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Until further notice – check out www.getlocalflavor.com

Posted by deborahmclaren on December 30, 2012

Hello Friends,

I’ve been busy building another wordpress.org blog/website: www.getlocalflavor.com to promote small businesses, organizations and events that are “local” and sustainable in the Upper Midwest. Along with the website you can find us on Facebook.com/getlocalflavor or Twitter: @getlocalflavor or even a linkedin group “Local Flavor.”

Cheers!
Deborah McLaren aka TravelMomma

Posted in Buy-local, cultural heritage, ecotour, entreprenuers, microenterprise, Minnesota, Slow Foods, sustainable tourism, sustainable travel, travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fall Show – Young Potters in St. Paul

Posted by deborahmclaren on November 12, 2011

Driving home from the Northland Pioneers conference this afternoon I spotted a “Pottery Sale” sign on the side of the road. Not one to miss a local pottery sale I followed the signs to a little clapboard house on Palace Street in Saint Paul, MN.

To my delight it was a fall sale organized by four or five young potters from the area. And their work and designs were very diverse. Not the usual pottery show stuff! For example, the painting/sculptures made by Kelly Cox and her husband Eric Mullis.

Potters William Cook and Phillip Schmidt + fan

Tiny ant sculpture by Eric Mullis

Deer painting/plate by Kelly Cox

Beautiful Handmade Bowl

I am excited to see young artists in the neighborhood! The functional pottery and sculpture is affordable and they are a fun, welcoming group. It’s a beautiful weekend. If you stop by they are also serving up some fall goodies and hot cider.

2011 Fall Pottery Show and Sale, Sat Nov 12 – Sun Nov 13, 1792 Palace Avenue, St. Paul MN 55104
email williamcookpottery@gmail.com

Posted in art, Buy-local, entreprenuers, microenterprise, Minnesota, Saint Paul | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What to do with all that rhubarb: rhubarb ketchup

Posted by deborahmclaren on October 27, 2011

I grew so much rhubarb this summer I didn’t know what to do with all of it. I made cakes, pies, breads, tarts, and crisps and finally chopped up the last of it and stuck it in the freezer – waiting to find yet another way to use all that stuff. It’s great rhubarb – fantastically tasty – its just that I had so much!

Last weekend my inner farm girl went wild and I tried to buy up all of the last tomatoes at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. It was a lovely day. Kind of cool and brisk. One of those times when the day itself infuses you with so much energy you feel like you can cook up a truck load of veggies. My husband, Rob, was going along with it. He actually pushed around one of those pop-up mesh toy cans on a dolly and helped me fill it to the brim. It trembled and flopped side to side under the weight of garlic, potatoes, carrots, bok choy, onions, peppers, and ALL THOSE TOMATOES.

I have not really canned this fall, so I was on a mission to buy stuff I could quickly can or preserve through the winter. Once this summer my son Anil and I had lunch at Wise Acre Eatery in Minneapolis. Luckily he ordered a hamburger that came with fries and ketchup. The ketchup was to die for. Fortunately I was able to get some of the secret ingredients out of the waiter. The memory of that delicious red sauce inspired my tomato hunt.

Rhubarb.

cooking the rhubarb and tomatoes

That’s the secret ingredient chef Beth Fisher uses in her tasty sauce. We love Wise Acre Eatery for a number of reasons – it is a garden nursery and a slow food eatery in south Minneapolis – and they grow their own food on a farm not far from the Twin Cities… Berkshire Black hogs, Scottish Highland cattle, free range chickens… all rambling around on fresh green pastures in the nearby countryside. Of course it sounds overly sweet when you first hear about it (the ketchup, not the farm and eatery) but its not.

I had to go home and google up every rhubarb ketchup recipe on the internet and call a couple of go-to cooks I know. After experimenting a bit, the final result included vinegar and brown sugar – staples of any good ketchup recipe. Also, I used that boat load of Roma tomatoes along with the last of the heirloom tomatoes I had picked from the garden.

So if you have a bunch of rhubarb left over from the summer harvest and you’re out at the farmer’s market (or on the farm) this week you still have time to find a few good tomatoes (friends and family in the south will laugh at this – since I’m just about as far north as the US gets in Minnesota and thus at the end of the tomato season). Here’s the recipe I finally came up with. My friend Carla Solberg Sherman, the owner of Como Lake B&B, said she could serve it with the eggs she dishes up at her elegant place on Como Lake.

