Friday, December 17, 2010

Om Shanti-Shock

I've arrived in a different world, a different country, and a different time zone.

They say India is the best of the best, and the worst of the worst. The bright and beautiful, yet dusty and dirty. Land of financial and spiritual wealth, and the poorest of poor. A land that many come to find something, or to be found by something greater. Or just a place to be challenged.
There are many ways to find challenge in our lives, but in India the challenge begins when you step off the plane. Nothing is to be expected in India, and everything will rock your senses and invade your comfort zone here.

And it did.

After a few days of experiencing all the dimensions of New Delhi in the many shapes of lowest of lows and highest of highs, I booked it south. Now I find myself in South Goa, in a proper Indian summer and just in time for Christmas.

Unlike many of my previous global adventures with paths paved along my way with jamon legs, California pinots, fish sauce, German beer, Bahamian lobster, and Pacific Northwest microbrews.... I have chosen a different approach to this present 3 1/2 month adventure. My focus in India is that of my strength, my soul, my purpose, and my yoga practice. In setting that intention for myself, I have given up meat and alcohol for this journey. I've placed a significant emphasis solely on my physical and spiritual practice, and for the first time IN MY LIFE, not on the food. There will be no title change from Gypsy Chef to Gypsy Yogi or anything crazy like that.... just a little test for myself. And I do have sources on standby with suckling pig and an IV of sangria to bring me back to life once I return to Spain in spring.

As this is a very strong journey for me all together, it is the very first that I have chosen to do truly alone. I've come to India- the country that notoriously brings up all that is hidden inside you, and as a single female. If I don't find strength and empowerment from this journey, then I really don't know where the hell else to find it!

One of my favorite poems to regain focus, light, and grounding, and by a powerful woman at that...

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

Namaste, Ash

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gracias. Merci. Chokran. Thanks.

I am unbelievably Thankful for my life.
Like I am really, really, really, ridiculously grateful for my existence. And right now more than ever- I have an amazing and supportive family, some damn fine looking friends all over the globe, refined taste buds, healthy joints and muscles, a working passport, and a desire to experience this beautiful life.

Tips on creating a Thanksgiving experience Spain:
#1 Find fellow Americans... or just those who have visited the states in the last 10 years, thats fine too.
#2 No need to pre-order a turkey. They won't run out.
#3 Thanksgiving must be celebrated on Black Friday because no country, other than yours has Thursday off work.
#4 Everyone else in the world thinks that a "pumpkin" and a "pie" should never touch.
#5 Suggest a reenactment of the Pilgrims and Indians on Thanksgiving Day- Separating the group in two, place half on a boat at the beach and the other half (the native Mallorquins, naturally) on the sand, in loin clothes, carving arrowhead jewelry and such. Come together. Trade gifts. Sit, eat and give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!
A photo memoir of some of the most incredible and transformative table experiences:

I find myself living for moments at the table. From country to country, table to table, friends to family, I am completely infatuated with the power of a group of people breaking bread at the table. Images from Italy, California, Vietnam, Morocco, Seattle, Spain, Chicago, Laos, France, Bali, etc. All share one thing in common- A plank of wood, elevated above the ground, scattered wit empty wine bottles, crumpled napkins, bread crumbs, and tales of life, love and happiness. Thankful for the table.

.... And at this very moment, I am extra Thankful that India has not only granted me a visa for my 3 month visit, starting on Tuesday. But That it has also accepted me into a Yoga Teacher Training in Goa this February. I'll do my very best to keep you updated on my gypsy adventures on that beautiful continent... Cheers!

Friday, November 12, 2010


... Arabic for "Full Moon"
Kamar, is the name of a woman, and is also used as a compliment from a man to a woman with an exceptionally glowing, beautiful face. I love that.

The moment I stepped off the plane in Marrakesh, I was welcomed with warm African winds carrying a night scent of diesel, cumin, and orange blossoms. I was intoxicated with affection for Morocco within moments, before my feet even touched the soil. The PMCA Culinary Adventure that I assisted was the perfect segway to indulge my senses and officially place Morocco on my list of places to long for.

