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From 405 Magazine: Feeling the Fiji vibes during a visit to one of the most culturally rich spots in the Yasawas

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Dancing at Turtle Island

As our skiff cut its way across a remote, narrow channel from Turtle Island to a remote village fifteen minutes away, I was surrounded by beauty. Despite the bustling colorful coral reefs below us and the towering volcanic mountains that made up the surrounding Islands in all directions, I was less overwhelmed with beauty that surrounded me and more focused on the experience that awaited. Like a kid before prom, finally about to meet his first girlfriend’s parents, I was nervous. Read about what happened on that beautiful day here! 

From Vagabondish.com: Wild Food Foraging in Asheville, North Carolina


There is something to be said for finding a fungus growing from the earth, plucking it and then putting it into your mouth. Wild food foraging and morel hunting with Wild Food Adventures out of Asheville, North Carolina is a curious and often delicious experience and one that you can read more about here in this link! 

morel

 

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From 405 Magazine: Tabacon Hot Springs, Best hot springs resort in Costa Rica

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howler monkey outside Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Thermal Hot Springs and Resort, at the base of the Arenal Volcano and Arenal National Park is one of the most beautiful and unique resorts in the world. The best thing to do when you are at Tabacon? Take a walk. Read about it here in my most recent article from 405 Magazine! Tabacon, Hot Springs and Resort, Costa Rica

Hot Springs at Tabacon, Costa Rica

Hot Springs at Tabacon, Costa Rica

Ten minutes in Mexico: An unnecessarily tense moment with Customs and Border Protection

The Border Patrol and Customs agent along the US border in the Mexican town of Mexicali was built like a bulldog puppy with suspicious eyes, a mild Mexican accent and an intense, unexpected lisp that was accentuated when, snake-like and terse, he asked me to remove my “sunglasses” and “step outside the vehicle.”

photo-2

Never before had such a harsh firing of hissed “S” sounds made me so nervous. Dutifully, I removed my shades, exited my vehicle and walked toward a chain-linked cage where an armed guard then directed me to sit on a well-worn wooden bench where I would remain until a team of agents decided whether or not I could return to my motherland.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised at my temporary holding situation at the inspection station. After passing the agent my passport, he asked me where I lived. I told him Los Angeles. He then asked why I had come to Mexico. I told him I was researching a script I was writing. He asked me what it was about, which gave me pause.

The script, among other things was about0 a corrupted and inept border agent who had taken a bribe to allow ten million dollars worth of cocaine go over the Mexicali Calexico line. Probably not something he’d want to drag his family to see.

Having not prepared a more appropriate, less insulting answer, I feebly croaked “all this…”

“All what?” He said with no sign of a lisp.

“The border?”

“The ‘Border?’” he parroted with an eye roll and then continued before I could elaborate. “How long were you in Mexico?”

Upon my answer to this, he was officially suspicious. Given my half assed attempt not to offend him given the premise of my script and having only been in Mexicali for a grand total of just under ten minutes, minus the forty-five minute wait to get back into the US, I understood why.

If a lone American wanted to get their hands on recreational and illegal anything, it seemed that even a short, shallow venture into Mexicali would yield nefarious fruit of any kind. So when I said I lived in Los Angeles and had driven four hours to Mexico only to enter for fifteen minutes then leave, it was time for them to do their jobs.

(Disclaimer… I am not in any way above having fun in Mexico. I’ve been….)

With its taco stands and souvenir stores, the border town was not without its cultural appeal, but within two blocks and thirty seconds of being in the country, a disheveled man approaches my window, pantomiming first the “Popping” of a pill, followed a giant dopy toothless smile. He then gesticulates to one of five or six pharmacies that line this one particular street where said sleepy pill may be purchased.  Not deterred by my lack of interest in pharmaceuticals, he begins humping the air, rubbing his chest and tweaking imaginary nipples urging me toward a gentleman’s club impressively already open at 11:30am on a Tuesday. This event with different casts and incarnations repeated itself three times in my brief stay.

Now relegated temporarily to a well-guarded cage between two nations, I could see the wheels of homeland security spinning. Aside from a well-worn miserable bench in the holding area, there was nothing but a fifty-inch flat screen TV playing an “informational video” about the purpose of border control. Impossible to ignore given the video’s volume, it outlined each and every potential transgression that might occur whilst crossing the border and assured the viewer that if any such crime has occurred, life will change dramatically and for the worse.

