The Jungle Cooks



You know the moment – the moment when pleasantries have been exchanged and the conversation wanes.  The obvious commonalities that often lead to deeper conversation don’t exist – parenting, work, etc.  There must be something we can talk about, common interests, passions.

“Do you cook?”  In the United States this is a loaded questions and can almost be perceived as making a critical judgement call on one’s quality of life.  In most other countries, however, it is received with an enthusiastic smile, even by men.  Of course I cook!  What do you like to cook?  What are your favorite foods?  What do you prepare for special occasions?  Since I also like to cook, conversation easily flows on this topic and can flow onto other topics such as home life, religious holidays, family values and local culture – topics that ultimately interest me more than tonight’s menu.  Cooking – the no fail gateway conversation starter.

While on a recent trip to India, I spent several days at a rustic campground.  While chatting with the camp director over a plate of khatti dahl (lentil stew, southern India style) and rice, I mentioned most sincerely and genuinely that the food at the camp was exceptionally good.  This was not a shot in the dark to keep the conversation alive.  Talk was easy and company sweet and, really, the fare was fantastic.  I attributed the quality of victuals to the obvious factors.  The scrap-fed chickens were killed mere hours before the meal (I heard some clucking around three in the afternoon and ate chicken for dinner at six).  Empty coconut shells were stacked in the corner, the contents of which had just been shredded and ground out.  With no refrigeration, everything was at the acme of ripeness and served immediately.  And the other obvious factor was the wood burning stove, including wood-scented smoke that permeated the small kitchen workspace.  The contribution of the smoke ingredient cannot be underplayed – and cannot be replicated in a conventional kitchen.

I mentioned this to the director.  “In town we ate at restaurants and at the guest house.  The food was good.  I like Indian food.  But here, the food is exceptional.  It’s hot, but the heat is not overpowering and adds a tasteful richness.  Again, it really is exceptional.

He chuckled and motioned to the team of several men in the kitchen who joyfully produced the amazing variety of sauces, breads and rice dishes.  “I’ve been here twelve [or was it 14?] years and the cooks were here before me.  They were trained by the previous director and they have full control over the menu within the set budget. The previous director was a five star chef.”


Where the magic happens


The magician cooks


Read more about this trip to India here: Black Friday and the path to freedom for the sex trafficked.


The Coming – what it means to a slave of fear


The face of fear, of agony, has new features for me.  Tears stream down her face as she recounts confusion, treachery, manipulation, physical bondage, unwanted touching. . .  Her story tumbles out of her mouth like a river, eager to be released from the dam of shame.  After being abandoned by her parents as a child, they called her ‘home,’ only to enslave her.

But physically, now, she is free.  When she told us her story, it ended with joy, though sadness was still etched on her brow.  Most of her decisions in life had been driven by fear.  Fear brought her to that place.  It is easy to sympathize without feeling any connection to her plight or truly understand how it feels to be in bondage.  Those slaves to fear.  Those people, over there.  Not here.  Not me.  

But we were all born slaves – slaves to fear, in bondage to self-worship and self-glorification.

ZechariahA couple days ago, over breakfast, I read the story of Zechariah to my children from The Story Bible.  Words of his prophecy resonated in my mind.  Perhaps because I recently returned from a trip to India and heard stories of persecution and rejection – often the result of choosing a life of Faith – these words spoke to my reality.

Then we, being saved, might serve Him without fear.

We were saved from fear!  In this season of The Coming, we remember – we must remember – that we live in the time when the prophecy has been fulfilled. “That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” (Luke 1:74,75)  We were delivered so we can serve Him fearlessly.

This is the reason for His coming.


What was I doing in India?  Read more here.

Fear seems to be a recurring theme in life – and on the blog.  Here are some other related posts:

Thank You and the Art of Henna



“This week finds me in Salalah, Oman, where I indulged in a traditional art and got a tatoo.  Well, a henna tatoo.  In this region of the world, many women are dressed in the black hijab.  The only visible parts of the body are the eyes, hands and feet (when wearing sandals).  But that’s not to say there’s no reason to titivate with the best of them!  What is visible is often decorated and made up with great care and class.  Women’s beauty salons abound.  Eyebrows are tweezed and threaded.  Eye shadow brushed about.  Heavy mascara applied.  Fingers display a vast array of gold and dazzling rings.  Bracelets jingle.  Perfume is heavy.  And even the skin is painted.  This is the art of henna.

