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Egg Hopper breakfast in Sri Lanka

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Egg Hoppers make a quick and delicious breakfast: First warm the specially shaped bowl, then pour in just the right amount of the rice flour batter. It may take some practice to get the right amount. Swirl the batter around to thin it out; let it cook for a few seconds. Then crack a fresh egg, break the yolk (some prefer the yolk intact) and swirl the egg. Add herbs and spices, scoop the hopper and egg out, plate them, and enjoy with capsicums, onions, or cheese.

Photography by Jim Shubin with special thanks to Shirani Devika, the hopper chef at Jetwing Blue.



Aer Lingus News Changes my Travel Plans

Helen Maguire, Dave Cooney, and Laurie McAndish King (RT) Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer
Helen Maguire, Dave Cooney, and Laurie McAndish King (RT) Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer


Dave Cooney and Helen Maguire chat with me about about Aer Lingus’ new daily nonstop service from San Francisco to Dublin, Ireland. We also chat about comfy lie-flat seats in business class, vacation packages, and—news to me—an expedited reentry arrangement with U.S. Customs.

That means on my way home I can clear U.S. Customs in Dublin (a relatively small and very convenient airport) and return to the U.S. as though I were on a domestic flight—no long lines at SFO. This could save me hours of time and improve my mood immeasurably. In fact, it means I’ll be thinking of all my European travel differently—I’ll be checking to see whether I can return via Dublin on Aer Lingus.

Yes, it’s a great travel tip. You’re welcome, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Faces of Alaska

There are many faces of Alaska—soaring snow-covered peaks, bald eagles flying high, the grizzly bear foraging, and native Tlingit  totem poles. We fell in love with totem poles. Traditionally, they have been carved for various reasons: to show family lineage, to teach history or illustrate experiences, to honor the dead, to proclaim contracts, or even to publicly ridicule someone into paying a debt.
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Traditional Totem Meanings

Killer whale, guardian of the seas, signifies nobility and power. Frog is a symbol of respect for the nature and order of the world. The moon is a powerful celestial spirit, a mover of tides and indicator of the changing seasons. The tinnah—a large, shield-like piece traditionally made of copper—was a symbol of wealth. Raven is the Creator in northwest mythology. He is a symbol of wit and intelligence, with a precocious nature. Salmon is a figure of renewal and sustenance. The eagle is a bird of great wisdom, strength, and power.

Totem Pole Pigments

Prior to the availability of commercial paints, native pigments were made from locally available materials. Red came from iron-stained earth or clay, black from charcoal or soot, and blue-green from copper oxides. White could be made from burned clam shells. Powdered raw materials mixed with chewed, dry salmon eggs created the carvers’ paints. The difficulty in making paint helps to explain why only the most important features of a large sculptural piece like a totem pole were painted.


Mendocino County: Days of Wine and Rhodies, part 1

Zina Hyde Cunningham General Manager Zach Truter demonstrates his method for decanting in the glass. Photo by JM Shubin

If the recession has you planning a “staycation” this year, Mendocino County may be just the ticket. Best known for its rugged coastline, award-winning wineries, and native rhododendron groves, Mendocino offers active fun like kayaking, horseback riding, golf, hiking, and biking. You can also enjoy a wide variety of rejuvenating activities such as theater, music and arts festivals, whale watching, spa-going, viewing historical sites, and tasting inventive cuisine, all with easy access from the Bay Area.

My favorite activities in the area involve Mendocino’s wine and rhododendron cultures, both world-class. Here’s how to get started enjoying “days of wine and rhodies.”

Drive north from San Francisco on 101 to Cloverdale, where you can enjoy the small-town charm of restored Victorians and outdoor murals. You might want to grab lunch at Pick’s Drive In (on North Cloverdale Blvd at 1st Street), which has been serving the community since 1923. While I enjoyed a burger, fries and a drink at Picks for about $5, I watched as Susan—a friendly server who has been there for 14 years—expertly guided a young customer away from a caffeinated beverage towards a healthier choice.

