise animals for food in horrifying conditions and most people aren’t particularly bothered about that so why shouldn’t we mistreat them for our entertainment, too? And in response to all those hypotheticals, I would argue: because we as humans are better than that. Or at least we should be.

NJB_4049

The advertisements for the animal attractions are literally everywhere.

People who visit animal tourism attractions are typically people who love animals. They want to get up close and personal with fascinating creatures they don’t often encounter, and they’re willing to pay for that privilege. But the Oxford study demonstrated that as many as 80% of these people will visit animal attractions and post positive reviews online, without acknowledging the risks to the animals’ health and welfare. They argue that they really love tigers – they were even born in the Year of the Tiger! – so just one selfie with a drugged tiger cub won’t hurt. Because it shows their social media feed how much they love tigers! It is simply not acceptable, friends. Just as the way America currently raises most of its animals for food isn’t acceptable, neither is this.

NJB_4029

If you made it all the way to the end of this post, thank you. We’ve written about this because we think it’s important and we hope you do too. Please, if you’re considering visiting any sort of animal tourism attraction – whether in the U.S. or overseas – do your research, and don’t just fool yourself with glowing online reviews. Use your common sense and ask yourself whether a large, predatory and naturally solitary animal like a tiger really wants to be handled by human beings for endless hours each day. Not all animal attractions are necessarily poorly managed or abusive, but the bad ones definitely outweigh the good ones.

We say it a lot, but vote with your wallet – refuse to support organizations or attractions that promote any sort of animal cruelty (looking at you, Tyson, Hormel and countless others). This is especially relevant if you’re traveling in the Third World, but as we know from films like Blackfish, we’re to blame here in the U.S. as well. We write a lot about animal welfare on this site, and that’s true not only for what we eat, but what we exploit for entertainment, too. How you choose to spend your money matters, always – and the recent policy changes from major companies like SeaWorld and TripAdvisor shows that they’re paying attention to your choices. Use those choices wisely.

Farewell, India

To wrap up our nearly five weeks in India, we offer you a few more of our favorite photos. There is no way we could sum up our time here in merely a handful of images; we’ll be processing our experiences in this country for a long time to come. Thank you, India: you were beautiful and difficult and amazing and maddening and always, always memorable.

NJB_5786

Elephants for riding at Jaipur, a practice we abhor. (Related post on animal tourism coming soon.)

NJB_6903

The bride’s palms and soles of the feet are traditionally painted with henna for a Hindu wedding ceremony.

NJB_5969

This gorgeous shade of blue appears all over Indian temples and palaces.

NJB_6812

What’s more manipulative than including photos of cute baby animals?

NJB_5884

Even the simplest street scenes here are filled with color.

NJB_6611

The Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Goa.

NJB_7036

Chamundeshwari Temple near Mysore.

IMG_20170422_114415637

Only in India can you see an actual bull in an actual china shop.

NJB_7085

Monks at worship in a Buddhist temple in Madikeri. Buddhism is not at all common in India; only about 10 million people (less than 1% of the population) identify as Buddhist.

NJB_5882

A wedding celebration in Jaipur; the parade goes through the streets so everyone can join in.

NJB_6727

View from the top of Hanuman Temple in Hampi.

NJB_7180

Fishing in the Arabian Sea.

NJB_5979

City Palace, Udaipur.

NJB_6987

Kochi’s central square.

NJB_6685.1

The white-breasted kingfisher, very common in central India.

 

 

 

 

Some honesty

We’ve shared lots of striking images of India, and in this brief post we want to share a few more. Unfortunately, these are striking for all the wrong reasons.

IMG_20170504_181829785_HDR

For everything that we read about India before our visit there – to dress conservatively, to travel in groups, to keep our passports and money close by, to watch our luggage at all times – we never read about this. We had no idea just how unbelievably filthy India actually would be.

IMG_20170419_105959082

We talked a lot about whether we should share photos like this, and obviously we ultimately decided yes. If everything on the Internet is fake, then we want this site not to be. And when we remember India, some of the most vivid memories we have are of amazing experiences like visiting tea plantations and spice gardens and eating dinner in a Sikh temple with five hundred strangers, but they’re also of the nearly incomprehensible piles of rubbish (and human and animal waste) we stepped around and through and over just about every single place we went.

NJB_4672.1

To be fair, some parts of India are cleaner than others. We covered nearly 3,000 kilometers in the country over a month, so we do feel as though we’ve visited enough places to form a reasonably educated opinion. Mumbai was lovely, and so was Mysore. But Agra (home of India’s most-visited tourist attraction!) was filthy, and Bundi was – quite frankly – disgusting. What you don’t see in most of the India photos elsewhere on the blog is how frequently N had to crop images or frame things differently to avoid photographing all of the trash.