I hope you like it. Here’s the recipe:

Rhubarb Ketchup
Takes about an hour to make
Ingredients

4 cups diced fresh or frozen rhubarb
3 medium onions, chopped
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 dozen roma tomatoes, diced or
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon pickling spice

Directions

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cook for 1 hour or until thick. Cool. Refrigerate in covered containers or freeze it.

Posted in Buy-local, food and wine, Minnesota, Saint Paul, Slow Foods, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

tumblr alternative to travel blogging

Posted by deborahmclaren on October 12, 2011

A tumblr (www.tumblr.com) account may be an alternative for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time travel blogging.  A cross between Twitter and a blog, tumblr is a free service that lets you create an account where you can share photos, videos, posts, and more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I’m Going to Kansas City… here we come!

Posted by deborahmclaren on October 2, 2011

directly in front of negro league and jazz mus...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come! BBQ, Baseball and Jazz… I’m going to get me some!

This summer I drove down to KC with nine of my most  immediate family. We loaded into two vans and headed south from the Twin Cities to Kansas City. On the hottest day of the year. Really! It was 102 degrees and one of the vans did not have a/c.  Our mission: find the best KC barbeque and visit the birthplace of KC jazz and black baseball.

Before you read further I will admit to a few of things. I got the hives from the heat and had to stay in bed almost 48 hours. My mostly Muslim family went to Worlds of Fun/Oceans of Fun without me (still in bed) and were unindated by Christian music which was constantly (and loudly) broadcast throughout the amusement park. No worries about those carnies that love blasting Slow Ride here. And we did not find the best bbq in Kansas City. Despite that, we found some real gems in KC. This information is from my accumulated experiences though.

My husband, Rob, and I have been exploring KC for a few years. Every time we travel South to visit my family we go through KC (and Joplin but that’s an entirely different story). For a long time it was just a gas stop or an overnight cheap hotel on the way to Oklahoma (or that five hours we spent in a snow storm waiting it out at Chuckie Cheese). Finally we started making time for… you guessed it… food and music. That is what life is about, right?

One night we were driving through KC just about supper time. Rob had been trying to find a good steak house every time we passed through town without luck. We gave up on the steaks and decided to go for my favorite type of southern dinner – BBQ.  I grew up in the south so BBQ often means really soft meat sans the spicy ketchup sauce. The meat is smoked, melts in your mouth and the taste can’t be hidden by any kind of sauce. So of course I was hoping to find that. My husband, having been born and raised in India, prefers as spicy as you can get. We always try to find a happy medium (and an extra bottle of hot sauce).

With my new cell phone and all its fancy apps I was able to track down the closest BBQ place we were passing by on the highway. Happened to be BB’s Lawnside Blues and BBQ.  “B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ is Where BBQ Meets the Blues in Kansas City. For 20 years, B.B.’s has served slow-smoked meats (sausage, beef, chicken, pulled pork and ribs) from its 60+ year-old pit, Plus, B.B.’s menu includes signature Louisiana dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, red beans & rice and goulash. And, when you combine that with world-class blues entertainment, you get a unique Kansas City experience only found at B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ.” Yep, that’s right off their website but it certainly sums it up.

We drove a few miles through a deserted industrial area to get there, and yes, there is some kind of piece of grass next door to the parking lot. It’s a bit of a stretch to call it “lawnside,” but maybe in that area it passes. The inside is pretty much that scene from the Blues Brothers, where Jake and Elwood have to play in a honky tonk behind some chain link fencing and everyone throws empty beer bottles at them. Fortunately for us there were no crazy crowd or chain fences, nor flying beer bottles, just great food and amazing blues. There was a band of at least 10, including a hot horn section, and at one point two members of the band ran into the audience and did a great chest bump in the middle of a tune. Obviously a lot of energy and entertainment goes on at BB’s Lawnside. Great homestyle BBQ, long shared tables, awesome local brew and amazing music. And it was all very reasonably priced.

During our visits to KC we had learned about The Historic District of 18th and Vine.  The district was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s-1960s. Since the late 1990s it has been undergoing a revival. It was the hub of activity for homeowners, business, jazz music, and baseball enthusiast. Just outside of the district stands the Paseo YMCA building, which was built as a black YMCA in 1914. It served as temporary home for baseball players, railroad workers, and others making the transition to big city life in the Midwest. It was here that the Negro National League was founded in 1920. Although the district and the YMCA building were becoming blighted by the 1980s, they were recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the late 1990s, plans were underway by city officials to create a new home to showcase Kansas City’s jazz heritage and to revitalize the Historic District. City officials and the mayor worked to raise over $20 million in bonds to build a new facility to host the new American Jazz Museum and a new, permanent and expanded, home for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This new 50,000 square-foot building opened in September 1997 and the Baseball Museum opened in November.

