This has been my spring for travel. And talk about contrast! April, Japan. June, Umbria! Japan was an exquisite revelation. Umbria was more of a pilgrimage.
Something I’ve not shared previously: I live in chronic pain. Travel is not easy for me. I have physical limitations. At the age of 32, I was seriously ill. I had a series of pelvic surgeries and a complete hysterectomy which left me with nerve damage and stubborn scar tissue which makes everyday life painful. I’m in constant negotiation with my body, always thinking very ergonomically. At home I have a strong support system that helps me keep my body in working order. That is my reality.
Travelling, especially foreign travel, presents its own set of challenges. I have to really want to do it. Sitting on an airplane for long periods of time is particularly tricky. Sitting or standing for long periods of time is tricky. If I could just shrink my beloved physical therapist and bring her with me!
Can you relate to being in pain? Emotional, physical, transient… We all have scars.
In the work I do in the world, I’m always pushing against that.
Drawn back to Italy, again
When I went to Italy the first time, I was fresh out of surgery. It was traumatic, a life-changing event. I felt a calling to experience something that was totally different. Going from one end of the spectrum to the other. I needed to go to the light, to the peaches and the creams and the colors of Italy!
Fast forward. At 58, I returned to Italy for a 10-day color and design workshop offered by one of my mentors, the incredibly gifted and talented teacher Mark Eanes. The workshop was held at La Romita, a 16th-century monastery turned art school on a hillside above the town of Terni. Fourteen women artists from all over the US and Europe journeyed to this teeny Umbrian town to paint together, within the rather austere charms of the former monastery. We lived in a dorm and painted in a chapel, living and working in close quarters.
I really questioned whether I was going to be able to do this. The travel, the standing. 22-hour travel days to get there and back. The stress of navigating a different environment. This time I was really reticent, but I knew that if I could get there and hang in there, this experience could be a game changer at this time in my life.
It was intense and immersive. The light was extraordinary. I went for a master study in color mixing and design, to acquire a new language to use in my art. I was pushed up against myself and my physical limitations. I was put to the test, but that’s where breakthroughs come from. Confronting it, going deeper and seeking meaning... Being forced to ask, Will I stick with it and get to the other side, or not? Will I make it?
We are talking challenging.
I’m a color-outside-the-lines gal but in the workshop, we were required to be restrained, to cut our color swatches with an X-Acto knife and make pieces with those, requiring the highest degree of dexterity. At which I am terrible—except for my ninja culinary knife skills. ;) I was no good at cutting and pasting in nursery school! My artist buddies Jamie Madison, Susan Sakamoto, and Katy Kuhn were my cheerleaders when I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown, hunched over, trying to cut along the paper line without it tearing!
While in a foreign country, without my usual support system, without the comforts of home; in a different time zone, in a different language, with different food, people, energy... I had to put on a different set of glasses, to see things differently, to explore different things in myself. I had to get out of my own way to learn.
Well—since when is transformation comfortable?
When things click
And—this is when growth happens. When we’re pushed up against our limits and really see what we can be. It’s hard! I’ve come up against this so many times in my life, when writing a book, creating art, with relationships—when you’re fully in it and you don’t have a choice. I can’t go get in my car! There’s no escaping. The only place I could go was within. I’d come all this way, and there I was!
And then—things finally clicked. I’ve taken 3 workshops from Mark Eanes, but I had to travel 6,000 miles to a chapel turned art studio in a 16th-century monastery on top of a hill to have that a-ha moment. I had a focused intention: to solidify a new language of color and design. Just as I focused on learning a new culinary language when I went to culinary school in New York—and which didn’t solidify until I went to Sicily and experienced that a-ha moment—I focused intensely on understanding the alchemy of mixing colors in Umbria. I get chills remembering when things clicked into place!
The food part of the story
Then there was the food. Umbrian cuisine is a little more rustic. It’s in the middle of the country and local food is very earthy. Ham and cheese! Prosciutto and pecorino! Yum! But I mean, daily? I was grateful they were able to honor my gluten and cow’s milk issues. Otherwise, I would have been up a creek without a paddle. The Umbrians, god bless them, are not big on vegetables. When they serve them, they are overcooked except for the Insalata of mixed lettuce with tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and olive oil served with every meal.
So instead of sharing lovely, Umbrian-inspired recipes, I’ll share the foods I craved when I got back, for that all-important post-travel reset.
Which were...vegetables! I had to drink em, eat em, crunch em. Green, crispy, crunchy, stir-fried, an abundance of sauteed greens, crunchy curried kale chips. Gazpacho! And of course, my favorite—potatoes, with pesto! My grounding food, my gateway back. Plus giving myself a chance to rest, rejuvenate and reboot.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re traveling down the road or across the globe, whenever you’ve been on a journey that pushes you to your limits you’re going to come back needing to be kind to yourself. TLC and self-care, my dears! You’ve pushed so hard to get to the other side, you need a vacation from your vacation! You need to create a zone for yourself.
Consider this refreshing link from this week’s Mindful News, Bonnie Tsui’s You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anything. Give yourself permission!
My favorite post-travel reset recipes
Some folks like shots of tequila. Well, my choice of a shot is much, much healthier. Take this Mediterranean gazpacho. It makes a hit of V-8 look like amateur hour. The great part about gazpacho is it’s really a vegetable orgy; cucumbers, red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, red onions, fennel, garlic. But no need to panic about veggie chopping! Here we toss everything–veggies, spices, herbs, oil–all into Vinny the Vita-Mix, add a little olive oil and shazam! The perfect post-travel elixir. No hangovers. Promise.
In Umbria, I so missed the crunch of veggies! I often serve this recipe as a soup garnish (delightful!) but for my post-travel reboot, I ate these right off the baking pan. These are incredibly easy to make; just some torn up kale coated with olive oil and salt that gets popped into the oven. The alchemy of the cooking takes away the kale’s bitterness, leaving you with an irresistible crispy green treat.
If you’re wondering how I ever came up with the idea to put pesto on potatoes, it’s like those old ads for you-know-what, where a guy walking the street eating a chocolate bar bumps into a girl with an open jar of peanut butter: a complete accident, but what an outcome! I was staring into the refrigerator as fingerling potatoes were coming out of the oven, and what should my eyes chance upon but a container of the pesto. Normally I’d use the pesto with pasta, but as I discovered that night, it’s also wonderful with potatoes. And altogether grounding post-travel, too. :)
I’ve long turned to chamomile’s relaxing properties to pull some of the stress out of my system. A lot of folks like chamomile as a hot tea, but that’s not exactly a summertime go-to, thus the inspiration for this lemonade that combines chamomile tea, green apples, lemon juice, and a hint of maple syrup. A divine reset relaxer!
All I can say is get out your camera, cause when you make this dish, you’re going to want to take a picture of it before you serve it. It’s just that pretty, with the peach of the salmon, the ruby red jewels of the pomegranate seeds, the vibrant green of the parsley. The taste is no less sensational, the citrus and herbs playing wonderfully off the salmon’s healthy blend of omega-3 rich fats. This one will energize all your senses. Welcome home!