At Cloverdale, turn west onto highway 128 for a leisurely drive through mixed deciduous forests of moss-covered oaks, madrone, buckeyes, bigleaf maples, pines and redwoods on your way to the coast. About 20 miles down the road, at mile marker 34.20, Meyer Family Cellars is a good place to stop and stretch your legs: you’ll find a kids’ play structure, bocce ball court, and trellised picnic area with great views of rolling, tree-covered hills and a big sky. Other thoughtful touches are landscaping with native plants, available locally produced olive oil and mustard, a bilingual recipe book featuring the best salsas from more than 20 of the Anderson Valley’s Mexican inhabitants, and—framed and hanging in the very clean restroom—a recipe for authentic Italian crostini.

Owners Karen and Matt Meyer, who offer a small selection of good wines, know their business. Karen is a native of Perth, Australia, and has made wine in Australia, New Zealand, France, and Sonoma County. Ken grew up in the Napa Valley; his father was a winemaker for Sliver Oak. Be sure to try the Meyer Family Port ($35/bottle), a fruity, silky selection that pairs perfectly with chocolate dessert. And if you’re in the mood for a splurge, try the Bonny’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($135), which was once available through Silver Oak but has been out of production for about ten years. The 2003 bottling was released in the fall of 2008, and is hard to find elsewhere, since only about 225 cases were released.

If Karen and Matt aren’t around when you visit Meyer, Jo Ann Aronson can fill you in knowledgably on the wines as well as local activities; she told us about the annual Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival coming up on Saturday, August 29, 2009, at which 30 to 40 wines—all made from locally grown grapes—will be poured amidst live music, a boar and lamb BBQ, Highland Games with prizes, a grape stomp, and a silent auction in a fun, well-organized atmosphere. The festival sells out early; reserve your space before the end of July for a $10 discount.

In the town of Boonville, don’t miss the historically appointed Zina Hyde Cunningham Tasting Room. It’s on the main street, on your right, and well worth a visit. General Manager Zach Truter is a remarkable resource, whether recounting the winery’s four-generation history (the founder came to California from Maine during the gold rush), explaining Zina Hyde Cunningham’s philosophy of producing well-balanced, drinkable wines, or demonstrating his technique for decanting in the glass. I’m not normally a pinot fan, but enjoyed a taste of the 2005 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir while Zach explained that Anderson Valley pinots tend to be fruitier and less acidic than others. Try the 2005 Mendocino County Carignane, too, with its wonderful cherry custard aroma. (It’s Zach’s standby “doghouse” bottle, which he combines with flowers and chocolates as a gift when he’s … you know … in the doghouse.) Zina Hyde Cunningham produces fewer than 2,000 cases per year, and they are non-distributed (available only through the winery), so you might want to leave room in the trunk to bring some home with you.

Next, check out Goldeneye Winery, a small-lot artisanal winemaker with beautiful grounds and a “farmhouse living room” tasting room about five miles past Boonville in Philo. Goldeneye provided the pinot noir served at President Obama’s inauguration; they also produce a sophisticated, dry, oaky rosé that I enjoyed very much. If Operations Manager Bob Nye is around, ask him for information about Goldeneye’s participation in developing a certification program for sustainable wineries.

If you’re traveling with children, you might want to stop at the Navarro General Store and Grocery to admire the sculpture, gas up and get provisions; or have a picnic at the Hinde Woods Apple Farm. Next, it’s on to the coast for a hike in the redwoods, a walk back through time to the pygmy forest, and a visit with some of Mendocino’s friendliest horticulturists.

© 2009 Laurie McAndish King. This article was originally published in Examiner.com on May 1, 2009.

Mendocino County: Days of Wine and Rhodies, part 2

“This plant is having sex 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 or 4 months; it’s very strenuous!” Jim Celeri is showing me a gorgeous rhododendron that is in full bloom, and explaining the plant’s need for water. While I’d prefer a less thirsty specimen for my garden, I have fallen in love with the spectacular blossoms on this plant—it happens to be called “Golden Gate”—which are bright pink at the edges and gradate to rich orange at the center. I can hardly begrudge the plant’s need for water, especially when Jim explains it so sympathetically.