Hot jazz, cool blues, historical and cultural preservation and good food.   Just east of downtown KC. We took the kids to the baseball museum and the American Jazz Museum which showcases the sights and sounds of jazz through interactive exhibits and films, the Changing Gallery exhibit space, Horace M. Peterson III Visitors Center, Blue Room jazz club and Gem Theater. Kansas City is one of the greatest purveyors of jazz – and it continues to offer fertile ground for the music to thrive.

The kids were excited by the museums. The Jazz Museum, especially, is very interactive. Numerous kiosks use individual headphones to tell stories about the musicians, various types of jazz, and historical eras of jazz music. I could have spent a lot more time there as there was so much to absorb and learn.  However, we were off to find food for a hungry crowd.

The original Arthur Bryants in the historic jazz district

Although Arthur Bryant’s was recommended by everyone in the neighborhood, I think it’s a taste acquired by growing up there. The BBQ sauce was vinegary with some lumpy dry spices in it. Have no doubt – the place was packed and there are tons of great reviews about the place (although there have been more unfavorable reviews of late – maybe they are focusing more on their product sales than their restaurant food?) It just wasn’t my type of barbeque. And everyone else in the family agreed. And the family includes some heavy duty BBQ connoisseurs. It is a well loved, neighborhood favorite, it just wasn’t what we were expecting.  To order you must wait in line and order in a cafeteria style set-up. It was rather confusing but we ended up with burnt ends, turkey and fries.

Other places in the 18th and Vine area include Danny’s Big Easy, The Peachtree, the KC Blues & Jazz Juke House, and The Blue Room (part of the American Jazz Museum) which hosts Jazz Poetry Jams every 3rd Tuesday from 7 to 10pm. Other nights they offer up live music starting at 7 pm. The 2011 Rhythm and Ribs Jazz and Blues Festival is coming up on Oct 8.

The next night we tried Jack Stack’s BBQ near the river. The beef ribs were meaty and tender and the sauce was definitely a thick tomato and brown sugar base. The staff at the crowded restaurant was kind enough to set us in a huge booth area where we could all sit together (and not offend other diners with all of our noise and active kiddies).

There aren’t a lot of locally-owned accommodations in Kansas City – or at least we weren’t able to find them. There are a couple of B&Bs in nearby Bonner Springs.  Airbnb lists a few places to stay: from a one bedroom rental in a private home for $40 a night to luxury Lofts downtown for $90 a night.  With three adults and six kids under twelve we opted for a downtown hotel with two rooms and a pool. And we used that pool a lot since it was such a hot weekend. Unfortunately, a lot of b&bs don’t allow children.

Since we were downtown we were close to the restored Union Station (with lots of food, a permanent rail exhibit called the KC Rail Experience, exhibit spaces for traveling exhibits produced by the Smithsonian and other national organizations, a planetarium, an interactive science center called Science City and a vibrant Theater District featuring giant-screen movies and live theater, and much more.) and the Crowne Center which houses a Children’s Theater, the Hallmark Card headquarters (where kids can go to make crafts), a huge Crayola store also with fun activities, play areas (shooting water outside, an Amazon rainforest inside), and plenty of shops to buy any kind of KC BBQ sauce there is.

Also downtown, along the river, is the City Market. Since its inception in 1857, the City Market continues to be one of the largest and most enduring public farmers’ markets in the Midwest, linking growers and small businesses to the Kansas City community. This is where locals go! The City Market is one of the largest outdoor concert venues in Kansas City. There are a number of permanent vendors in the market, and more than 140 vendors on the weekends during the farmer’s market that burst with bedding plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs, fresh baked goods and other sweets, cut flowers and crafts made by local artisans.

We’re going to keep hunting for local places to stay. Please let me know if you have more local haunts to add to our KC stopovers!

Posted in Buy-local, cultural heritage, family travel, food and wine, Missouri, museum, travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Building the Local Flavor website

Posted by deborahmclaren on September 29, 2011

I’ve been working with Envision, in St. Peter MN, to design the new Local Flavor website. Building a website is not easy… it takes a lot of time, tinkering and learning. The website will eventually include a LOCAL directory of entrepreneurs, microenterprises, small businesses, festivals and events, and more. Say you don’t want to stay at a big chain hotel and drive thru that McPlace next time you travel around Minnesota. Local Flavor will help you find a very cool local inn to stay, places to visit, interesting things to do and great local, healthy food wherever you go. And Local Flavor is not just for travelers! Locals will find it very useful too.

