Tag Archives: New York Times

Book Buzz: Eating Wildly

Nature and nurture intertwine enticingly in Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal, a bittersweet and sensory-rich memoir by urban forager Ava Chin.

Eating Wildly The former “Wild Edibles” columnist in The New York Times, Chin writes tenderly of her search for sustenance as she navigates life’s unpredictable paths.

Throughout much of her life, Chin struggled with feelings of abandonment. Her father, whom she didn’t meet until she was 26 years old, had left when her mother became pregnant with her. And her mother, a former “Miss Chinatown,” was beautiful but remote, focused more on her endless list of suitors than on her attention-starved daughter.

Chin was often lonely and frightened. Had it not been for her doting grandparents, with whom she spent a great deal of time, she may never have found the love and guidance she needed to thrive.

Her grandparents’ home was filled with comfort and good food. She credits her grandfather, a restaurant worker, with developing her palate for unusual and exotic foods. Her grandmother was everything Chin yearned for from her mother: loving, supportive, proud of her.

Nonetheless, Chin had to entertain herself much of the time. She found solace in scuttling about in the dirt outside her mother’s Queens apartment building, digging for treasures in the cracks between the concrete. As an adult, she discovered the pleasure of tromping through uncultivated open areas in New York’s five boroughs, searching for edible plants and weeds.

In this quest, she developed a deep appreciation of the bounty of nature and the beauty in the improbable. Her prose is embellished with reverence for all that grows.

Any book with recipes in it gets brownie points from me, and each chapter in Eating Wildly concludes with a recipe that Chin has created using foraged ingredients such as lambs quarters, mulberries and wild honey. They sound mouthwatering, even her variation on Grass Pie. Chin’s prize winning recipe for Wild Oyster Mushroom, Fig, and Goat Cheese Tart with Caramelized Onions is one that is definitely going to appear on my dinner table soon.

Chin realized through foraging that life’s timetable is not always something we can control. “I’ve learned that nature has a way of revealing things in its own time, providing discoveries along the way – from morel mushrooms bursting through the soil to a swarm of on-the-move bees scouting out a new home,” she writes.

eating wildly She rapturously describes plants that until now were unfamiliar to me. Wood sorrel, for instance. “It has folded, heart-shaped leaves, which flutter open and closed depending on the time of day, rather like slow-moving butterflies … taking a bite was a birth and lemony relief.”

And mulberries: “The ripest berry – a dark one hanging on a short stem that resembled a comma … resembling a cluster of deeply colored prunes, about the size of a cocoon.” Asiatic dayflower: “… with an edible blossom so transient that it could be a Buddhist lesson in impermanence.”

An Associate Professor of Creative Nonfiction and Journalism at City University of New York, Chin’s affinity for nature is perhaps only exceeded by her fluidity with language. Her beautiful words captivated me.

I was curious to see what the plants she referenced looked like, and she has posted lovely photos of them on The Plants (and Mushrooms) of Eating Wildly.

Visit Ava Chin’s website to learn more about her life or to order her book — a perfect gift, by the way. Or go to Amazon.

Eating WildlyI am anticipating the sequel to this memoir. And I am so taken with Chin’s story that I am putting urban foraging (with a guide) on my bucket list.

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That’s a Great Question!

It was because we were staggering under the weight of our purses, carry bags, winter coats and Starbucks items that my friend Lois and I sought out a temporary refuge in the mammoth Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City.

Saturday, Day 2 of The New York Times Travel Show, a trade show for the travel industry. We were there as lifestyle bloggers who write about travel. question about coffee

We needed to get caffeinated regroup before heading into the cavernous expo hall. Walking and talking and eating and schlepping simultaneously, with a hot flash or two thrown in making us either fan ourselves or shiver, was a little bit too much multi-tasking for us.

We spied a table and several unoccupied chairs and made a dash for it as adroitly as two middle-aged perspiring women can manage, and sat down,  congratulating ourselves on finding this oasis.

Seconds later, a young woman approached us, and asked us where the blah blah exhibit was.

Lois and I exchanged glances, and we both shrugged. “I’m sorry, we don’t work here,” Lois said politely. The woman, disappointed, turned away.

Back to our drinks, and it happened again. Once more, we explained apologetically that we were mere conference attendees ourselves.

Why were people asking us these questions, we wondered.

After the third person approached us and was turned away, she pointed to the front of our table. “It says ‘Questions?’” she told us. “So I figured …”

question at Javits Center

Before she left to find someone more knowledgeable, and between gales of laughter, we begged her to take our photo.