IMG_20170419_103356714

There are a lot of things about India that are difficult for Western travelers to comprehend; culture shock was a very real thing for us. More people in India have mobile phones than have access to clean drinking water or toilets; this is an especially dangerous problem for women and girls. The rails of India’s train system have to be replaced, on average, after two years rather than the expected thirty years because the human waste dumped on the tracks corrodes the rails entirely. And in many places, you can’t just throw your trash “away” because there is no “away.” There is no one to come collect it and nowhere to put it even if they did. And if there is a place to dispose of it, people still live there, too. So it most often stays on the streets, and the animals eat it, and the rats come, and it spirals from there.

IMG_20170419_094428666_HDR

Please don’t misinterpret this – we loved our time in India, and we’re so glad we went. And we’re not in any way claiming that solving India’s immensely complex social and cultural issues will be easy, or quick. But travel blogs are full of carefully curated, spectacularly gorgeous photos – and most of the time, ours is, too. This post is designed to provide an honest counterpoint to all that beauty, and to remind ourselves that even in our First World countries, throwing something away isn’t really away, because it doesn’t disappear – it just disappears from our sight. And it’s not typically in a huge pile on the street with animals and people both fighting over it and living in it.

India by train

In an average day, about 23 million people ride on Indian Railways, the fourth-largest railway system in the world. This is about the same as the entire population of Australia!

NJB_6517

Victoria Railway Station, Mumbai.

We took a lot of trains during our four-plus weeks in India; it’s a big country. We rode on sleepers and day trains and subways and coal-fired trains from the 1800s. Like our experience on trains in Vietnam, we believe this is one of the best ways to see a place. From big cities to tiny villages to rural agriculture, we loved experiencing India this way.

NJB_5514

NJB_5332.1

NJB_5439

NJB_5598

NJB_4872

It’s common to see dozens of people sleeping in the train stations.

NJB_5562

A metro station in Delhi.

NJB_5335

Keep your wits about you; the crowds are intense.

NJB_6958

A six-berth sleeper carriage.

NJB_4790

The locomotive of Darjeeling’s “toy train.”

NJB_4789

A carriage of the toy train.

One of the primary tourist attractions in Darjeeling – in addition to tea plantations – is the “toy train,” a narrow-gauge railroad built by the British in the late 1800s that runs for about 78 kilometers through West Bengal. The train was revolutionary when it was first constructed, since it both traveled at altitude (Darjeeling is at about 7,000 feet) and navigated treacherously steep mountainsides.

NJB_4831

Emptying spent coal from the train’s furnace.

Nowadays it’s rather quaint (and slow), with piercingly loud horns and clouds of pollution from the coal, but it remains one of Darjeeling’s most popular tourist attractions.

NJB_5466

Despite its crowded cities, much of India is still almost entirely agricultural; this was often the view from the trains.

NJB_4143

NJB_4873

It was always a little disconcerting for our group of Westerners to conspicuously walk into a lounge labeled as “upper class.”

NJB_5512

NJB_5599

NJB_6962.1

Chaiwallahs offer hot, sweet tea throughout the train carriages.

NJB_6963

I’m not sure what the plan is if the hammer isn’t there.

Just like everything else in India, the trains are hot, crowded and noisy, but they’re a quintessentially Indian experience. Can you travel India more efficiently? Of course. But the greatest gift the trains offer is time; they force travelers to slow down and experience a country at its own pace. We’re so glad we saw India by train.

Spice plantation

We spent a few days in Goa, a state in western India situated along the Arabian Sea. Up until 1961, Goa was a Portuguese colony; it’s a major tourist destination now and is famous for its beaches. It’s India’s wealthiest state, with a per-capita GDP nearly three times that of the rest of the country. While we’re not so much for beaches, Goa is also famous for its tropical flora and fauna, and we loved visiting one of its spice plantations.

NJB_7252

spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or vegetable substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Spices are different from herbs, which are parts of leafy green plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Modern cooks definitely do not appreciate our plentiful and inexpensive supply of spices and herbs, many formerly so valuable that they were used as currency. (Want to incorporate more fresh herbs into your cooking? Join me on June 10 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Learn more here!)

NJB_6637

A green cardamom plant, which will produce the familiar little seed pods.

NJB_6632

Black cardamom, which in Indian cuisine is used only for flavoring and isn’t eaten, unlike the green cardamom pods.

The majority of the most common culinary spices are grown in tropical areas, roughly twenty-five degrees north and south of the equator. This is the same area of the world where coffee and cacao are grown, too.

NJB_6651

Nutmeg on the tree.

Two of our most-loved baking spices, nutmeg and mace, both come from the same tree. Nutmeg is the seed and mace is the lacy covering of the seed. This is the only plant that produces two different commercially viable spices.

NJB_6704

Peri peri chile peppers. Very small and very potent.

NJB_6638

Arabica coffee beans.

NJB_6653

This plant looks rather unassuming, but it’s actually the world’s second most expensive spice, after saffron. That vine will eventually produce vanilla pods.