It’s taking longer than I thought. Hopefully the website will be ready for “testing” in the next couple of weeks. Anyone that wants to volunteer to test will get a free one year subscription! You’ll have to help test and report any problems or bugs you might experience. We want to make sure the website will work well.

In the meantime, please help by voting for Local Flavor. There’s only a couple more days and your vote can help us win a $50,000 Intuit hiring grant and provide more jobs in Minnesota. Click on the Intuit website and type in “Local Flavor” and then “St. Paul, MN” which will bring up the voting box. Then vote for us. Write something nice about us if you’d like.

Thanks for staying in touch and reading the blog this summer. I’m so surprised there’s been a lot of visits despite my lack of writing. Hopefully I can get back into the groove soon.

Cheers! – Travel Momma

Posted in Buy-local, entreprenuers, family travel, food and wine, Minnesota, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

More Quirky Places to Stay in Minnesota

Posted by deborahmclaren on May 16, 2011

I promised to write more about interesting places to stay in Minnesota. I’ve found a former chicken house, a Viking Inn, a light house, another old jail, a tow boat, a house boat and some other cool stays. We’re obviously gearing up for summer travel as the number of visitors to the quirky places I’ve blogged about are rising daily.

The Broodio

The Broodio

Inside the Broodio

Inside the Broodio

The Broodio, a former “brooder” house (where baby chicks are raised) is a one-room cottage that is part of a Minnesota Valley century farmstead. The simple pleasures of the prairie surround Moonstone’s gardens, arbors and vineyard. A canoe, grill, campfire, sauna and beach are available to guests.

This is a real find! The Viking Inn is Central Minnesota ‘s Nordic Inn Medieval Brew and Bed! Built in an old church by “the crazy Viking, Steinarr Elmerson” who left southern California and corporate America to follow his dream. Steinarr loves to cook and the inn offers a Viking Dinner Mystery or an interactive Viking dinner theater with raids, pillaging, burning and feasting. Rooms start at about $60 for the tiny room built in the church’s bell tower to $150 for Odin’s Den. Soap, Shoes and Viking Vear come with the room!

Runestone Museum, located in downtown Alexandria, Minnesota is not far from the Viking Inn. You can tour historic Fort Alexandria, take your picture with the country’s biggest viking, and see the world famous Kensington Runestone.

The Runestone

Built in 1892 the Lighthouse B&B in Two Harbors is a working lighthouse operated by the Lake County Historical Society. It has three spare but tasteful rooms that share one bathroom, and there’s a half-bath in the basement. The Skiff House, on the grounds adjoining the visitors center, has its own bathroom and hot tub.

The Lighthouse at Dusk

The Jail Haus Bed & Breakfast and Ed’s Museum

Wykoff is a perfect little southern Minnesota village – a perfect blend of hospitality and local flavor. The ladies of Wykoff keep themselves busy. They not only renovated Ed’s Museum, but made their historic jail into a B&B. Stay in the jail for about $68/night then go over to Ed’s Museum to view the display of 1930s lollipop tree, old pin-ups and tons of other junk. It’s also next to the Root River, my favorite place for tubing. For lovers of Americana kitsch.

The Old Jailhaus, Wykoff, MN

On the St. Croix River in Taylors Falls, Minn., the Old Jail B&B occupies an old brewery/saloon and an 1884 jail on a hill at the edge of downtown. In 1869, the Schottmuller brothers built a one-story stone structure with a cave connecting it to their brewery further up Angel Hill and opened it as a saloon, storing beer in the cave. They then purchased a two-story stable and livery, built in 1851, from the Chisago House Hotel and set it on top of the saloon for living quarters. Since its days as a saloon, the “Cave” has housed a surprising array of businesses including a general store, a chicken plucking operation, a beauty shop, and a mortuary. The Taylors Falls Jail was built next door to the saloon in 1884. It was used over the years as an ice house, a shoe repair shop, and a garage. Historian Helen White restored the “Jail” and opened it in 1981 as Minnesota’s first licensed bed & breakfast.