In the Middle East, East Africa and parts of Asia henna is a common form of body art.  Applying henna to the body is a practice thousands of years old.  Henna ink is derived from the henna plant and applied to the hands and feet in intricate, delicate designs.  The ink can also be applied as a temporary hair dye.  In desert climates like the Arabian peninsula, its practical use is as a protection from sun burn – a natural sunscreen.  This “tatoo” fades away after several weeks, so for someone like me who will never commit to be bound to a permanent, western-style tatoo, it’s an art form in which I’m more than happy to participate.” May 2013

Fast forward to November 2014, Tamil Nadu, India.  “I am not a professional, but I practice a lot at home and I have my favorite designs.”  This seemed to be a common refrain among the young women I befriended during my week in India.  This evening, ‘Naya’ worked swiftly, gracefully, skillfully on my palm and arm.  Not a professional?  This girl – these girls – had skill!  Normally reserved for special occasions such as weddings, our henna was a thank you gift.  What an honor to be a recipient of their skilled art, bestowed after a childhood of learning and observing the practice.  When she was done, Naya pulled out a phone and showed me her portfolio of intricate designs on Pinterest.  Clearly there are some arts that are under-appreciated this side of the pond.  Henna is one of them.

It does not wash off.

It does not wash off, so on the return trip, in the various airports across the continents, several people stopped to comment on the strikingly visible lines.  “Is that henna?  Did you go to a wedding?”  Yes, it’s henna.  No,  I didn’t go to a wedding.  Quite the contrary, actually.

We were crowded intimately around a campfire, girls swapping stories of henna escapades, in awe of the variety of designs that emerged out of a paper cone, tip snipped to allow the gel to escape.  They were piping brown frosting henna onto my hand and the hands of others around the circle.  But there was no talk of weddings, at least among the conversations I understood – which, when there are five languages spoken at once in a throng of girls, isn’t saying much.  For one last night, the young women were out under the stars, under the canopy of creation.  Time and again they had been told, some for the first time, that there IS a God who loves them.  This God cleans away stains that run deeper than henna and transforms calloused hearts (and hands) into individuals that bring glory to His name.

I never ended up getting that henna tattoo in Oman last year.  I was so excited about the prospect, however, that I had proactively researched and wrote a draft blog post, ready to publish once photos of the done deed were acquired.  The gift of being henna’d by a friend, however, was much more meaningful than a quick paid, touristic visit to a salon.  As I write this ten days after the event, my henna is but a faint stain of its once striking glory.  It’s nearly gone, but I will forever hold the memory of being henna’d in the dim light of a campfire in the Nilgiri mountains of Tamil Nadu.  Thank you ladies!


Why was I in India?  Read more here.


Black Friday and the path to freedom for the sex trafficked



P1070037Tuesday morning, as I unpacked my camping backpack from my trip to India, I caught a whiff of smoke and curry, the comforting aroma that had worked its way into my fleece.  High in the Nilgiri mountain range in Tamil Nadu, southern India, I had just spent a week with young women who had been rescued from the prolific sex trade.  I heard stories of betrayal by relatives, stories of sexual abuse and rejection by parents – stories told through tears of sorrow but also tears of relief, knowing the hearers listened with open hearts and were prepared to share the burden of their life story.


While the realities of the tragedies in these womens’ lives were presented to me every day, hope is a word that comes to mind.  After spending time in the wilderness chatting over curry, sleeping in tents in the cool mountain air, hiking through the eucalyptus forests and swimming in the pristine waters of the mountain lakes, these young women have been presented with hope.  They have been physically rescued.  Now their hearts are in the process of being emotionally rescued and spiritually restored.  After this week, each one of them heard there is a Hope and a future.


Many of these women cannot return to their homes and resume a “normal” routine.  In a culture that idolizes community, they cannot simply reintegrate into village life.  Their past is known.  Their family is shamed.  They are dependent on organizations and groups that become their new community, giving them counseling, training and unconditional love as they learn to live beyond the scars.  One way these organizations assist women to become independent is by teaching them a trade and then providing access to customers who are willing to purchase their wares, not ostracize them because of their history (which would happen in their local community).

Today, on the biggest shopping day of the year, I wanted to highlight three organizations that specifically serve to train and empower women who have come out of sexual servitude and slavery.

This is the season for joyfully, thankfully, non-begrudgingly giving gifts.  We WILL give gifts, but where will those gifts come from?  Last minute purchases at Walgreens?  Maybe.  There’s nothing wrong with that, if you’ve actually found that perfect gift, one you know will make the recipient smile and perhaps even let out an inside-joke-giggle.  Nevertheless, we often wish we had planned a little more in advance and purchased something that would have a deeper significance.  Now is that opportunity.


Beads in the Ruhamah workshop.

Beads in the Ruhamah workshop.

While in India last week, I had the opportunity to visit Ruhamah Designs and meet the dedicated artisans.  In their small workshop, they cheerily work away, knowing there is a team supporting them by marketing and creating a demand for their product.  Ruhamah is an “ethical jewelry brand that employs women who have been rescued from sex trafficking. Because many of these women were trafficked as children, they often have little to no education and few marketable skills.” Ruhamah, which means the one God loves, was established “to provide a viable, sustainable occupation for these women and an opportunity to start fresh in life.”

