Saturday, July 31, 2010

Party in a Pot...

           The hardest thing about taking your vacations early in the year, is that you run out of vacation days mid year. August begins tomorrow and I for the first time in a long time have no trips planned this month. Rather than getting depressed about it,  I've decided to make the most of my hometown, NEW YORK NEW YORK! I started my New York staycation this morning by taking a short trip to Queens to the home of a friend, Angie Hunter who started a catering company called "Party In A Pot".  Angie is one of those cooks who can really "throw down", "put her foot in it" or any other term you would use to describe someone whose cooking is way beyond ordinary. Starting this summer Angie has been offering a five course cooking class that is custom made for each student and limited to two students per session.

        Today I was the only student and based on my custom menu, the first course of the day was Cold Avocado Corn Soup with Cilantro Oil. Now, for those of you wondering about my capabilities, lets set the record straight, I know how to cook! However, there are so many benefits to taking a class like the one offered by Party In A Pot. For example, Angie goes over not only food preparation, but also produce selection, place settings, wine pairing, various food interactions, cleaning tips and even the correct way to sharpen a knife. I picked up so many tips and lessons that I plan to put into practice as I venture out and cook different cultural foods. For every trip that I have taken in recent memory, I have started a cookbook collection from all the different countries.  I have yet to cook anything from the cookbooks, but its definitely a goal of mine for the upcoming months.

     For those of you wondering how the soup turned out, all I will say is that there wasn't even a drop left in the bowl! It was AMAZING! With the mix of avocado, cilantro and corn, plus a side dish of crema, I felt like I was back in Mexico at a five star restaurant I ate at on my 2006 vacation. I will post pics as soon as I can so you can savor my culinary creations. In the meantime, if you are interested in taking advantage of Party In A Pot's Five Course Summer Cooking Classes, email Classes are $150 each and include groceries, personal apron, personalized menu, in-depth instruction, and tupperware to take home the finished product.

 I left Angie's home today proud of myself for trying something that I would never have attempted to make on my own plus my own 'excess baggage' of goodies to eat. Have you cooked any international dishes lately? I want to hear all about it. Leave you comments below...

Mahal Kita!

Here is the Trailer for my latest Philippines trip. All of the footage was shot by Robert Poole, a fellow team member and film student at Columbia University. To see more of his work, check out

A Mission in the Philippines (First Look) from Robert Poole on Vimeo.

Why Excess Baggage?

Why Excess Baggage?

      The biggest hassle to traveling anywhere is packing and going to the airport. I recently took my best friend to the airport because she was moving to Australia to attend school. She had five large suitcases and three carry-ons, needless to say, she packed last minute and never bothered to weigh the suitcases. At the airport when she put them on the belt at the check-in counter, every single suitcase was overweight. If you've ever had that experience, you know how embarrassing it is to have to open up your suitcases and take stuff out, while the long line of people behind you mutter curses under their breath. I ended up being the friend literally left holding the bags of clothes she had to leave behind.

I couldn't even get mad at my friend for all the bags because she was moving thousands of miles away and  all the excess baggage was necessary. Plus, I'm one of those people who packs multiple changes of clothes for every day that I'm on vacation. And lets not even talk about the shoes because each outfit requires multiple shoe choices. The only time when I try to pack lightly is when I'm on a missions trip and its mandated that I take at least one suitcase for supplies. I've gotten into the habit of also taking clothes and toiletries to give away to the people we encounter. But why only limit donations to missions trip, why not do that every time that I travel. As easy as it is to check the weather at our destination, its just as easy to check out local charities to give donations to. The 'excess' can be turned into a blessing for the locals!  If we dig deep, we can find clothes that we will never wear again to pack, inexpensive toys for kids at an orphanage, etc. Think of a businessman who logs thousands of frequent flier miles traveling around the world on business. He can increase his corporate responsibility by donating supplies to a local village thousands of miles away. A couple on their honeymoon can spread the love to a family on a tropical island by donating household items they no longer need. They also free up closet space for all the items acquired through their gift registry. Its a global footprint of generosity that lingers long after the vacation has ended.

Even if you don't travel very often, you can still participate in the global giving, through organizations such as Samaritan's Purse, which sponsors Operation Christmas Child every year. Below is a video of children all over the world receiving their shoe boxes of toys and school supplies.

Excess Baggage is an idea, its a dialogue between myself and you, my fellow travelers. I want to share the stories of the people that I've met in the places that I've traveled to. I want you to share your stories, comments, and questions about the world and how we can make it a better place...

I Heart Travel....

I Heart Travel....

It's been 17 days since I've been back from the Philippines and I'm already planning my next trip. I love traveling and out of the many places that I've been to around the world, the Philippines holds a special place in my heart. This was my third trip to the Philippines and specifically to the town of Pila, Laguna. It wasn't a vacation, it was a missions trip taken with 22 other like-minded Christian young adults from the Brooklyn Tabernacle's Transitions Ministry.

To sum up the work that we did there is simple, we loved people. Young, old, sick, poor, hungry, we loved them all and tried to meet their needs as best we could. We fed, clothed, nursed, hugged and kissed as many people as we could. We sat with them, prayed for them, and at times when we couldn't do anything, cried with them and tried to understand their pain. Hurting people are everywhere, they are in every ravine, barrio, slum, favela all over the world, next to the hotels and resorts that we travel to. You can't escape them even if you tried.  I remember talking to a friend a couple of years ago who had returned from an island vacation. I asked her how the trip went, she replied "It was great, but every time we stepped outside of our hotel, there were beggars everywhere, and we were right next to the poor areas, it was so annoying." Now I'm not judging her for wanting to enjoy her vacation without being hassled, but we're the ones going to THEIR countries and invading their space! All that to say, that as much as I love traveling and visiting new and exciting places, lately every time I visit a new country, I've gotten a burden for the natives.  It started in Egypt, this past May and continued into the Philippines. Nestled among the ruins of ancient Egypt were women and children veiled by poverty and injustice. Among the ricefields of the Philippines are makeshift one-room huts that house families of ten and more. I can't hide from it, I want to do something for the people of the countries that I visit.

There's a song by Brooke Fraser called "Albertine" that sums up everything that I've been feeling. The words are haunting, it says "Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead" So now everywhere that I travel, every person that I meet, I feel that responsibility. It can be something as simple as a hug, a prayer, an item of clothing, or monetary donation. It's an acknowledgement of that person, that they are God's creation and that they matter, faces and stories that will never be forgotten...