The Old Jail Cottage in Taylors Falls, MN

The Old Jail Cottage in Taylors Falls, MN

In St. Paul, The Covington Inn was built in 1946 as a towboat and now is moored on Harriet Island, across from downtown. Four elegant rooms have fireplaces and superb views; the two-story Pilot House suite includes the pilot house as a sitting room and has a private deck. The boat is trimmed stem to stern in mahogany, brass and bronze. Windows and portals in the boat’s tiered design draw light into each room. Sleeping quarters feature a mix of ingenious built-in cabinets with simple furnishings from the Covington’s work era. Salvaged fixtures, nautical antiques and historic art provide tasteful reminders of the River and the Inn’s past life.

The Covington Inn, St. Paul

In northern Minnesota lakes country, in the tiny village of Dorset, the Heartland Trail B&B was built in 1920 as a schoolhouse and has six attractive rooms, named for different grades. 218-732-3252.

Little old school house B&B in Dorsett

Heartland Trail or Little old school house B&B in Dorsett

In the western Minnesota town of Ashby, on the Central Lakes Trail, the Harvest Inn B&B occupies the former 1926 Trinity Lutheran Church and has four rooms. Enjoy winery tours anytime of the day. Feel free to walk around and tour one of Minnesota’s largest horse facilities.218-747-2334. Email: info@harvestinn.net

Timber Bay Lodge and Houseboats is located on Birch Lake near Ely Minnesota and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area (BWCA). They have both cabins and houseboats! located deep in the heart of the Superior National Forest. Fish, swim, and relax as you pilot your own houseboat. Watch for eagles, loons, and bears. The houseboats range and size and from $185 to $500 a night.

Timber Bay House Boat

Stone Mill Hotel & Suites are in the lovingly restored and very posh Lanesboro FEED MILL. It consists of a limestone and wood (barn-like), building. Renovated to honor their history, the buildings are reminders of Lanesboro’s significant agriculture contribution.

Stone House Mill Hotel, Lanesboro

Stone House Mill Hotel, Lanesboro

The Palmer House Hotel claims residence to a celebrity ghost! The spirit of Sinclair Lewis, a famous local author for which the town takes pride in, is said to haunt the very hotel that he was employed as a bell boy. Sauk Centre is the childhood home of Lewis. R.L. Palmer built the current hotel in 1901. The original hotel consisted of 38 rooms and one communal bathroom. The Palmer House was considered so majestic that a special contractor was hired from Minneapolis to wire the building with electricity, which many considered a novel luxury at the time. The first paranormal conference was held at The Palmer House in 2008. Hosts of the conference was Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Seminars included television celebrities Chris Fleming and Patrick Burns and Darkness Radio host Dave Schrader.

The Palmer House, Sauk Center, MN

Well, there you have it. Please let me know if you visit any of these quirky places… or learn about more!

Posted in cultural heritage, family travel, Minnesota, museum, quite unusual, Saint Paul | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Authentic Travel a Myth? Your thoughts?

Posted by deborahmclaren on May 2, 2011

The article that initiated this discussion, 7 Reasons Why the ‘Authentic’ Travel Experience Is a Myth by Gary Arndt was published in the Atlantic in March. Since then it has been re-posted and discussed all over the internet. It’s an interesting topic in the on-going critique of global tourism. Here is a response and my own thoughts.

Gary Arndt has been traveling and blogging around the world since March 2007. He is the author of the popular travel blog Everything Everywhere.

One reason people travel is to have an “authentic experience.” They envision traveling to a foreign country and living, eating, and doing the things locals do. I have exchanged emails with people ready to set out on a long adventure who see themselves living with tribespeople in the African bush or in Southeast Asian villages.

Most likely, they are in for a disappointment.

The problem stems from the expectations people have before they go. When I was in Samoa, I was talking to a woman from New Zealand who had been driving around the islands. She sounded disappointed and a little bit upset that Samoans had television sets. She lamented the destruction of the Samoan lifestyle and blamed it on Western countries. She then went into a rant about how wonderful it was being able to live a self-sufficient life in a village.

When an ethnic restaurant opens up in a Western country, that’s diversity. When a Western restaurant opens up in a non-Western country, that’s cultural imperialism.

I pointed out the inconvenient fact that Samoa is not in fact self-sufficient in food. No Pacific country is. The most popular foods are instant noodles and corned beef. The biggest part of the Samoan economy is income sent home from Samoans living abroad. The current population of Samoa would be almost impossible to sustain by methods used in the 19th century.

She got upset and ended the conversation.

She had an idea of what Samoa was, and more importantly, what she thought Samoa should be. Her Samoa was closer to the Samoa of the 19th century or the Samoa of Margaret Mead. She was denied her authentic cultural experience because Samoans (how dare they!) were watching TV and using electricity. Samoans just weren’t Samoan enough for her. Even though she would never state it as such and would bristle at the accusation, she wanted Samoa to be a cultural zoo where she could go and look at the locals doing their cultural thing.