But here’s the thing.

The next person who approached us was looking for the bathroom. Well, we could help with that.

“You see the Starbucks over there?” Lois gestured. “It’s one floor down, just below the Starbucks.”

This was fun. It was pretty cool being the source of information. So what if we weren’t always right? We liked being sought after, appreciated, needed. Admired for this unique information-dispensing quality.

“Where can I get a program book?” someone inquired.

We almost jumped over each other to answer.

“Can I get a plastic cover for my badge in the expo hall?” another asked.

“Yes, you can!” Lois said brightly.

“Anyplace I can get coffee without standing in line for an hour?” a woman asked, as she glanced doubtfully at the Starbucks line snaking like a Disneyland formation.

“Indeed,” I replied. “I got mine at that kiosk over there (pointing) and it was fine.”

“Is the coffee strong enough?” she asked. I nodded and smilingly sent her on her way.

Lois and I high fived each other, and pondered a future in this line of work. Maybe, with time and experience, we could respond to questions of a somewhat more complex nature. Like:

“Excuse me, is Aristotle’s empirical approach to studying nature still relevant today?”


“Hi, I wondered if you could explain the migration habits of hummingbirds to me?”


“Hey, this may be a dumb question, but you gals look like you know.  Einstein’s static universe theory: yay or nay?”

Who knowquestion lois and helenes? Maybe there is a www.askloisandhelene.com in our future, a kinder and gentler Google. A search engine with heart. Slower to respond, yes, but quick with a virtual hug. Does Google ask about your father’s health and tell you you’ve got a smudge of something on your cheek?

Lois and I need the practice. So go ahead. You ask, we answer! Keep it (mostly) clean and we will respond. Leave me a comment here or on Lois’ post or tweet us using the hashtag #askloisandhelene.

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Is the Daily Newspaper Passe?

My husband and I can’t bring ourselves to cancel the two daily newspapers we’ve subscribed to our entire married life, but I wonder if we’re just delaying the inevitable.


Newspapers B&W (4)

Newspapers B&W (4) (Photo credit: NS Newsflash)


As our reading habits continue to evolve, I suspect the day will come when we suck it up and kick the printed newspaper habit out the door.

It startles me to even think this way, but let’s be honest.

Who has time to linger over the daily paper anymore? With our rushed morning schedules, we barely manage to pick it up from the driveway and toss it in the house.

This is not to say that we are news non-consumers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We just consume differently these days.

While getting dressed, we get the headlines (and much valued weather forecast) from Good Morning America. I can leave for work not only dressed appropriately, but with full confidence that the world has not ended and celebrities are still misbehaving.

Stuck in traffic on the way to work, I check my Twitter feed and scour the posts on Facebook. I might have a minute to look at a few photos on Instagram.

My radio dial is tuned to either Howard Stern or NPR, depending on the subject matter (both informative sources in my world, although not necessarily yours).

At work I receive CNN alerts throughout the day with significant breaking news. If time permits, I may go to the New York Times app on my iPad and do a quick scan of the opinion pages. Over lunch I try to read a few posts from bloggers whom I enjoy following.

Chances are someone will email me a link to a news item of interest. If I have time, I’ll read it then and there; if not, I’ll bookmark it for later.

By the time we get home and grab some dinner, it’s likely that the forlorn daily paper will join its unread companions stacked in a corner of our bedroom. It’s hard to let an old habit go. We tell ourselves that we’ll get to them eventually.

Except that there is a Google+ hangout I want to attend. And that novel on my bed stand is waiting to be finished.  When my eyes are too bleary to focus on the screen or the page, there’s always CNN News or The Daily Show before calling it a night.

However, nothing can take the place of our leisurely Sunday morning ritual: newspapers served with bagels and a bottomless pot of coffee.

Delicious Omega-3s

Delicious Omega-3s (Photo credit: lynn.gardner)

I don’t see that changing anytime soon.




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My Little Town

The lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s tune have haunted me this morning, especially these:

Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town

With the news (read the New York Times article here) that Reading, Pa. is now the most poverty-stricken city in the United States, I am overwhelmed with sadness for my hometown, a place that seemed so idyllic as I grew up.

I had the best childhood, the kind every kid should have, filled with opportunity and fearlessness and life lessons that prepared me for adulthood. The children of Reading now have little hope of living the life I have led.

As a child, I had dreams that had every likelihood of being fulfilled. Today, the children of Reading don’t dare to dream, or hope. If current trends continue, only 63% of them will graduate from high school. Just 8% will get a college degree. Too many of them will have babies way too soon, and the downward spiraling continues.