The cage is also within view of your car as it is searched. And when I say searched, I don’t mean glanced over. If your car were your body, these border guards would not stop at spread your cheeks and cough. They get up in there. I make nervous chatter with the guard watching me. “Not quite as easy to get to the US as it is to get into Mexico, is it?” He pretends not to hear me.

I watched as everything from my glove box, console and my extremely cluttered trunk were inspected. Gym bags were opened and containers within gym bags were sniffed. Sniffed! Pockets of jackets emptied. Gas tank opened. Mirrors are used to look under the car. Everything under the hood is studied with the eye of a German auto engineer and the nose of a German Shepherd.

As my car was violated, I began to worry. I have many pot loving friends whom I’d driven to the golf course… Perhaps an errant nugget of weed might have fallen at some point from a pocket. Maybe a drug-dealing valet accidentally dropped a bag of a white powdery substance while parking my car. They could find anything. Like many caged before me, I began to pace.

The longer it took, the more nervous I became. Especially as I listened to the video outline the severity of such international violations. I had done nothing and yet I was squirming like a teenager who comes home to find his bong and a bag of weed on the bedside table next to his folded laundry. How anyone smuggling mass quantities of drugs could remain calm doing such a search and under the watchful eye of armed guards is beyond me. I had done nothing and felt I was about to face the executioner.

Finally it ends and I’m clear. Yet now, I felt dangerous. Like I had gotten away with something massive. So too, given the brevity of my trip, did the agents. Having come back into the US many times from many locations all over the world, I am almost always greeted with a “welcome home.” Not the case after my fifteen-minute trip to Mexicali. “Looks like you can go….” He says, still suspicious as hands me my passport.

“Got a restaurant recommendation in Calexico?” I ask. He tosses a sideways smile, as though somehow I’d won this battle and says nothing, waving forward his next suspect.

As I drive back into the US, My heart finally begins to slow down. It had been an intense hour between two borders. My car is full of nothing but water bottles, dirty gym clothes, and my waning anxiety. Even though I hadn’t even gotten out of my car,  I can’t help but think… “Suckers….”

Glad to be stateside, I crank some Springsteen and head home, glad that those guys are keeping our borders safe.

Matthew Kenney’s RAW Cooking Intensive: A carnivore’s journey into the world of meatless cooking

The kitchen at Matthew Kenney Culinary School, a raw cooking school in Santa Monica California is well lit and immaculate. Each workstation is a testament to sterility and function.  In front of me, in addition to an assortment of stainless steel mixing bowls, chopping devices and measuring spoons is an avocado, a grapefruit, and a bulb of fennel, some fresh mint, macadamia oil and some coriander. When assembled, this grapefruit fennel salad will be the forth dish I will learn to make on my maiden voyage into the world of the culinary arts.

Matthew Kenney's RAW Intensive

Matthew Kenney’s RAW Intensive

What makes this otherwise, overly equipped teaching kitchen capable of producing dozens of dishes most interesting is that despite having enough gadgetry to make Sur La Table green with envy, there is no stovetop or oven. There is neither a Crockpot nor a Dutch oven. In fact, unless a fellow student at this weekend intensive is a smoker or a Pyromaniac, one is as likely to find the tooth fairy in this kitchen as an open flame. Matthew Kenney’s Culinary School, associated with his acclaimed restaurant MAKE, located next door, is completely raw. Not vegetarian. Not vegan… Raw.

All his innovative dishes are made up of organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and in order to protect precious nutrients and enzymes from breaking down due to exposure to heat, nothing served will ever reach a temperature of more than 118 degrees.

And while this kind of culinary experience may have appeal to those already committed to an organic diet free from anything that has ever walked, swam or otherwise consumed oxygen, wrapping my meat loving brain around this idea was a struggle. Especially because I come from the school of thought that you could consume four score and seven pounds of veggies but without a piece of chicken or a pork chop, you’d just had the salad course.

Even the boldest and most well executed dishes where soy attempts to masquerade as a rib eye ultimately feel like a feeble attempt to pass off an animatronic cocker spaniel as the beloved family pet.  Many times, I’ve left vegan restaurants marginally satisfied, but never have I left proclaiming that the “not-fish” fish dish tastes better than the fresh seared tuna that I could have had at the Santa Monica Fish Market right down the street.

RAW workstation

RAW workstation

And building on my marginal disdain for such a drastic lifestyle modification, might I add that rarely have I had a conversation with an individual fully committed to any of the half dozen or so variations of a plant based diets where when the conversation ended, I didn’t feel like I’d just parted ways with the altruistic, health obsessed version of fully committed doomsayer. Not to say that all plant-based eaters want to convince you that their way is better, but many do with a Scientologist’s certainty.