The problem of course wasn’t with Samoa. It was with the woman. She suffered from several fallacies that infect many travelers.

These beliefs include:

The myth of the noble savage

Steven Pinker explained this idea in great detail in his seminal book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. The belief holds that before the arrival of Western civilization, people everywhere lived in harmony with each other and with nature. This is far from the truth. If anything, even despite the horrific wars of the 20th century, humanity has become more peaceful over time. Early humans were warlike and did their damnedest to harness nature, which was the biggest threat to their survival. They just didn’t have the tools to do the damage we can. Sun Tzu didn’t write The Art of War as a thought experiment. It has been estimated that prior to the rise of civilization and agriculture, 60 percent of males in some regions could expect to die from the hands of another person through warfare, murder, or execution. Mass burning of land was a common way to flush out animals. People in developing countries are neither innocents nor scoundrels. They are just like anyone else.

Applying different standards to other cultures

When an ethnic restaurant opens up in a Western country, that’s diversity. When a Western restaurant opens up in a non-Western country, that’s cultural imperialism. If diversity is good for us, why isn’t it good for others? Preservation of culture is considered an asset when practiced by other countries, but a liability when practiced at home. There are more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Wendy’s, and KFCs … COMBINED. I don’t think anyone is worried about a Chinese cultural takeover of America. A few McDonald’s and Starbucks overseas is hardly an invasion. Author Rachel Laudan noted the response by one of her Mexican friends who was criticized for serving Italian food: “Why can’t we eat spaghetti, too?”

Confusing modernization and Westernization

Through the power of guns, germs, and steel, the first part of the world to modernize was Europe and North America. As other countries modernize, many people confuse this technological advancement with becoming more Western. In the above example, Samoans have TV, but they mostly still live in traditional fales and have strong village and family ties. Japan is a fully modern country, yet it is most definitely not Western. Technology isn’t culture. While there are some groups that resist technological change, the vast majority of humanity has quickly grabbed at any innovation that will make life easier. The classic modern example is cell phones, which have found their way to some of the poorest and remotest places on Earth.

A static view of history

If you take a very long view of human history, it can be thought of as nothing but a flow of people, ideas, and cultures. Empires rise and fall. Religions come and go. Trade routes open and ideas and technologies are exchanged. The clothing, dances, and music of a country can really be considered fashions and fads of a particular era as much as pillars of particular cultures. The design of the Ming Dynasty in China was different than that of the Chin. When you hear the traditional music of a people, that music may only go back a few hundred years, if even that far. The arrival of Buddhism in Southeast Asia dates back to about the time of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Prior to that, Hinduism was dominant. When you visit a monastery in Thailand, you are not seeing something that has been there from time immemorial—you are viewing something that didn’t exist only a few hundred years ago. Expecting everyone you meet in a country to be wearing traditional dress is like expecting everyone in the United States to be wearing stovepipe hats and bonnets.

Taking photos too literally

Ever see a photo of a thatched bungalow on stilts over the water in a turquoise lagoon? It makes for a great photo and many people fantasize about staying in an over water bungalow. They are a marketing gimmick. Water bungalows are not authentic in the slightest. They were created several decades ago as a way to attract tourists. What the photo doesn’t show you is that you very well might be sleeping over mud when the tide goes out (with the corresponding dead fish smell), or that the bungalows probably have killed all marine life below them because they block sunlight. I have spoken in the past of travel porn. What you have to keep in mind is that just like porn, what you see is often fake. Don’t get your heart set on it.

White Man’s Burden

You will be hard pressed to find anyone who would explicitly say there is a “White Man’s Burden” in the 21st century, but you can find tons of people, from Jeffrey Sachs to Bono, who think that with the correct policy, plan, or organization, “we” Westerners can solve the problems of Africa and other poor parts of the world. The emotional desire to do something in the face of extreme poverty is understandable, but you’d be hard pressed to find any examples in history of a people rising out of poverty on the basis of the aid from another country. Go listen to the African speakers at the TED Africa conference. They don’t want pity or for us to solve their problems. They understand they must solve these problems on their own terms, in their own way. I am not saying you shouldn’t volunteer when you travel, but you should be realistic about what can be achieved and don’t look upon the people you are helping as objects of pity.