On summer nights I was lulled to sleep by the sound of cicadas. The children of Reading are awakened by gunfire or other forms of violence.  Because with poverty comes desperation and lawlessness.

What happened to Reading? The factories left. The outlets left. The young people left. The minority population surged, along with it the rates of unemployment, crime and drop-outs from high school.

My high school friends and I have remained close, with treasured memories we love to share. We never miss a reunion, our most recent one having taken place just last month. We often comment on how well our classmates have fared. So many have gone on to have thriving careers, successful relationships, truly rewarding lives. We came from different backgrounds, but our parents and teachers gave us the gift of believing that the world was ours for the taking.

The children of Reading will not look back on their high school years the way we do, if in fact they last in school that long.

Reading, my little town, I weep for you.

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I Went Bananas When My Daughter Met a Monkey

“Mom,” the voice quavered through the crackle of the international connection, “I’ve got some bad news.”

Surely anyone hearing those words from a loved one would react as I did: a sharp intake of breath, a lump in my throat thudding into the pit of my stomach, palms sweating.

Whatever pronouncement would ensue, a reassuring hug would not be imminent. My 25 year-old daughter, Emily, was in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the month of July, volunteering as a medical assistant at a local clinic. Bolivia. Three long plane flights away.

I had a flash back to last winter when Emily began talking about it. “What a great opportunity,” she had enthused. “I’ll feel like I’m really making a difference. And I can improve my Spanish, too.”

Although I deeply admire my daughter’s altruism, to say that I was less than thrilled is putting it mildly. I pointed out the litany of negatives: poverty, diseases, unsanitary conditions, political unrest. Was there political unrest? I wasn’t sure, but I went with it.

So she launched into a full-court press, peppering my inbox with upbeat articles about up-and-coming Cochabamba. Even the venerable New York Times had touted the area as a “must see” for adventurous travelers.

I still wasn’t convinced. Just scanning the list of recommended vaccinations gave me the willies.

“Em, do you understand the risks?” I argued. “Malaria. Snakes. Big insects. What if you get bitten?’

This is, in fact, what she was calling to tell me. She got bitten. But not by a bug.

By a monkey.

I Went Bananas

Dear reader, do not apologize for suppressing a giggle. I confess to a fleeting notion myself: a teeny tiny thought in a remote recess of my brain that there might be an element of humor in this scenario. But that impulse quickly gave way to panic. My mind was clicking as I began to ask questions and process what needed to happen.

Does it hurt? Not really.

Did you see a doctor? No, there weren’t any doctors.

Did you get any medical attention? I went to a pharmacy and got antibiotics.

When can you leave? As soon as possible.

I told her to start packing while I called the airline.

Cute little monkeys? Not!What I would learn later was that Emily and a few friends were visiting a nature preserve outside of Cochabamba. This Bolivian version of Great Adventure served as recreation and entertainment for the locals. Swarms of people — including tons

All went well at first. But then ... everything went bananas.

of noisy kids — hiked on its trails. Monkeys roamed freely and, accustomed to the sounds and movements of humans, interacted calmly with the visitors. Until my daughter arrived, that is.

Yes We Have No Bananas

What turned this serene simian into a pernicious primate was likely Emily’s decision to crouch down to monkey eye level. With a monkey mama and baby nearby, this was a Bad Idea. SCREECH! SCREECH! The monkey alarm system was activated. As if in a scene from a horror version of The Lion King, an alpha monkey grabbed a tree and started shaking it violently. A hush shrouded the onlookers. The only sound was the ominous rustling of leaves. Monkey minions lurking nearby looked up with interest. One by one, they muttered their displeasure. The chattering intensified. Emily’s monkey friend, just a couple of feet away, bared his teeth in a fearsome grin, lunged toward her and sank his teeth into her calf.

She screamed. He gripped her leg. She tried to pry him off. What seemed like hours was probably less than a minute, but he finally released her. They glared at each other (another Bad Idea, for those of you who might be in monkey company some day). She backed away and slowly headed down the trail. Her attacker followed for a few steps, then thought to leave well enough alone. He probably strutted proudly in front of his bare-assed buddies back at the ranch.

At times like this, you think about what could have been, and you are thankful for escaping with minimal damage. I was able to get my daughter on the next plane home. It was a grueling journey, but she was seen by our local doctors just 48 hours after the incident, and except for the painful rabies shots she endured, with more to come, she is doing fine. Despite everything, she has fond memories of her sojourn in Bolivia.

And now … we can remember the story with a smile.

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