World Piece Recap — 2/3 of the way through

I’m two-thirds of the way through my 3-month World Piece journey and I finally have a moment to update my blog. I had every intention of posting here regularly but the trip got away from me and there was never enough time, energy or Internet connections. I have, however, managed to post on my Facebook business page nearly every day — a lot of photos and captions to help you follow along with my travels. You don’t have to be signed up for FB to see the posts. If you are not signed up for FB you will be able to read everything but just won’t be able to add your comments. If you are following me already, please know I read all the comments and I appreciate them so much. Here is the link:

Here is a recap my journey so far. I have had some ups and downs, but overall the trip has been exceptionally positive.

New Zealand was so beautiful, but was so cold! It’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I lived in my down jacket, wearing long underwear underneath my bib overalls, wrapped in the wool prayer shawl made by my host Grace Bower that was the impetus for traveling there in the first place. We put a lot of miles on Grace’s Nissan station wagon, and visited the Yummy Fruit apple orchard in Hawke’s Bay, made pies from the apples they donated in a pie class for 20 at a local college’s culinary school, and saw a lot of stunning untrammeled landscape. Soaking in NZ’s hot springs and drinking endless cups of “flat white” helped warm the bones.

Australia was all positive — I spent time with and made pie with very dear old friends, Kate Hayward and Foong Broecker, gave a presentation to the Sydney International Women’s Club, met former prime minister John Howard (my dad’s name too!) at a luncheon celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and got to bottle feed a baby kangaroo. And I sampled a lot of Aussie’s meat pies, some with mashed peas and potatoes on top. Talk about comfort food!  But it was in the friendships — new and old — where the real comfort was found.

In Bangkok, I had a cold for the first 4 days but I bounced back quickly (I credit the fresh fruit and healthy Thai diet for helping speed up my recovery), but after that I pushed full-steam ahead making 75 pies for the American Embassy’s 4th of July party. In order to accomplish that I moved into the pastry kitchen at the Grand Hyatt Erawan where I baked side by side with the Thai staff and came away with some very good friendships. They spoke Thai and I spoke English but we spoke the same language through our baking and our smiles.

India was a big challenge for me. They say you either love it or you hate it. I didn’t love and didn’t hate it, I just didn’t understand it. I did not experience a bad stomach like I had expected, but I cried every single day, which I had NOT expected. I don’t know why it was so challenging…I don’t think it was the poverty as much as it was the grime and garbage. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I wonder why this place is deemed so holy. I did, however, fling myself headlong into it. I taught two pie classes at the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai that were such a big hit they requested I teach a third. Instead of teaching another class I spent that day, courtesy of the lovely Deepa Krishnan of Mumbai Magic, touring India’s largest slum. I was impressed with the industriousness and work ethic there. These people are not hanging around, they are working 10-hour days and making money!  “Don’t call it a slum,” I was told. “It’s a neighborhood.” That was one part of India I actually understood.

After India, I was in Lebanon, in Beirut, a place the American government has placed on the  “do not travel there” list. Alas, I went, because I had an incredible host, cookbook author Barbara Abjeni Massaad. I stayed with her and her family (husband, 3 teenage kids, 2 dogs and 2 cats) in their  apartment. There was evidence of the war, now past, with ongoing effort to ward off any future uprisings. There are barricades, road blocks, military check points, and sandbags surrounding various places and numerous abandoned buildings. Still, it felt safe — except for the driving. There are almost no stoplights so each intersection or onramp is a free-for-all, which was very unnerving.

Barbara took me to a Syrian refugee camp about an hour from Beirut, toward the Syrian border. Talk about not heeding the “do not travel there” warning! We delivered 12 homemade apple pies (that took me 9 hours to bake in a 90-degree kitchen) to people living in tents. I am sorry to say our effort didn’t feel as noble as it sounds. There was tension in the camp and a fight was just breaking out in the very spot we were headed to, where friend’s of Barbara’s lived. (She spent two years visiting the camp, building up trust and relationships, and then photographing the people for a humanitarian aid project and soon-to-be-published cookbook called SOUP FOR SYRIA. You can pre-order it here. We had to leave the camp so there was no time to tell the story of the symbolism of the pie, and how we wanted to promote peace. But we can only hope that that little taste of comfort will lift the spirits of a few. You can never really know what impact you’re making. It’s a lesson in trust, humility, gratitude and so many other things.