The Traveler Quantum Effect

One tenet of quantum physics is that the simple act of observing an event will alter the outcome of the event. Traveling is no different. When we have a guest over at our house we tend to clean up, dress nice, and be on our best behavior. One thing any true “authentic” experience would have is the lack of tourists taking part. The very act of being somewhere means that you are changing the environment and removes the possibility of having a true authentic experience.

Conclusion

The world is what it is, and you have to explore it on its terms, not yours. No matter what you expect to see when you visit a new place, the reality you will find will be different. You are traveling in the 21st century, not the 19th. Do not expect people to be caricatures or stereotypes of something you have in mind. View the people you meet as neither cultural superiors nor objects of pity. Moreover, whatever you think is authentic was developed without your having experienced it.

Change your expectations and you’ll find that every experience is authentic to itself.

– – – – – – – – –

“Authentic travel” is about accepting things as they are

authentic travel

I have just read an interesting article, which I don’t agree with: 7 Reasons Why the ‘Authentic’ Travel Experience Is a Myth by Gary Arndt (@EverywhereTrip on Twitter). Gary Arndt writes:

One reason people travel is to have an “authentic experience.” They envision traveling to a foreign country and living, eating, and doing the things locals do. […] Most likely, they are in for a disappointment.

The reason why I believe this does not necessarily mean that authentic travel is a myth is in the journalist’s words themselves. In a quite contradictory way, he continues:

The problem stems from the expectations people have before they go.

That is, in my opinion, the whole point. As I have stated in other posts, I am a huge supporter of forms of tourism which can be variously defined as “authentic, local, responsible, slow,… travel”. Authenticity is not a myth… it is acceptance of things the way they actually are. The way things are at a destination might not be what one expected, but if travelers are open-minded, able to see the limitations imposed by their own expectations and willing to embrace the reality of the local lifestyle, they can certainly experience the authentic spirit of the place. They might not like it, and they might find out that a certain place is not for them, nothing wrong with that. But the only disappointment should come from one’s own inability to get over one’s expectations.

Expectations are a dangerous thing and come with consequences. Yet they can’t be avoided. They might misguide us and when they are shared by many, they have the power to change a destination. Tuscany is an example of this.

Most expectations have been created by novels or romantic comedies set in the region. Stereotypes, romanticized images, and some misconceptions have been spread. Crowds of tourists have started coming expecting (and often demanding) the very same experiences portrayed in fiction. The result has been that certain areas have changed to adapt to that image and to keep those crowds coming.

Is this inevitable? Probably. Yet, as a vacation rental owner, and a blogger, I kind of feel the need to present life in Tuscany as it is. I always try to prepare our guests by explaining what they will find if they come to our village and what they won’t find. If they want an authentic experience, they have to be ready to give up some familiar habits and “put up” with what we, the local people, also put up with on a daily basis.

It might be for many, it is not for all. Nothing wrong. But experiencing the authentic local life is possible, provided one is ready to accept things as they actually are and not necessarily as one expected.

—————–

Ironically, although the latter blogger, Gloria, states she disagrees agrees with Gary, with notice they both end their articles on the same note:

Gary Ardnt: “The world is what it is, and you have to explore it on its terms, not yours.

Gloria / At Home in Tuscany: “But experiencing the authentic local life is possible, provided one is ready to accept things as they actually are and not necessarily as one expected.”

Final note: My response to both:

Authentic travel? Are you referring to small towns and nature as opposed to Disneyland or chain restaurants/accommodations? My concept of authentic travel is visiting and exploring and supporting small businesses – wherever they are – that celebrate and promote the local culture, food, art, heritage and travel. To me, authentic travel is about keeping local roots alive – increasing our understanding of what “buy local” really means. Not just buying from a business that is located in your town (or the town you are visiting) but one that is owned locally, that promotes other local products and services, that helps sustain the uniqueness of community culture, that recycles dollars back into the local economy creating more jobs. E.g. a Target or Walmart in a town is NOT a local business. While they employ people they create fewer jobs than they destroy by displacing existing stores in a region. I believe authentic travel means celebrating your community culture (local food, land/scenery, crafts, music, literature, visual arts, theater). Travel organizations and businesses that advertise “authentic travel” are selling concepts – unless they are promoting local businesses, organizations, events, etc.

Travelers interested in authentic travel will support locally-owned businesses and events and avoid corporate chains that suck the authentic out of the place.

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Traveling in New Zealand

Posted by deborahmclaren on April 17, 2011

Hold down the fort! Travel Momma is on a lovely adventure down under – researching and writing a bunch of cool stories about buy-local, 100% Pure New Zealand adventures, the whole new farmer’s markets push around the country, manuka honey, a star sanctuary, and sheep… yes, lots of sheep.