Once I float down from this cloud of rose water, saffron threads, and sweet dates dipped in milk, then I will give you the full Moroccan break down. And until then, pour yourself a glass of mint tea and throw a wish to the great Kamar.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Ferrierola is a small village in the Alpuharra mountains of Andalucia. A tiny community of 26 people, 1 large and tranquile German Shepard, 3 natural water sources-Fuentes, 1 cafe, 1 bar (which is the same place actually), at least a dozen stray cats, and a beautiful guesthouse by the name of Casa Ana.
8 guests came for a week of Spnaish cooking, and a glimpse into the life of a peaceful mountain village.

Many beautiful creations were made at Casa Ana- Cheastnut soup with chestnuts harvested from the trails around the village. Almond cake with figs poached in cava. Seafood Paella cooked outside on a wood fire. Lamb shoulder stuffed with saffron rice and pistachios. Ajo Blanco- cold almond soup. Roasted rabbit with quince. And a chorizo with fried bread tapa, that when enjoyed with a mountain landscape can all of a sudden make all the problems in life just slip away, right down with a glass of crisp Albariño.

Garlic Pan-Fried Bread and Chorizo
Serves 6-8
7 oz soft chorizo sausage, outer casing removed
4 slices country bread, cut thick
Extra Virgin Olive oil
3 garlic, thinly sliced
2T parsley, chopped
paprika to garnish
Cut the chorizo sausage into 1/2” thick slices. Cut the bread, with its crusts
still on, into 1/2” cubes. Add enough olive oil to a large, heavy bottom skillet
so that it generously covers the bottom. Heat the oil, add the garlic, cook
30 seconds or until lightly browned. Add bread cubes and pan fry, stirring
all the time, until golden brown and crisp. Add chorizo and pan fry 1-2
minutes, or until hot. Use a slotted spoon, remove bread cubes and chorizo
and drain on paper towels. Turn into serving bowl, add chopped parsley
and stir. Garnish the dish with a sprinkle of paprika and serve warm.
Accompany with toothpicks so that a piece of sausage and a cube of bread
can be speared together for eating.

Buen Provecho!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The central mercado in Malaga is where Kim and I shopped for 2 days in preparation for this culinary adventure in the Alpujarra mountains of Andalucia. Fish so fresh the rigor mortis still present. Incredibley vibrant manderine oranges with shiny, green leaves that call you forth and demand attention. Plump green pears with red wax-tipped stems. Aisles of ornamental jamon legs. Bright orange wild mushrooms..... Hard to find anything wrong with life when surrounded by this desirable botany. Oh, and the pre-market churros y chocolate that opened their arms to me in the early morning light. You're just too damn hard to resist, España.
Shockingly, I am still procrastinating on that detox...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Figs & Lamb

Ok… and aioli.

Or “alli oli” as they say here in Mallorca. I just really couldn’t bring myself to put the word up there in the title. I just finished a month in spreadable-garlicky-bliss, and can successfully say that I have personally consumed enough aioli to feed a small country. So much so, that by the last week I was outwardly stating before each meal, that I would not be eating anymore aioli. Then promptly being the first to raise a hand at the passing waiter and yell- “mas alli oli por favor!” And successfully dragging the last piece of toasted Mallorcan brown bread across the cleaned clay bowl. I’m about ready to legally change my middle name, or at least name my first born after this Godsend of a foodie wonder. I don’t care how many times, or in how many different countries and cities I’ve had it in- the beautiful Balearic Island of Mallorca makes the best damn aioli on the planet. Hands down.

The best thing to cut through all that pleasurable fatty goodness is… roasted lamb- of course. Well, and suckling pig (lechona), but lets just focus on the lamb for now, shall we? Es Verger is a family run restaurant just up the mountain from the city of Alaro. A woman in her 70’s pushing 5’2” stands in front of a large wood burning oven, and pushes and pulls large oval pans filled with lamb shoulders and succulent juices. All with her long, hooked stick, and a pretty face beet-red from standing by the fire for the last 7 hours. She was breathtaking, in my opinion.