NJB_6715.1

Turmeric is the new trendy ingredient in everything from lattes to roasted cauliflower. Here, the root has just been harvested…

NJB_5551

…and here it’s for sale in the market.

NJB_6625

Unripe peppercorns.

Black, green and white peppercorns all come from the same plant – like tea, the variation lies in how they’re dried and processed. (Pink peppercorns come from an entirely different plant altogether.) These were once so valuable that a serf could buy his freedom with a pound of peppercorns.

NJB_5538

Spice traders at work.

NJB_5533

NJB_5541

NJB_6533

NJB_5559

NJB_5864

A gorgeous array of after-dinner refreshers, mostly based on fennel seed.

The next time you’re rummaging through your spice cabinet, remember that these seemingly innocuous plants changed the course of history! And while those of us in temperate zones can’t grow these spices without a greenhouse, you can easily grow lots of useful culinary herbs like basil, parsley, chives, mint and more in containers or a backyard garden.

NJB_6696

And if anyone can tell us what tropical spice plant this is, we’d be most grateful…it’s the only one we didn’t make a note of!

Scenes from India, vol. 1

A collection of some of our favorite photos from India; more to come.

NJB_6945

It’s very easy for Western tourists in India to blend in. Really, it’s tough to even find me in this photo.

One aspect of traveling in India that really surprised us was how many people wanted their photo taken with us. We were regularly asked to pose for photos with couples, families and children – sometimes babies would be shoved into our arms for pictures! In some of the more rural areas, we were apparently the first Westerners they had seen.

NJB_5698.1

Sorry about the scaffolding; they’re giving the marble a mud bath treatment to remove the evidence of intense pollution.

NJB_5397

Traditional Muslim architecture at an imambara in Lucknow.

NJB_6916

Stepwells, used in ye olde times and still today to hold water for people and agriculture.

NJB_6451.1

It’s possible that this tractor’s trailer is ever-so-slightly overloaded.

NJB_6471

Mumbai’s most expensive home, valued at $1 billion. It has 600 rooms, but it still has views of slums, like the one below.

NJB_6483

One of Mumbai’s many slums. 

While out on a day tour of Mumbai, we were offered the chance to visit one of its slum communities. Tours like this are challenging – many people will call them “poverty porn” – but poverty is an issue that confronts travelers everywhere in India. The Mumbai slum is truly one of the most remarkable places we’ve been; the people we saw were hard at work in a variety of industries, including textile manufacturing and recycling.

NJB_6489

A “factory” in the slum.

Many of our Western luxury goods, such as branded handbags and clothing, are manufactured in places just like the one in the photo above. On the left, a roll of white fabric waits to be dyed; the red dye is bleeding out of the shop floor into the open sewer that runs along the buildings. The Dharavi slum, the second-largest in Asia, is thought to have a goods turnover of more than one billion dollars annually. While the ethics of visiting a place like this are debatable, there is no debate about the thriving economy that exists here.

NJB_5364

Both Muslim and Hindu architecture feature prominently in India.

NJB_7242

A statue of Lord Ganesha.

NJB_7010

Every Sunday evening, the Mysore Palace is illuminated with millions of old-fashioned lightbulbs.

NJB_5724

The red sandstone mosque next to the Taj Mahal.

NJB_6502

The world’s largest open-air laundry in Mumbai. There is a good chance your fancy hotel’s sheets were washed here.

NJB_5754

The Pink Palace of Jaipur.

NJB_7149

Almost every cargo truck we saw was brightly painted and often festooned with streamers and other decorations.

NJB_6163

At a cultural dance performance in Rajasthani, this amazing woman danced while balancing these pots on her head.

NJB_7255

Kochi’s Chinese fishing nets.

NJB_6825

People leave offerings of fruit and other foods at temples, and now most temples have excessive populations of (sometimes aggressive) rhesus macaques and gray langurs.

Faces of India

India is an exceptionally diverse country. Its landmass is slightly more than one-third the size of the U.S. but contains four times the population, about 1.3 billion people. It is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions. It has 22 official languages and about 1,600 “other” languages or dialects. It has four main castes and thousands of sub-castes. Amidst all that, it’s interesting to note that it has no official racial designations; after Independence, the government sought to do away with racial classifications. Therefore, everyone born in India is Indian, and here we share with you some of the people of this beautiful, diverse, complicated place.

NJB_5007.1

NJB_6902.1

NJB_6135

NJB_5870

NJB_5818.1

NJB_5405.1

NJB_5783.1

NJB_7118

NJB_5196.1

NJB_5223

NJB_5791

NJB_5855

NJB_5914

NJB_7239.1

NJB_5859

NJB_6905.1

NJB_7183

NJB_5883

NJB_4299

NJB_5771.1

NJB_7124.1

NJB_7141.JPG

NJB_4314