I’ll be home next week.

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Making maple syrup in urban Minnesota

Posted by deborahmclaren on April 4, 2011

Our first two quarts

Our first two quarts of maple syrup

There is NOTHING like real maple syrup. We’re spoiled here in Minnesota since we can buy it directly from the Anishinabe that make it out in the bush every year. We’re so spoiled that we like to sprinkle it on our pancakes and oatmeal, make cakes and cookies and other pastries with it brew beer with it and even drink the sap that comes directly out of the tree. I’ve been eying our two maple trees in the front yard for years but thought it would be impossible to actually make our own syrup. This year I decided to do it.

Spiles

Spiles, or taps, for tapping maple trees

Sugar Bush is a social event as well as syrup production time for hobbyists and those who do it for a living. My family and I have been out to the “sugar bush” several times over the years to learn about tapping the trees. Late winter – usually February or March (they call it spring here even though there is still several feet of snow on the ground) is tapping time. You have to have days when the temps get up over 32 and nights when it goes back down. However, I’ve only seen projects where hundreds of trees are tapped. That takes a lot of forest and a lot of buckets. I also knew that it takes 40 gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup. It also takes a big outside fire and constantly boiling the sap until all of the water evaporates. Up at White Earth Indian Reservation and other places in the North Woods some families have their own sugar bush camps – usually a primitive cabin to stay in while they are out tapping and boiling for weeks at a time. It’s a lot of work!

Maple Syrup Starter Kit

Maple Syrup Starter Kit

I really didn’t think we’d get much sap from our two sugar maples here in the city, but what the heck. I went over to the Egg|Plant Urban Farm store in Saint Paul and talked to them about it. They were selling the tree tap spouts, or “spiles,” buckets, mesh for straining, books about making maple syrup and had plenty of advice. Nope, we weren’t the only fools in the city that wanted to make maple syrup. Yes, we could make it with only two trees. Yep, they would send out a notice when it was just the right time to start tapping. We loaded up and then went home to read.  They sell “Tap My Trees” products and the book that comes with the kit, “Maple Sugaring at Home” was invaluable. And watch a few videos on Youtube.com. Here’s a link to a video that was straight forward and helpful:

David Martin and Bill Dahl are two Minnesotans that love to make maple syrup. Here’s a step-by-step video of David and Bill by Lawrence R. Pfleger. .

We started with drilling holes in the trees that would accommodate the size spiles we bought. The spiles went right in and fit beautifully. They come with a clip for the bucket. For those who want to have plenty of syrup throughout the year, it is helpful to have at least 2 maple trees available to you for tapping as the season is short and you need to collect a lot of sap in order to make more than one bottle a year.  We ended up putting 3 buckets on 2 trees. The first couple of days we were getting about 3 gallons a day total from both trees. Then, the sun came out and the temperatures went up and the trees stopped producing.  We waited and two days later the temps went down below freezing at night and the trees started producing again. So far, after about two weeks, we’ve made more than 3 quarts of dark golden, buttery flavored maple syrup.

Tap My Trees' "Maple Sugaring at Home"

Tap My Trees' "Maple Sugaring at Home"

We were warned to boil the sap constantly – and to do it outside. Since we were boiling a small amount we did it inside on our stove with the overhead fan going all the time and it worked fine.  The key, we learned, is to keep the boil going and check out it every hour or so – stirring when we checked. Once the syrup boiled about half way down the big pot we’d add more sap. The idea is to evaporate the water in the sap.

Once we got the syrup dark, golden brown and the boil to about 215 degrees it would start foaming. That’s when we decided it was done. The trickiest part of the whole process, for me at least, was straining it. After a couple of tries I found that using clothes pins to secure the straining cloth over a pot works well. You can leave a little extra cloth so that it makes a dip in the center – easier to pour into and hold the syrup. I poured the syrup while it was still hot and it still took a while for it to go through the cloth.

I poured the syrup into sterlized quart jars and a few minutes later heard the lids pop. We could store it on the shelf, however, we decided to store the syrup in our spare fridge. I don’t know how long four quarts will last since we’re practically using it every meal right now. The buttery, intense taste is divine!

Straining small batches of syrup

Straining small batches of syrup

News from Indian Country has a website and youtube channel has taped and posted a video of Jim Northrup, a well respected Objibwe known for his writing about Indian country in Minnesota. In the video Jim is making spiles from wood. It’s during sugar bush and he and some of his family are outside boiling syrup.

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