Job #43 – Sailing the World for Food

Barbara following a footpath in the wine country of Stellenbosch, South Africa - during one of her many adventures

Barbara following a footpath in the wine country of Stellenbosch, South Africa – during one of her many adventures

There is a book called “150 Good Food Jobs” and I’ve had 43 of them. This means I’m either really old, I can’t keep a job or I get distracted and curious by shiny objects. But basically, these have been encapsulated within two long-term careers, one in Napa Valley as a winery culinary director and the other at Cornell University and in Ithaca.

Two-and-a half years ago, I “retired” from my 20-plus years at the Hotel School. After some years teaching about wines and later restaurant management and co-owning an Ithaca restaurant, I served as an academic and career advisor to “hotelies” – some of the most entrepreneurial, engaging, smart young adults around. After a serious cancer scare I retired at age 55 and went rogue, looking for a new career combining my love of travel, food, culture and service.


I found my calling in fall 2011, as the adult lifelong-learning coordinator for the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea program. With my husband Dave, 500 undergraduates, 60 adult learners, the faculty and the crew, I sailed from Montreal to Casablanca, Morocco; Accra, Ghana; Cape Town, South Africa; Port Louis, Mauritius; Chennai, India; Penang, Malaysia; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Hong Kong and Shanghai, China; Kobe, Japan; Hilo, Hawaii; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; and Coxen Hole, Honduras before docking in Fort Lauderdale at the end of 120 days. students getting a semester’s credit while circling the globe, making 14 stops in 120 days.

My job was to keep the adults (“the Salty Dogs”) happy and occupied. A perk of the job was the opportunity to chaperone field food programs, which I often did, including a Tropical Spice Garden in Penang Pang, Malaysia; a cooking class in Capetown, South Africa; and a coffee plantation tour in Mercedes, Costa Rica.  This freedom in ports allowed my husband Dave and me to explore each host country independently for three to six days at a time. I spent that time focused on food; food in the markets, restaurants, and the street (which caused a bit of food poisoning and worse, two days in ship’s quarantine). Continue reading

A Great Finale To Our Kerala Experience

Photo: Milo Inman

Our time at Cardamom County in Thekaddy, Kerala was way too short.  After returning from a wonderful trip with River Escapes in the backwaters of Kerala we headed for the state’s iconic hill stations in the Western Ghats.  I suggested to my husband Dave that we take a taxi, but being a former backpacker, he urged me to give the bus a chance.  I stood my ground, insisting the trip would take several hours and I could bet the buses wouldn’t pass an inspection. But Dave was persistent and persuasive – I acquiesced and don’t regret that decision for one moment.  It was a wild ride.

Continue reading

Rollin’ On The River

Our second excursion in India was heading from Fort Cochin to the backwater region of Kerala called Alleppey. (The actual Malayalam name is Alappuzha, the ‘zha’ letters forming the same sound as the Hungarian actress who I’m sure to date myself by mentioning.) Just the sound of these Indian names invoked a sense of the exotic and we weren’t disappointed. After a little adventure finding the River Escapes dock (a determined taxi driver made sure we arrived at the right location), we were welcomed with a refreshing drink of tender coconut and sipped away along with four other guests – a young Indian couple (honeymoon perhaps?) and an older English couple. As Dave and I began to settle in, we felt ourselves slipping into a lazy relaxation underlined with an excited sense of anticipation.  After a brief orientation, each group was escorted to the dock, where a row of beautifully maintained wooden houseboats waited for boarding.

The houseboat held a casual elegance with spotless wooden floors, wide wicker chairs and large open-air windows. The dining table had a bowl of fresh fruit and before we even got our shoes off, the staff of three – the captain, first mate and chef introduced themselves, integrating a slight nod of the head, a typical Indian gesture indicating friendship or often agreement (depending upon the exchange at the moment).  With the captain comfortably seated at the helm, the steward pushed the houseboat away from the dock and the chef headed to the galley.

Having been a chef on the high seas myself, a highlight for me was following the chef to the galley as he prepared our lunch. (At the end of this blog, I’ve included some of the culinary tips I learned and have repeated, with great success, at home.)  The chef, a tall, slender man in a clean white chef’s coat and tall toque (making him all the more imposing in height) was shy but friendly, explaining his preparations as he skillfully cooked with a deliberateness that conveyed training and personal pride. Our fish, a favorite on the Kerala backwaters called Pearl Spot or Karimeen, was trippy looking, resembling more of a skeleton than an edible item, but it was delicious – crunchy and spicy. As the chef cooked, the captain remained attentive at the helm, navigating through the waterways that would eventually (for someone else) lead to the Arabian Sea. And we were not alone. There were dozens of other houseboats meandering their way down the river  – some had two levels with expansive balconies while others stood out with ornate window frames and decorative wood designs. And we all just moseyed along, with passengers waving to one another as we passed modest homes on the shore with clotheslines holding colorful saris. As the waterway became narrower, we found ourselves being led off the houseboat and into a long motorized canoe.  We had arrived at the backwaters. Continue reading

My Recent Spice Route

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Do you ever have a project you keep putting off?  And putting off, because the project just feels too all-consuming with no easily defined beginning or end? Welcome to my world of trying to write this brief recollection of my extraordinary experiences in India during the fall of 2011.

This is one of 3 reflections regarding my time in India and my pleasure meeting Amie Inman and visiting two of the Raxa Collective resorts.  This first entry focuses on visiting the markets of Cochin and Ernakulum.

Last October my husband Dave and I visited Amie Inman, with Raxa Collective, in Fort Cochin and Ernakulam, in Kerala.  At the time, I was the Adult Lifelong Learning Coordinator for the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea around-the-world voyage. Dave and I had 6 days in Southern India and we didn’t waste a minute. Dave was returning to a region he loves while I was just being introduced, not knowing what to expect. Continue reading