One of the refugee families we visited was educated and had been successful in Syria. This family of 11 is trying to use their skills, both creative and business, to make a difference. The eldest son, Wissam, was a third-year mechanical engineering student when they had to flee their homeland. He is now a budding filmmaker, documenting peace efforts in the camp. I was very moved by this video he showed us. In Arabic these kids are saying, “We miss peace. We want peace.”

Who knows if the pies had a direct effect, but it was pie that led us to this filmmaker and his message, and by sharing this it keeps the effort moving forward. So it all matters.

I arrived in Greece, my shortest leg of the trip, with a traveler’s “bug.” I won’t go into the gory details about my compromised health, but sadly, I slept the entire five days I was in Athens. I finally saw a doctor, got on an antibiotic, and tried to change my flight so I could stay longer and make up for the lost days. If you’ve ever been to Greece in August you will know that the airline practically laughed in my face. There were no seats available for 2, even 3 weeks out. There was no outward sign of the country’s financial crisis with this summer tourism season in full swing. And happily the media’s fear-mongering about tourists getting mugged didn’t keep travelers away. I had to stick with my schedule and fly onward, to Europe. I will just have to return to Greece another time. In fact, I loved the teeny tiny bit of it I glimpsed — seeing the islands from the plane, the landscape out the window of the airport train, and the historic streets around my bed & breakfast near the Acropolis—enough to know it warrants its own separate trip. I mean, this was the birthplace of pie and I was too sick to even eat one bite! So yeah, returning is a must.

On July 29, I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and made a beeline for Bern, Switzerland. Medieval Bern at the foot of the Alps is the first city in Europe I ever visited — when I was 22 — and no sooner did I arrive that summer I made some friends with two sisters, Eve and Uschi. Fast forward 31 years, we have been friends so long we are more like family. I was so depleted from being sick I tempted to bail on the rest of my World Piece journey and head back early to the US. Instead, the cure was coming to Bern. Old friends in a gentle, peaceful place (sheep are grazing right out my window and I can hear their neck bells tinkling like music) combined with vitamin C (as in chocolate!), I am in an ideal place for replenishing my reserves.

I fly back to the US on August 27 and I still have a few countries to visit— and a lot more pie to make and taste—before I head home. So keep following along (on Facebook).

I wasn’t sure when going into this project if I would have enough material to write a book about my journey, but I am now convinced that I do. There are many threads that connect the stories, the people and the places. It has all the elements of “the hero’s journey” and all the plot points that fall right into place of a three-act structure — as if it was planned that way. It wasn’t! I will likely be spending the fall back in Iowa where I plan to buckle down and write about the experience while it is still fresh and raw. But I have to get through the rest of the trip first!

Thanks for checking in.

First Pie Class of the World Piece Journey: New Zealand

My first pie class of the World Piece tour was in Napier, New Zealand. Brett Zimmerman (aka Mr. Z), a friend of Louise Watts (my host Grace’s daughter), is a cooking teacher at a local college. (College in NZ is high school in US terms.)

Mr. Z offered use of his classroom — 6 large stainless steel tables and seven — seven!! — ovens. YES! PERFECT! THANK YOU!

The first thing we did was go shopping for pie tins. There is a restaurant supply warehouse just 2 blocks from the school. And luckily they had pie tins. The only kind they had were “very deep dish” but I didn’t mind. We had plenty of apples to fill them. My pie mentor Mary Spellman taught me to make pie in generous portions: “Don’t be stingy,” she always said if I put too little filling in a pie dish. Besides, America has a reputation of doing thing BIG. So big pies were what we would make.

Meet Mr. Z. He is not just a cooking teacher, he’s also a rugby coach.
This is what the classroom looked like before we made a mess.
Pastry gems are some mysterious cross between butter & shortening.
Seemed ideal, and the price was right (FREE!), but the texture was hard.
As for the taste, it was okay, but I wouldn’t recommend the stuff.
Gorgeous apples from The Yummy Fruit Company.
From left to right: Ballaret, Granny Smith, Lemonade.
Lemonade is a new variety, a cross between Gala & Braeburn.
Ballaret are tarter than Gr Smith & easier to peel. Perfect for pie!