Jim comes by those sympathies honestly; his great-grandfather was a timber man in Ft. Bragg, and subsequent generations have all made their living from the land. Jim and his brother opened this rhododendron nursery some twenty years ago, and Jim has been caring for the plants ever since. His brother left the business a few years ago to become a shoe salesman, but Jim’s son, Frank, is continuing the tradition; he is the son in Celeri & Son Nursery in Fort Bragg, California. Together, Jim and Frank manage a property that offers more than 20,000 rhododendrons and azaleas, comprising about 100 species.

Frank explains that rhododendrons grow around the world, in places as diverse as Japan and India, Indonesia and the Himalayas. The microclimate in Ft. Bragg is similar to that in Himalayan valleys, and is hospitable to “tender species,” some of which grow well only in their native habitats in the cloud forests of Southeast Asia and the Himalayas —and right here in Fort Bragg.

Just down the road, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens include a special section showcasing those tender species rhododendrons—which produce some of the most fragrant blossoms of all rhododendrons—among its many acres of gardens and three miles of meandering pathways and fern-covered canyons, culminating in spectacular views of the craggy Mendocino coastline.

The gardens opened in 1966, and are a showcase for nearly 100 rhododendron species and 170 cultivars, including hard-to-find 40-year-old rhododendron hybrids, as well as heaths and heathers (it was awarded as a Collection of National Significance in 2008 by the American Public Gardens Association), camellias, magnolias and conifers, and endangered species of wildflowers.

Visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in February, March, and April to view early-blooming rhododendrons, camellias, daffodils, magnolias, cherries, and Pacific Coast iris. You may spot whales off the coast, too, during their spring migration. Rhododendron blossoms peak from late April to mid-May; and May, June, and July are good for viewing heritage roses, perennials, cactus, succulents, lilies, and coastal and forest wildflowers. The garden’s famous heather collection blooms in late summer and fall, along with perennials, dahlias, heritage roses, fuchsias, and hydrangeas; winter viewing features Japanese maples, late perennials, winter heathers, camellias, and wild mushrooms, as well as the southward winter whale migration.

Mendocino celebrates its rhododendrons every spring with the John Druecker Rhododendron Show & Plant Sale, a juried event with more than 700 entries, and also featuring bonsai exhibits, photographs, educational programs, a raffle, door prizes, and a silent auction.

This is the second in a series of articles about Mendocino County. Part 1 highlighted three excellent Mendocino County wineries. Next up: Giant redwoods, wild rhododendrons, and the mysterious pygmy forest at Jug Handle State Reserve.

More information:

  • Celeri & Son Rhododendron Nursery: 20,000 Summers Lane, Fort Bragg, CA. (707) 964-7526. Take Highway 20 east from Fort Bragg; turn left/north on Summers Lane and drive about ¾ mile up the road.
  • Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens: 18220 N. Highway 1 in Fort Bragg, CA. (707) 964-4352. www.gardenbythesea.org. Open daily all year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Saturday following Labor Day in September.
  • The annual John Druecker Memorial Show & Plant Sale is sponsored by the Noyo Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society (707) 964-4435.
  • The Rhododendron Species Foundation: www.rhodygarden.org
  • What to see and do in Fort Bragg, “The Undiscovered Gem of the Mendocino Coast.”

© 2009 Laurie McAndish King. This article originally ran in Examiner.com on May 7, 2009.

Full Moon Festival in Sri Lanka

The Esala Perahera  (Festival of the August Full Moon) in Sri Lanka’s last Royal citadel of Kandy is something not to miss in August, says our Sri Lanka correspondent Lakshman Ratnapala.

AccordinTemple Elephantg to ancient Royal customs, the Diya-wadana Nilame (the Custodian of the Dalada Maligawa — the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic), Nilanga Dela Bandara, along with the Basnayake Nilames (Chiefs of the surrounding Temples), officially presented the ‘Sannasa’ (the traditional proclamation) announcing the successful conclusion of the Perahera, to the Head of State, President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Mansion in Kandy today.