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A second organization is the Freed Jubilee Market, which provides an avenue for organizations from across the globe who work with women rescued from the sex trade to sell their wares in the United States.  The affiliate groups train artisans in innumerable crafts, including home goods (saree quilt, anyone?), jewelry, accessories and apparel.  AND, they are having a fantastic Black Friday sale today (November 28th)!  I am the proud owner of a colorful handbag made of repurposed sarees created by Ribi (as the tag indicates), an artisan at Deepika4aCause, a Jubilee Market affiliate in Calcutta, India.  I am sincerely impressed by the quality craftsmanship of the product – double lining, neat stitching, magnetic clasps, snaps and all.

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Handbag, similar to mine, on sale at Jubilee Market online.

Scarf on sale at Jubilee Market online.

Scarf on sale at Jubilee Market online.

Finally, supporting approximately 50 women in southern Asia, the Starfish Project provides opportunities for healing and growth through “counseling, vocational training, language acquisition, family education grants and health care access, as well as providing housing in our women’s shelter.” The Project primarily supports the women through the jewelry company where the participants take on “new levels of responsibility and leadership, and are able to provide for their families through meaningful employment.” The Starfish Project has an exhaustive inventory that is sold wholesale, sold to other online retailers, sold in boutiques across the globe or simply sold online to individuals like you.

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Moroccan Chicken Pie (B’stilla): Cooking in Community



I am very privileged to have a Moroccan friend who lives locally.  She came over one morning to give me a cooking lesson.  Earlier in the month she had been sitting on my couch, relaxing with a copy of Saveur magazine, when the article on B’stilla called her name.  Flaky pastry dough is stuffed with layers of egg, crushed almonds and shredded spiced chicken.  We have to make this!  I will show you!  Definitely a sentiment I was happy to entertain.

When was the last time you got together with a friend to cook and delve deep into the kind of conversation that only can be induced after laboring with ingredients and then consuming the work of your hands?  It’s an all too rare event for me, I must confess.  In our culture the home cook usually labors alone.  All my necessities are within an arm’s reach – oven, mixer, open fire (in my case, a gas stove).  I don’t need to ask my neighbor to borrow a hot coal to start my morning flame.  I don’t send the kids down the street to the community oven to bake our daily bread.  I don’t stand across from my female relative, legs planted shoulder width apart, raising and lower a towering pestle as we rhythmically alternate pounding the grain in a cavernous mortar.

Photo: Evelyn Hockstein, New York Times

Photo: Evelyn Hockstein, New York Times

I have lived in and visited places where cooking and preparing the family meal is a long, laborious process.  Indeed, gathering and preparing food leaves little time for other profitable or leisure activities.  I don’t take modern conveniences for granted, but do lament that those conveniences allow us to be isolated in the kitchen.  For some, it may be a lonely place.  But few things are as bonding as cutting, chopping, mixing, pounding, stirring, frying, rolling, washing, skinning, peeling, grinding, frying, baking, dicing and – ultimately – breaking bread with a friend.  So, raise a glass and get to planning your next cooking get-together.  I know I am.


A recipe that calls for flaky crust and pigeon, as the one in Saveur called for, would not normally be one I place on my weekly menu roster.  But my friend prefers her B’stilla prepared with chicken, without scrambled eggs (yeah, one less step!) and always buys pre-made crust (Amen!).  Thus, this is much less daunting and time consuming that it appeared at first glance on the glossy pages of the magazine.  Additionally, the pies can be frozen after the initial baking to be used at a later date.

P1060535 Rinse pieces of one whole chicken.  Pour lemon juice over pieces.  Sprinkle with salt and rub the pieces to remove the slimy membranes.  Let set in strainer for 10 minutes.


Chop two onions.  Place in bottom of Dutch oven (using as a substitute for tagine).  Place chicken in pot and toss with onions, 1.5 Tablespoons each ginger and turmeric, one diced garlic clove, 2 teaspoons salt.  Cook on medium low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and basting with juices.


Remove chicken from pot to cool.  Remove one cup of broth to make a gravy.  Add 1 tsp cinnamon to gravy.  Remove meat from bones once cooled.  Break into small pieces in a bowl.  Pour gravy over meat.


While chicken is cooking, blanche (soak in just-boiled water) 2 cups raw almonds.  Allow to soak for 20 minutes or until skins are soft and peel off easily.  Pat almonds dry.


Heat canola oil on medium-high heat.  Add almonds and turn heat to low.  Stir so they cook evenly, about 5 minutes.  They will continue to cook once removed from oil, so take them out just as they begin to brown.


In food processor, pulse almonds with 1/2 cup powdered sugar.