Before the class, Mr. Z used some of the apples to give me a lesson in knife-handling skills. We carved swans. He had worked in some fancy pants restaurant and they made these as a garnish, not to eat. He said he worked 14-hour days at that job. No wonder his days were so long! It takes a lot of time to create these carvings. It was fun to learn, but I prefer using apples for pie.

Swan in progress.

Not bad for my first (and last) attempt.
Luckily I did not slice my fingers
 off in the knife-handling exercise.
Especially since this was only
 the beginning of my trip.
Pie is always better with butter. I came to the right country as
New Zealand makes really good butter. 
We had about 18 students for the class. (I didn’t actually count them, Grace did, but I think the number was more like 16 because she included me and Mr. Z in the headcount.) Participants ranged in age from 17 to 70. Mr. Z had sent out email invitations to the school administrators, his cooking students, his catering business helpers, and a few local Hawke’s Bay friends. 
Neil, one of the first participants to arrive.
Check out those pants! A patchwork extravaganza,
he told me they’re 20 years old. 

This cutie pie is Sam. She showed up in braids and someone asked her if she was the Pie Lady.
I wanted my pic taken with her since, based on our matching hairstyles,
we were obviously kindred spirits.

And there is it, the teacher’s corner. More like “Show & Tell.”

No matter where in the world I teach a pie class, it is pretty much always the same format. Introduction, overview of what we’re going to do, demo, turn everyone loose, and then watch the flour fly.

The Pitchfork Pie Stand lives on in every pie I make!

“Rolling dough is like horseback riding, you have to take control of the reins.”
Yep, that analogy works in pretty much every country.

These are some of Mr. Z’s students. They love baking.

Mr. Crazy Patchwork Pants and Miss Cutie Pie Braids. They were a great team!

This table of ladies includes a florist, a school nurse, and a librarian.
They made the most beautifully decorated pies.

My host, Grace Bower, was clearly having a great time. She is not only an
excellent knitter of prayer shawls, she also is an excellent pie maker.

This is Mona. She’s a food judge. But this night she was on the other side of the table.

A crimping lesson.

Neil had to leave early so he took his unbaked pie home with him. On his bike. He had to ride one-handed. In the dark. I never did hear if the pie made it or not. I’m pretty sure no news is good news. I had to hand it to him for his adventurous can-do Kiwi spirit.

The culinary students went to extra lengths to make their pies pretty.
Not for extra credit, but because they enjoyed the artistic process.

Making progress. 

The first pie to come out of the oven belonged to Mona the food judge.
Her pie could have won any pie contest.

I wore my running shoes for the class. I know from having used classroom kitchens before that when you have multiple ovens dispersed through the large room it is a real workout to move between the tables and around the people (dodging rolling pins and trying not to slip on the pie dough that’s fallen on the floor) to get to the ovens. You don’t want your students to do all that work preparing the pies only to have them burn!

I couldn’t read the dials on Mr. Z’s ovens as the numbers were worn off. They were in celsius so I couldn’t understand them anyway. But thanks to my sprinting and squats and the effort of rotating pies around on the oven shelves, every single pie came out looking….well, YUMMY.

See? No pies were harmed (or burned) in the making of this film.

After all these years and all these oven burns, pie still makes me happy. 

Louise Watts presents the “Apple Award” to Mr. Z. The hand-blown glass artwork
came from Utah and Grace determined that people who have contributed something good
should be bestowed with the award–or at least have their picture taken with the apple.

Every pie class ends with a “Victory Shot.” This one was no exception. Look at all those happy people. And look at all those gorgeous pies! Pie really does make the world a better place.

And to think is only the first class of the three-month, 10-country, round-the-world journey. Here’s to many more pies and many more happy people.

Thank you, New Zealand — Grace Bower, Louise Watts, Brett “Mr. Z” Zimmerman & the William Colonso College, Paul Paynter & the Yummy Fruit Company, the Ibis & Novotel Hotels in Rotorua, and many others — for making the first leg of World Piece a fun, safe and successful one.

