Kathamandu's Swayambhu or Monkey Temple

DSC_0450 I realized today that it's been forever - and possibly a day - since I posted.  Mea  maxima culpa.

My absence, dear readers, by way of explanation, is this: I traveled to Nepal with my son in June, stayed for 10 days and arrived home again, home again with a nasty viral something or other which took roughly 3 weeks to cure.

And then I was extra sleepy.

After that I was distracted by romance. Ooh-la-la.

Finally, I couldn't think of anything pertinent to say.

I do realize the rarity of this situation. Loquaciousness is my particular strong suit.  Loquaciousness is a real word and you may use it in Scrabble should the occasion arise.

At any rate, I'm officially returned.

My trip to Nepal was just before the rainy season, so we had some rain, but not torrents. Mornings were sunny and our day started early as the sun rose about 5 am.  

Since we were still on US of A time, it was like getting up from a really long afternoon nap. I had cloudy head - a lot.

Days seemed super long to me, but I think that was because everything slowed down immensely.  The best part of everything being enormously slow was that I was well rested in spite of myself.

Even though we were visiting family, going out shopping and to do a little sightseeing, I still had hours and hours to relax, read, and sleep. 

The last time I was in Kathmandu, my son was much younger and I was a sheltered bride - if you can imagine that.  What I mean to say is that as a married woman, I was accompanied everywhere by my in-laws or a member of the household.  For a very independent woman (and traveler), it was an interesting position to be in and a little stifling.

Now, I can appreciate the care my son's grandparents extended to me.  Though my son's father and I are no longer in a relationship, we have the bond of friendship and kinship, and they still like to fuss over me and, naturally, their grandson too. 

This trip I spent more time on my own exploring on foot the neighborhood my son's grandparents live in, Balaju. We also walked to Swayambhu or the Monkey Temple, which sits at the peak of a very steep hill. Swayambhu is popularly called the Monkey Temple because frisky primates scamper about the complex grabbing up fruit and food offerings left by pilgrims. As a precaution, don't feed the monkeys. They're brutes when it comes to bananas or sweets.


Pilgrims take the 365-step climb, or stairway to heaven, to worship and send prayers heavenward via prayer wheels and constantly illuminated butter lamps. You can light your own butter lamp for 20 Nepalese rupees, roughly equivalent to 30 cents USD.  Cost to enter the temple complex is 200 Nepalese rupees, or about US$2.90, if you're not Hindu or Nepalese.

The stupa, a spiritual monument containing holy Buddhist relics, dates to the 5th century.  According to Nepali history, the Kathmandu Valley was covered in water and at the center of this lake  was a perfectly formed lotus whose heart was a brilliant flame. The Bodhisattva of wisdom, Manjusri, drained DSC_0444 the lake with a blow from his magical sword and the lotus ascended to the hilltop where it transformed into the great golden stupa whose wise, all-seeing eyes gaze sleepily in all directions.

The view from Swayambhu is stunning, even on a grey-purple, cloud filled day.  The stairs are not for sissies or the feeble.  It's an arduous climb and the stairway is daunting, a straight, vertiginous shot heavenward. 

The air is heavy with the scent of aromatic dhoop or incense sticks blended from centuries old recipes and despite the crowds, there's a serene energy flowing through you and around you. Walking into an enclosed room, you're struck by the heat and light of thousands of brilliantly flaming butter lamps, thought to represent the illumination of wisdom.  

One of the most popular destinations in Nepal, Swayambhu really shouldn't be missed. If anyone is interested in traveling to Nepal, I'd be happy to help plan your trip.  


Discover Turkey's Local Culture and Artisan Silk Carpet-making

The joy of travel is discovery. 

Looking for something different for your next travel adventure?  Explore Turkey's ancient culture and experience the artistry of centuries old crafts like silk rug-making.  

Creating a silk carpet takes patience, years of practice and a good pair of scissors. Luckily for travel pro Mark Murphy he doesn’t have to make a carpet, he gets to observe the work, and enjoy the beautiful finished product.


Real, Honest Food with Sam the Cooking Guy & Just Grill This

Grilled Whole Trout with Sam the Cooking Guy

Forget about the 12 Emmys.

Sam Zien, better known as Sam the Cooking Guy, is just a regular guy who likes to cook real, honest food.

Okay, It's hard to forget about the Emmys.

But, Sam the Cooking Guy is down-to-earth and easy to talk food with.  He gives home cooks carte blanche, or complete freedom, to use short cuts. I love it whenever I have permission to cheat, especially when it tastes this good.

Frozen shrimp? Check. Ditto, frozen scallops and steaks.  Pizza crusts?  Cooked chicken breast? A big up.  

Sam compares cooking to riding a bicycle. You get on and you pedal.  The more you do it, the better you get.

The Canadian-born everyman of cooking started out just like everyone else - by opening the refrigerator door, peering in, and trying to figure out what would be good to eat. He began by grilling for his wife.

"I would go out and do the burning," Zien recalled recently. "Kelly and I would pretend it was good and eat it."  But, the more he grilled, cooked and experimented, the better the food tasted.

Along the way, he discovered his life's work.  

Originally, he intended to create a TV travel show for regular people who wanted to discover far flung places in uncomplicated ways. Poised to start, September 11th happened and with it, the way we live and travel was altered forever, so Zien had to rethink his idea.

Since everyone eats, a food show seemed like the next best option. 