Baste three sheets of lumpia with melted butter.  Arrange in clover leaf shape.  Place about 1/4 cup of chicken in center.  Pat flat.  Place a single sheet of lumpia on chicken.  Baste with melted butter.


Sprinkle lumpia with generous portion of crushed almonds.  Add another lumpia sheet and baste with butter.  Place about 1/4 cup of chicken on next layer.

P1060551 Generously baste lumpia edges with raw scrambled egg and fold up the edges, completely concealing the chicken and almond layers.  Flip over pie and cover with two more buttered lumpia sheets.  Use the raw egg as glue to keep folded edges together.


Place on greased baking sheet and baste with raw egg.


Bake at 450 Degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.


The Magnificent Magnolia: Baobab of the American South


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When we moved to this region of the United States, considered part of “The South,” I discovered the magnolia tree.  Magnolia trees are the baobab of the American South.  Distinctive and unique to this region, the massive blooms and richly colored foliage can be found in backyards and botanical gardens alike.  The colors of the leaves that float off the branches are the quintessence of autumn hues – alabaster, pumpkin, dusty bronze, saffron and bisque.


This, of course, is a baobab tree, a classic in Southern Africa.

My local magnolia tree, which sparingly drops thick, glossy leaves.

My local magnolia tree, equally iconic in this region, sparingly drops thick, glossy leaves.

Noticing colorful collections of these leaves along fence lines and barriers where the wind had blown them, I recently thought they would look attractive arranged in a wreath.  I appreciate a seasonal wreath hanging on the front door as a warm welcome to guests.  A circle of locally scavenged leaves from the southern beauty seemed a novel idea, and particularly fitting while we live in a region where it is accessible.  I wonder if this has ever been done before?

If you are from the South, you are chuckling quietly at my naiveté.  I google search ‘magnolia leaf wreath image’ and find thousands of photos and ideas for a magnolia wreath.  Apparently they’re a staple around here.  I am reminded of a foreign friend to whom my family introduced peanut butter.  They loved it and called several days later to ask if we’ve ever tried it with jelly, because ‘peanut butter is delicious with jelly.’  Indeed.

My research on wreath creation suggested items such as foam and floral wire.  We’re a cardboard, paper sack, tape kind of family, though I did recently buy a glue gun.  Those supplies are plenty sufficient to create a wreath.  With my trusty assistants who helped collect, then trimmed stems and sorted leaves, we created this seasonal décor with a nod to our “Southern” locale.  We won’t always live near magnolia trees.P1060608




Part IV: Cochem Castle, Cochem, Germany


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Cochem Castle is a neo-gothic castle located along Germany’s Moselle River.  It is superbly preserved and worth the winding detour off the autobahn.


The joy of such an architectural highlight is in the details.


The end of the handrails on the path up to the castle.


On an exterior door.


Do you have a photo you would like to share as part of the Eye-Catching Architectural Detail series?  Email it to me at willtravelwithkids @ along with a brief explanation of the location.  Please only submit personal photos of which you own the copyright.  Thanks!  Looking forward to sharing what catches your eye.

Part III: The Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina, USA


The Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina, USA




Read more about the stately Biltmore mansion here.


Do you have a photo you would like to share as part of the Eye-Catching Architectural Detail series?  Email it to me at willtravelwithkids @ along with a brief explanation of the location.  Please only submit personal photos of which you own the copyright.  Thanks!  Looking forward to sharing what catches your eye.

Part I: The Winterthur, Wilmington, Delaware, USA

Part II:  Al-Baleed, Salalah, Oman

Part II: Al-Baleed, Salalah, Oman



Boat at Al-Baleed World Heritage site, Salalah, Oman.P1030387


Read the blog post from the trip to Oman here.


Do you have a photo you would like to share as part of the Eye-Catching Architectural Detail series?  Email it to me at willtravelwithkids @ along with a brief explanation of the location.  Please only submit personal photos of which you own the copyright.  Thanks!  Looking forward to sharing what catches your eye.

Part I: The Winterthur

Eye-catching architectural detail Part I: The Winterthur

The last few inches of an elegant stairway bannister.  A manhole, covering a storm drain, plastered with floral filigree.  The ruffled ridge of a five foot clay pot.  These architectural details catch my eye and I can’t help myself.  I have to capture it on camera.  Some artisan, skilled in his trade, has left his mark.  Over the next few days I will be posting some of these photos – artistic detail from around the world.  Join me on the tour!


At the Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, USA.



We originally visited the Winterthur early in 2014 to see the Fashion of Downton Abbey exhibit.  You can view a blog post of that visit here.


Do you have a photo you would like to share as part of this series?  Email it to me at willtravelwithkids @ along with a brief explanation of the location.  Please only submit personal photos of which you own the copyright.  Thanks!  Looking forward to sharing what catches your eye.


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