Next stop: Australia (June 14 to 24)


Mad Apples at The Yummy Fruit Company

Here’s a lesson in trust. For most of my stops on the World Piece tour I have quite a few things planned, scheduled and confirmed on the calendar. For New Zealand, however, my first stop of my three-month journey, I left things a bit, shall we say, loose. I knew I wanted to teach a pie class. And because it’s New Zealand, home to the Granny Smith apple — the apple of choice I use for my pies — I knew I wanted to visit an orchard where these beauties are grown.

I love seeing how things come together.

My NZ contact, Grace, has a daughter, Louise, who lives in the Hawke’s Bay region, the largest apple growing region in the country. (The area is also famous for my other favorite horticultural product: wine.) Grace told Louise the “American pie lady” was coming to visit and asked if she could organize a tour of an orchard. Louise happened to be grocery shopping one afternoon a few days before my arrival and saw a truck parked outside. It had a company name painted on the door: Johnny Appleseed. It was a local apple grower.

Louise approached the man getting into his truck and told him about me and my request. (Go, Louise!) His name was Terrence, lo and behold he was the operations manager of the orchard (life is magical that way), he gave her his card, and after Louise passed his info on to me I emailed him.

After an initial exchange I then received an email from the company CEO, Paul Paynter, who offered to conduct a tour himself. He wrote, “We are completely snowed right now, so I don’t have a lot of time, but you are mad enough that I want to meet you.” (Mad as in crazy.) “The world needs more mad people.”

And that’s how I came to get a tour of The Yummy Fruit Company orchards.

Ushered into the boardroom, I was greeted by a tableful of apples — and a man wielding a knife.

The man with the knife turned out to be company chief, Paul Paynter himself. He introduced us to some of his favorite apple varieties with cute names like Ballaret, Lemonade, Ambrosia, Braeburn, Pacific Queen, Sweet Tango, Smitten — and of course the one with which I am intimately familiar after making thousands of pies with them: Granny Smith.

Paul gave us a tour of his orchards (they have 1700 acres), apologizing for the fact there wasn’t much to see given it is currently winter in the southern hemisphere. The Yummy Fruit Company is a family owned business and Paul is its third generation to run it.

We drove past the Granny Smith section and I asked him if he planted those New Zealand sheep there just for me, as a prop to make the place look more, well, more New Zealandish. No, he said, they serve a purpose. They eat some of the leftover apples off the ground and their feet (hooves) stomp the leaves turning it to mulch.

Paul’s grandfather changed the company name from Paynter to Johnny Appleseed to convey a more all-encompassing side of their product.

Harvest was several months ago, but there were still apples on some of the trees.

Do you see the pink spot on the trunk of the tree above?  It is marked to be cut down. Paul has a test plot where he is experimenting, trying to create and grow new varieties. He walks through and takes bites out of them and spits them out, like wine tasters do. The trees with apples that don’t measure up to his taste get the axe to make room for new and different trees until he comes up with a new variety –and taste — that he likes and thinks he can market.

Paul says the world needs more “mad” people like me. I think the world needs more “mad” people like him. So we were in agreement on that. He is passionate about his work, he loves his apples and cares for them like their his family — and really, they are his family since his grandfather started the business and the company is run out of his grandparents old house. (The boardroom pictures is the old dining room.) Meeting Paul and spending an afternoon tasting apples was a highlight of my stay in New Zealand.

In the true spirit of pie — and by that I mean generosity — Paul gave us three cases of apples to use for my first pie class on the World Piece tour, which I was teaching the next day. We ended up using all of them and they were, just like the box says, absolutely yummy.


A Few New Zealand Pie Recipes

New Zealand gas stations don’t just sell fuel for cars.
The pie display the BP gas station — or petrol station as they say in NZ.

If there is one thing I’ve learned on my World Piece journey so far, it’s that New Zealand loves pie. Kiwis (as New Zealanders are affectionately called) love pie so much it’s sold at every gas station, convenience store, just about everywhere you look. Some consider it a staple and often eat it for “tea,” which is dinner (which in parts of the US is known as supper), others say pie is what you eat when you’re coming home from the bar. On this trip so far, it’s been the go-to food when jet lag makes my stomach growl at odd hours outside of normal meal times.

Hand pies are served warm, the filling is soft and gooey gravy, and the crust is always flaky. And they are almost always savory, salty and hearty. (I don’t even want to know the fat and calorie count!)

