Monthly Archives: February 2014

Book: On the Noodle Road

Noodle Road

Having just finished On the Noodle Road by Jen Lin-Liu, I have a different perspective of traveling the Silk Road. It’s a journey I’ve long wanted to take, and I’ve read numerous travel books of people who have gone before, but this is a foodie book of the Silk Road. Lin-Liu decided to trace the noodle from China to Italy and figure out just where it originated and how it got to looking the way it does today in both Chinese dishes and Italian pasta.

She started in China, where she has lived for a number of years, working as a food writer and creating her own Chinese cooking school. From there it’s on to Central Asia, through Iran to Turkey and eventually Italy. I found her descriptions of western China interesting. It makes sense, but I never thought of the region as being populated with Muslims who look more like Europeans than Asians. They live right across the border from Afghanistan and Pakistan, but somehow I thought it would still be a bunch of Asian-looking people slurping noodles. How ignorant of me, when China is about the same size as the United States and has many ethnic groups. Lin-Liu doesn’t pull any punches when she describes the Chinese government’s various discrimination and dehumanizing tactics in this region.

I have to say I’ve always wanted to visit Central Asia, although from Lin-Liu’s description, I think I’d better stick with the trekking part and forget the culinary part, because the food sounds to be sadly lacking.  From her description and pictures I’ve seen, the beauty of the countryside in the mountains more than makes up for the food.

Things improved considerably upon entering Iran, culinary-wise anyway.  Seeing Iran is a journey I want to take one day, one I’ll have to set aside for a little while, considering the political situation right now. Though I have to say that every book I have read about an American going to Iran always says how wonderful and welcoming the people are. Yes, the government and the restrictions, especially for women, are a pain, but the people and the hospitality are in sharp contrast. Lin-Liu found the same when she reached the Iran portion of her trip. As much as I adore Persian food, her description of what she had to go through just to be in Iran means I’ll be waiting for the restrictions to lift considerably before I take my trekking and culinary trip through this country.

The surprise I had was how alluring Turkey was, based on her account. The different culinary and cultural regions in Turkey sound amazing and made me want to spend a month eating my way through the country. I’ve often thought that about Italy and Spain, even Lebanon, but never thought I’d get to that point about Turkey. That’s good news because of the countries that have an Arab background to their cuisine, Turkey is one of the safest to visit.  I’m hoping that in the near future the conditions in the Middle East will change and I will be able to travel to and freely enjoy these fabulous culinary regions.

Lin-Liu weaves her own personal journey throughout the entire book, interspersing descriptions of meals with philosophical questions of what it means to be a woman and a wife. Being a newlywed and embarking on this trip in part solo and in part with her husband made her question a lot of things in her life, and it was this aspect of the book that brought the trip and the food to a more human level. After all, food is what brings people together. No matter the culture or cuisine, you’re always going to have family and friends sitting around enjoying a meal.


Giving & Receiving

Chincoteague Ponies at Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

Giving and receiving has been coming up a lot in my life recently, specifically what it truly means to give and receive.  Giving out of obligation or because you feel you should in order to be a good person isn’t really giving.  At some point you’re going to feel resentful that you have to keep giving of yourself when you really don’t want to.  True giving is giving from your heart, with your heart fully open, expecting nothing in return except for the wonderful feeling of being that open.  Very few people really do that.  It’s way too scary.  What if you get rejected by the other person?  With your heart that open, you’re so vulnerable to being hurt and devastated.  But if you give with a closed heart, you haven’t really experienced the joy of giving.

Most people find it easier to give than receive, but that old saying about it being better to give than receive is a fallacy.  For someone to give, someone else has to receive.  If you can’t receive, you have denied someone the opportunity to give.  Think of how you feel when someone rejects you. That’s what you’re doing to someone else when you don’t receive.

We all need to learn to be better receivers.  It’s a form of giving love to yourself.  Before you can receive you need to believe you deserve to, which is very hard for a lot of us.  We’ve spent our lives being told by ourselves and others that we shouldn’t want this or haven’t been good enough to get that.  You don’t help anyone by denying yourself the joy of receiving what you want in life.  You can actually help a lot more people by showing them by example that they too deserve to receive the things they want.  That could be a loving relationship or a shiny new car.  Both are valid and one isn’t better or more deserving than the other.

Many people mistakenly believe that giving means giving up oneself.  That’s not giving.  You only end up resentful.  Giving so that you’ll get a desired response doesn’t work either, because you’re trying to manipulate the other person and he/she can feel it. Then you get angry that you’re not being appreciated more for your giving, when in reality, you’re not giving. You’re trying to get something, and the other person feels like you’re trying to take something and doesn’t want to give you the response you desired in the first place.

Start noticing how you feel when you give or when someone is trying to give to you. Are you disappointed when the person doesn’t thank you profusely? Are you able to truly receive a gift and genuinely say thank you? Or do you brush off a gift as inconsequential because you don’t feel you deserve it?  Try to open your heart more when you’re giving and receiving. Be conscious, take a breath, and be in the moment.  At first, you might not catch yourself shutting down and trying to avoid really feeling the joy until after the fact. That’s OK.  Just be aware of it for next time. Be in the joy of giving AND receiving and you’ll be a lot happier.

Book: Flower Confidential

Flower Confidential

I’ll never look at a bouquet of flowers the same way again. Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential really does take you through “The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers.” I had no idea what a flower goes through to end up at a supermarket near you. I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve been hearing for years about the extreme measure our food goes through to get to market, but I never thought about the flowers going through a similar process of hybridizing for longer shelf life and easier shipping. Except that because it’s flowers, which are not ingested, there are a lot less restrictions on them. Who knew that almost every single rose coming into this country has been dipped in chemicals to kill the bugs and fungus that might harm the rose in transit? One farm owner said that the longer the rose is away from the dip, the less residual fungicide there is on the flower, but “I would never recommend that you take a bath of rose petals. Never.” There goes that romantic scene in the movies.

Stewart’s book is well-researched; she traveled to flower farms all over the world to see firsthand this beautiful and not so beautiful world. She expresses her disillusionment that flowers have lost their soul, but she does offer some promising solutions, which we are starting to see today, considering the book came out in 2007. Organic flowers are available now, and there are more and more places to find them. I don’t buy many cut flowers, but I have to say, in the future I’ll be rethinking anything that isn’t organic.