So naturally, the idea of indulging on a complex multi-course meal made up of a creative arrangements of nutrient dense, fresh nuts and vegetables, served raw and never prepared at temperatures higher than 115 degrees seemed slightly off-putting. That said, back when Pearl Jam was releasing their first album if you had told me that I would eat tongue, I would have said you were insane and now, as I write this, just thinking of a lengua taco from Ruben’s Taco Truck makes my mouth water so I figured, let’s give this rabbit food a dance.

Two hours later, after eating at MAKE, my attitude toward this type of meal changed entirely. So much so in fact, two months later, having never taken a cooking class before in my life, I committed twelve hours of a weekend to learning the process….

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad

Our instructor is named Sean. His focus is to teach the small class how to make as many varying types of dishes using the greatest variety of organic ingredients as possible. Within an hour, I have created chocolate brownie dough from scratch and watched almonds, after being blended, turn in to milk, then used to make a smoothie. The milk, in our case made from almonds, is then flavor balanced to taste (something else I learned!) with a pinch of salt, dates for sweetening and a hint of vanilla. Coconut oil can also be added not only for flavor but because it adds healthy fat, which in a raw diet, just like any other, is important as it helps the body absorb other essential vitamins.

As the day goes on, we are introduced to different fruits and vegetables as well as kitchen equipment and terminology. Juicers, blenders, food processors and dehydrators all play important roles in constructing our dishes. As do knives, mandolins and various chopping techniques. Rather than making raw food, if you had told me my day would involve the terms chiffonade (a chopping technique) and that I would be using a mandolin (tool for slicing), I would have envisioned a bluegrass festival. And yet, here I am making a zucchini tartare, touched up with a touch of agave and a hint of lemon juice, and enjoying myself.

Chipotle Kale salad

Chipotle Kale salad

While Sean’s dishes look like masterpieces, mine look like a toddler with a box of crayons got impatient with a coloring book but I am proud none-the-less. Having eaten each and every dish I made, I am beginning to feel like I am capable of making something beyond a steak or a ham and cheese sandwich. Not only that, and perhaps most shocking of all, despite only eating uncooked things that grew from the soil of the earth, I’m also starting to feel full.

By the intensive’s end, I have made beet ravioli, zucchini tartare, a grapefruit fennel salad, a gazpacho, multiple salads, brownies, tarts, smoothies and juices among other things. Narry a dish trying to pass itself off as a steak or seafood dish anything else but what it is.  Healthy and delicious. My body feels clean and I’m more comfortable with a kitchen knife. While I have no intention passing on the ribs next time someone invites me to a barbeque, I know that if it is a potluck, and there is already enough meat, I’ll be able to make something a lot healthier and it will blow some minds.

For more information on Matthew Kenney’s RAW weekend intensives, go to http://matthewkenneycuisine.com/education/santa-monica/weekend-intensives-enroll/

In the meantime, here is a recipe from the Intensive for Heirloom Tomato Lasagna from the Intensive….

MACADAMIA RICOTTA

1 cup soaked macadamias

¼ cup water

2 teaspoons nutritional yeast

½ teaspoons lemon juice

¼ teaspoons salt

Blend all ingredients until completely smooth.

PISTACHIO PESTO

1 cup basil leaves

¼ cup spinach leaves

¼ cup pistachios

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon lemon juice

Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Pulse ingredients, except olive oil, in a food processor until well combined but still slightly chunky. Gradually add oil last while food processor is running.

RED PEPPER MARINARA

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 1 hour

1 medium tomato, de-seeded and roughly chopped

½ shallot, chopped

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoons red chili flakes

½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Squeeze out excess water from sundried tomatoes.  Combine everything in food processor except oil. Gradually add oil last while food processor is running.

ASSEMBLY

1 zucchini, ends trimmed

1 heirloom tomato

2 baby heirloom tomatoes

fresh thyme                                

fresh basil

olive oil

salt

black pepper

Cut zucchini in half and slice lengthwise 1/8 of an inch thick using a mandolin or sharp knife. Toss zucchini strips with a pinch of salt, black pepper, olive oil, and thyme. Set aside while gathering other components.

Cut 2 thick slices of heirloom tomato and set aside.

Place 3 strips of zucchini on a plate, forming a square. Spread a layer of marinara on top of the zucchini slices. Place 2-3 dollops of pesto and ricotta on top of the marinara. Cover with a tomato slice. Place 3 strips of zucchini on top of the tomato slice. Repeat the previous steps for the second layer. Garnish with halved baby heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil leaves.