One of my stops was in the town of Rotorua, famous for its hot springs. It’s a crazy thing to see a town built on a lake that looks more like a cauldron. Steam vents puff out columns of smoke all around the town, making for an eerie site, and the underlying concern that the whole place might blow up if the earth decided to let loose.

My NZ host, Grace, and I drove from Auckland to Rotorua on the way to her daughter’s in Napier (Hawke’s Bay) further south. In Rotorua, we stayed at the Ibis Hotel, where the manager rolled out the red carpet for us, upgrading our room to a lake view, throwing in a free breakfast, and then, when he heard about World Piece, he treated us to a free dinner buffet at the Novotel next door. That is some impressive Kiwi hospitality!

The buffet was a good introduction to the local cuisine, mainly fresh shellfish (oysters, mussels, shrimp), lamb shank, and their favorite dessert, a meringue/pudding combo called pavlova. After tasting the New Zealand specialty of Butter Chicken (similar to Tandoori chicken) and LOVING it –and raving about it to the waiter — the chef came out with the recipe. His name is Rikesh and he is half Indian, half Fijian. He hand wrote out the recipe by hand for me and walked me through it, pointing out that he didn’t have numbers or amounts for the ingredients. I told him, “Don’t worry about it. That’s how I bake!”

I’m down in Napier now and I had a butter chicken pie for lunch yesterday. It wouldn’t win any pie contest. I fear Rikesh spoiled me for any other Butter Chicken. Thank goodness I have the recipe. And here it is for you.

If you’re ever in Rotorua, stay at the Ibis and make sure you
have the dinner buffet at Novotel Hotel next door. And tell Rikesh I said hi.

Meanwhile, further south, in the stunning and fertile region called Hawke’s Bay, I went to a Sunday farmer’s market.

Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Fertile and gorgeous, it’s also one of the sunniest
places in the country. Perfect for growing grapes and apples.

It’s bloody cold here in winter (yes, it’s June!) so they moved the market inside.

I walked past all the hand pies for sale and migrated toward the hand carved rolling pins. Made from Tasmanian black wood and from a local New Zealand wood called Rimu, these are made from single pieces of wood. Of course I wanted to buy one, but I still have a whole world to circumnavigate and I am already over the weight limit on my luggage.

If I could have bought one it would have been hard to decide which one!

At the market I was introduced to a fruit I had never heard of called feijoa. It tastes like a cross between a passion fruit and a kiwi fruit. It’s very perfumy and for that reason is best eaten in smaller doses. For example, when I tasted feijoa juice my reaction was “that’s too much of a good thing.” But forget the juice, you can make pie from this exotic fruit! (Exotic to me. In NZ it’s an everyday fruit that grows in back yards.)

I came across the stall selling mushrooms. And at the stall was a recipe for mushroom pie.

While I was perusing the aisles for pie ingredients, Louise and Grace bought picnic supplies at the farmer’s market. So after the market, Louise drove us on a scenic tour (which wasn’t a stretch considering there is not one corner of NZ that is not scenic!!) and we ended up at Ocean Beach. It tugged at my heart a little to know I was looking straight back across the water to Los Angeles, where I had just left a few days earlier. A baguette, a bag of feijoa fruit and an apple pie-thing (more like a danish) made for a good snack. And the World Piece apron made for a good tablecloth!

We used the rock as a cutting board for the feijoa fruit.

Grace’s daughter Louise cuts the apple pie.

Later, while browsing for pie plates at a local home goods store, I had to take a photo of this. The pie dish may look like the kind we use in the US, but when you read the recipe you’ll know you’re in another country. Which is the whole point of this journey. Vivre la difference!

Cloves and caster sugar. Grams instead of ounces. You can see it’s not an American recipe.
Note they also suggest using a pie bird.

And the World Piece journey continues….

Coming up in my next posts: a tour of The Yummy Fruit Company apple orchards, and the first pie class I’m teaching on my round-the-world trip.


World Piece: Day One, Arriving in New Zealand

In all my years of traveling internationally, I have never had such a hard time saying goodbye to my parents. They have been driving me to the airport since my first trip overseas 30 years ago. I have always traveled solo and regardless of where I was traveling to — Europe, Thailand, Kenya — I was always excited to leave, not plagued with the worries and fears that weigh me down now, probably because I was too young and naive to know what I should be worried about!