Now, he's host of a regular half hour show Just Cook This, Thursday nights on Discovery Health, which is taped in his San Diego, CA, home, complete with wife, kids, and dogs. 

His third book, Just Grill This, (Wiley, softcover, US$19.95, 256 pp), is now out.  In our house, I've designated it as the go-to cookbook for the men in my life who love to eat but aren't very skilled in the kitchen.

Sam had some great ideas for my 12-year-old son, who is excited about learning to cook, and my boyfriend who wants to learn to cook, but is intimidated by food that requires more than five ingredients.

For my son to try, he recommended trying the Fry Dog, a basic hot dog made with great kosher hot dogs, topped with French Fries and spicy mayo.  We made a souped up version, adding our own twist with melted cheese and chili.

Think chili cheese fries over a hot dog. Delicious!

For my boyfriend, Sam suggested making Sesame Grilled Meatballs, a success story for any new cook.  A grill, a bag of defrosted fully cooked meatballs, skewers, hoisin and chili sauce, sesame oil and chopped green onions - you're in business.

There really is nothing like grilled meat on a stick.  

"Meatballs," he said. "Yeah, meatballs. Just do it. I love giving my guests a job. I hand them the appetizers. It gives them something fun to do and frees me up to do other stuff."

Just Grill This! Flipping through this third cookbook, it's easy to get whipped up about dinner - or lunch, or snacks, or drinks or dessert for that matter. This cookbook and his others are not only fun, but filled with recipes that are accessible for home cooks of all experience levels.  The same warmth and wit that makes Sam the Cooking Guy so approachable in person and on TV comes through in print.  

Among his favorite recipes are Sweet Sticky Ribs, Cedar Plank Salmon and Grilled Catfish Sandwich. Popular with his kids are what his sons call Sam Pockets, round refrigerator rolls flattened and stuffed with any filling you can dream up, then baked about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Keeping a well-stocked pantry is essential for happy, well-fed people. There are a few basic essentials that Sam the Cooking Guy recommends.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no shame in a shortcut or frozen food. 

On a trip to Hong Kong, he watched fascinated as women shopped for fresh foods to cook, thinking they were doing their daily food shopping. What he discovered was that these home cooks made a trip to the market for each meal. The reality for most households is that grocery shopping has got to be done far less frequently, but that doesn't mean food has to be industrial, fast food, bad for you or boring.

Kitchen Essentials

  • Sauces - Hoisin, Teriyaki, BBQ, Chili
  • Frozen Foods - Shrimp, Scallops, Steaks
  • General Foods - Olive Tapenade, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper

My new favorite is the Whole Grilled Trout.  It fits right in with my favorite kitchen theory: the meal should look really fantastic, appearing complex, but really a breeze to prepare. On the plus side, you can use any whole fish for this recipe.

"This is about really good, honest food. Simple.  You make it. You eat it. It tastes great," Zien said.


No more grated knuckles


If you love freshly grated ginger like I love it, but hate the hassle of grating - and the occasional grated knuckle - you must have this lovely wooden grater.  

The answer to your ginger grating issues, it's easy to use, simple to clean and very inexpensive.  I got mine in NYC's Chinatown (practically any well-equipped Chinese grocery will have one).

I paid $2 for no more bloody knuckles and no more ruined meals.  

Tip:  When I used to work at a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant, the chefs peeled and grated fresh ginger which they then froze to use later.  

You can do this too and the little wooden grater makes it easy.

Mix your grated ginger with just a little water and put it in ice cube trays, then freeze.  Once frozen, pop the cubes into a ziplock bag for instant ginger zip!

Growing your own edible garden

Growing up we were lucky to have a Mom passionate about growing food.

I didn't appreciate then the tender asparagus shoots each spring coaxed from the hard earth or the lovely ruby red raspberries prized from brambly bush.

While my friends ate slippery. soft canned vegetables, I ate a wide variety of fresh garden treats - Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, asparagus, buttercrunch lettuce and delicate squash blossoms.

I didn't know then the tasty fried squash blooms were an Italian delicacy known as Fiori di Zucca. I probably wouldn't have eaten it!

Even if you haven't much space, you can tend your own edible garden. Mine is not much more than some pots planted with herbs - basil, rosemary and thyme along with mesclun.  Soon I'll add beefsteak tomatoes, Italian green beans, garlic and zucchini.

The edible garden is more relevant than ever. Use your imagination and be inspired by your kitchen.

Hangover cures from your kitchen

It's been more than a minute since I had a cure-worthy hangover.  My life is so exciting that I'm generally in bed before the real revelers are evenh dressed and ready to head to the party. 

But it's good to know that a few of my favorite foods are cures for the dreaded hangover should need ever arise.

Ted Loos expounds on the curative and restorative powers of pancakes, bacon, chocolate, eggs and more at

Even if you don't have a hangover, these taste treats sound nummy.


Here's the dish: 9 steps to a smoother, easier Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving spread I like my holidays to be both elaborate spectacles and simple to manifest.  How's that for being at odds with one's self?

Can a table groaning with elaborate dishes and dides ever be an easy task to accomplish?  Sure, why not?

Give your Thanksgiving Day and dinner the  Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. 

Susan Westmoreland, Food Director at the arbiter of American housekeeping,  gives the skinny on 9 best ways to streamline and enjoy your holiday.  (via

photo courtesy of