Temple ElephantsThe Perahera paraded the streets of Kandy for 10 nights under the August Full Moon. It featured the majestic Temple elephant carrying the golden casket of  Buddha Relics in a silver howdah on its back through the streets of medieval Kandy, accompanied by a hundred gorgeously caparisoned companion elephants followed by hundreds of dancers, acrobats and fire twirlers stepping to the throbbing  beat of hundreds of traditional drummers, under an unusually big Full Moon. Kandyan Chieftains in traditional regalia joined the procession, lending the event an aura of medieval royal pageantry. The city streets were filled with a million devotees whose cries of ‘Sadu Sadu’ rent the air, as the relic casket passed by. The drumming and the pilgrims’ cries reverberated on the hills encircling the city of Kandy.

Dancers, Sri Lanka

Clips & Pics from Bay Area Travel Writers

Clips & Pics is now available from Bay Area Travel Writers! The 98-page full color magazine-style publication features articles and photos by the organization’s members, who are professional travel writers and photographers.

There’s a great mix: surf and mountains, gourmet golf and polka-dot bikinis, big-city touring and small-town fun, ghosts and graffiti, Beaujolais and burros, silence and spectacle. And you’ll learn a lot from these pros. For example: what it feels like to be molested by a dolphin, how to find a Chinese beach resort, how many ways an American city girl can embarass herself on a small farm in Tuscany, and what it feels like to walk through the Brazilian rainforest.


Lost, Kidnapped, Eaten Alive! True Stories from a Curious Traveler

Purchase from these booksellers:

What happens when a practical midwestern gal sets off to explore the world? Laurie McAndish King’s travels seem innocent in the planning stage, but surprising adventure follows as she finds herself tracking lions on foot and without a gun in Botswana … attempting to eat a horse in southern Italy … searching for an ancient erotic Celtic goddess in Ireland … accidentally marrying a Maasai warrior in Kenya … and sampling the world’s most expensive coffee—brewed from the excrement of a small Balinese mammal.

Whether she is lost in downtown Melbourne, kidnapped in the scorching Tunisian desert, or eaten alive by the blood-sucking denizens of tropical north Queensland, King’s stories—quirky, poignant, occasionally unsettling, and often funny—are inspiring and entertaining.

Here’s what readers are saying.

Reclaiming the Apple: Poems from Afghanistan

Amundsen’s images are fierce and soft, alluring and alarming. They ask nothing and everything from the reader. They are a poetic calling to action rooted in awakening and prayer.

We are offered a journey for the price of this collection—we are given a moment in time to quiet our modern minds, to consider the deeper questions: What is the nature of war and peace, of reconciliation? Amundsen’s poems are a lyric lament and a stark reminder of the world we live in. These poems may evoke fear, but when the dream becomes a nightmare, maybe the only way through it is to encounter it directly and boldly, as the author does here. She transforms suffering into beauty.

Wandering in Paris

This collection won first place at the London Book Festival, and first honorable mention at the Paris Book Festival.

They’re off on another adventure, this time to the City of Light. More than a city, Paris is actually a world of its own, and as these very imaginative literary wanderers discover, it’s a destination layered in time. Workshop leaders Linda Watanabe McFerrin and Joanna Biggar and their worldly companions uncover some surprising new facets of the much-celebrated metropolis. Their personal lives connect with all that makes Paris astounding. Addressing Parisian luminaries, art, fashion, music, cuisine, and passion, they present a sometimes shimmering, sometimes shadowy picture of a city that defies cliché.

“Wandering in Paris is not only one of my favorite things to do in the world, it’s also the title of this marvelous new collection of stories and poems. As you read through them, don’t be surprised if you hear the vice of Edith Piaf herself as she sings ‘C’est merveilleux.‘ ‘It’s marvelous.’ So is this transportive book.”

—Phil Cousineau
Author, The Art of Pilgrimage and The Book of Roads

No European civilization since Renaissance Florence has so spurred the artistic imagination as did the Paris of the 1920s and ’30s. Its pentimento lingers, as contemporary writers discover in our present the sensuous and seductive shadows of a storied past. Open the pages of Wandering in paris upon a patina of the incandescent city.

—Georgia Hesse
Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite (France) and
Founding Travel Editor, San Francisco Examiner