Our goodbye hugs lasted far longer than our usual airport hugs and the tears flowed more readily and much longer. And when the flight to New Zealand hit some turbulence half-way across the Pacific Ocean, I thought, “Well, that’s why we hugged for so long. My plane is destined to go down.”

Silly, silly, girl. What a misuse of imagination.

Hey, New Zealand, thanks for the welcome rainbow!

Apart from the few bumps in the night, the 13-hour flight went very smoothly and surprisingly quickly. (It helps when you have 40 movies to choose from on your private screen.) And not only did we not crash, we had a soft landing, AND we were greeted by a rainbow over Auckland.

My host, Grace Bower, picked me up at the airport and gave me a driving tour of Auckland. The city is on the narrowest part of New Zealand’s north island, an isthmus with harbors on each side.

The compass on the top of Mount Eden in Auckland.
Proof of how far I’ve come…so far.

That dip is a volcano crater. And that city may look like Seattle, but it’s Auckland.

After zipping around Auckland, Grace drove us north to her village of Orewa. (Pronounced “Oh-ray-wa.”) It’s a quiet little seaside town with a long beach and….lots of pie!

I made Grace stop the car so I could snap this shot. My first pie sighting! 

And this was my second pie sighting. A bakery with all these savory hand pies.
Pie, it seems, is New Zealand’s most popular form of fast food. (Not counting McDonalds.)

At Grace’s house, or “Christmas Cottage” as she calls it, she couldn’t wait to show me a video she had in her collection. She had just stumbled upon it when cleaning her house for my arrival and thought it might be some divine message. What are the chances that she would pop in an old video and have it turn out to be my old house on the screen? American Gothic was featured on an art program, and almost like an American Gothic parody itself, it was hosted by British nun in full habit. I didn’t read too much into the message. That painting turns up everywhere. Even in Orewa, New Zealand.

Sister Wendy gives a tour of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Given my jet lag and my utter disorientation (knowing that this is only one stop on my round-the-world trip does kind of rattle the psyche), my stomach was also confused, growling at 3 in the afternoon. But no worries, because we found the quintessential New Zealand meal to fill the hunger. Fish and chips!

I studied the map on the wall inside the fish and chips shop while we waited for our food.

Grace Bower and me. And our fish wrapped in paper.

I love how the fish and chips were served wrapped in paper. Traditionally they’re served in newspaper. Nowadays it’s served clean paper. Still, no styrofoam. No plastic bags. Tradition aside, this was another sign New Zealand is a very environmentally conscious country. Grace taught me to tear a hole in the top of the paper to let the steam out, to keep the fried food from getting soggy.

The place was takeaway. Carry out. To go. (Funny, all the nuances of the English language.) And given we were one block from the beach, we opted to have a picnic by the sea. But this is New Zealand. In winter. It is sunny for five minutes. Then in rains like hell. Then it’s sunny again. Then another rain shower. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain. It goes on and on like this all day, all night. This climate would make me insane. But Kiwis grow up with this weather. They’re a tough bunch. They don’t seem to even notice the rain. And I saw a few people wearing shorts, even though it was 50 degrees. I didn’t want to seem like a wimp, so I ventured to ask Grace, “Isn’t it too wet to eat outside?”

We had our picnic in the car, parked at the beach, watching the waves like we were at a drive-in movie. We were looking east — toward LA, the place I had just come from. Only 24 hours earlier I had been at my parents’ oceanfront apartment, looking out over the same ocean, looking west, toward this spot where I was now sitting. Eating fish and chips. In the rain. With my new friend Grace, whom, until now, I only knew through Facebook and phone calls.

Utter disorientation? No. Utter marvel. And utter joy. And utter gratitude. I had a warm and loving sendoff from my parents (as well as from other family and friends), a safe flight (speaking of marvels, jet travel still amazes me!), and a warm and loving welcome on the other side of the Pacific. If this is any indication of how the rest of the journey is going to go, I’d say I can put my imagination to better use going forward. No more worries. I’m off to a very good start. Now to go make some pie!