3 hours, 4 bowls of aioli, 4 lamb shoulders, and a bottle of house vino tinto (to also assist in cutting through the excessive fat consumption,) it’s no wonder why this country has a mandatory nap mid day. We barbarically piled our completely cleaned, lamb shoulder bones atop one another, as if a prized carnivorous trophy. And ordered cortados (espresso cut with milk) as we laughed out loud, drunk with gluttony. It was raining as we walked past a pack of sheep down to our car, the restaurant still buzzing behind us with Mallorca’s Sunday best. One of my favorite days to date.

It’s the figs on this Island that really get my juices bubbling. As a Californian, I do love my mission figs, and I peer out my Santa Barbara window everyday in August to check in with that there tree. But in September here in Mallorca, my favorite type of fig is unveiled. A couple named Pepe and Angela whom own a sweet little shop in the Santa Catalina Market, take pride in their Higos De Mallorca con Anise. Dried figs, pressed into beautiful fat disks, massaged by Angelas hands with Anise liqueur, wild fennel, and honey from Pepe’s bees. I got Kim Schiffer and Peggy Markel to join me my last week in Mallorca, and I think enough dried figs were purchased to put Pepe and Angela’s first child through college. Excessive weight fare on AirEuropa- 60 Euro.

With figs in tow, a ceremony to initiate aioli into it’s own food group-done, and a small village town of Ferreirola in the Alpujarra mountains on the horizon. Falling deeper and deeper in love with España.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Recently introduced to a beautiful place by the name of Sevilla.
A city of 1 euro tapas in perfectly crowded and smoky bars. A city of cobblestone streets too small for cars. A city of divine passion, exuding a feeling in motion known as Flamenco. A city spoken of as 'The Gypsy City'. A city that took my hand as I entered it's walls.... no, actually it cradled me in it's Spanish nook for the entirety of my stay. I have never experienced anything as powerful as this city before. I can genuinely say that everything I wanted from this city, I got. And I got it on a platter of gold- Sultry, Spanish, Seville gold actually. This was the first time in all my travels that I felt like the city itself was actually taking care of me. A truly beautiful experience.

A powerful, traveling, yoga teaching, gypsy, wonder woman friend of mine was also in Spain working on a retreat center. She and I met up, rented a Smartcar from Malaga (which by the way, would move more efficiently if you just punched out the floor and ran Flintstone-style in that thing!) and 2 1/2 hours later and we were in Sevilla. We enjoyed heart-shaped sticky, sweet Palmeras with our cortados at La Campana. Baños de Arabes- Turkish baths tucked under ground in a maze of candlelight and Moroccan lanterns. Spent time wandering through Triana- the Gypsy city within the city. Was encouraged by cosmic Sevilla forces to buy a pair of 3" red high heels, and easily broke them in over the course of a 10 hour night galavanting and dancing through the streets of lopsided cobblestones. And was completely consumed by the intoxicating trance of a Flamenco experience, which not only brought me to an unexpected emotional state, but also had me walking away from that building with numb hands and feet as I still tingled with amazement.

The amazing thing about Sevilla, was how feminine it made me feel. I had superwoman powers there, and although I am obviously not a Spanish woman myself (which breaks my heart everyday...) the city of Sevilla made me feel sexy and goddess-empowered. It was as if women ruled the show there, like this city was made special for them. My friend and I sat at cafe tables and tapas bars, and almost every single time had an incredible conversation and connection with women, local and foreign. One pair of ladies from Ireland talked with us for an hour, and then handed us a pair of U2 tickets for that evening to a sold out show. Just because they felt connected to us and our journey. That stuff doesn't just happen- Super Powers, i tell you!
I started to notice in particular, the vast amount of Virgin Mary dedication in the city. Images of the Madonna were ardorned all over the walls of bars and cafes. Mary was dressed in a velvet cloak, or a soft blue head dress and placed behind the altar of churches, where the crucifix would be. I was raised catholic and the sight of Mary has always been a sense of peace and comfort to me. Her story is that of a strong woman with a beautiful soft face, and I loved seeing her there, like the governess of beauty and feminine power looking over this incredible Spanish city.

Ave Maria.... Sevilla Sevilla.

Friday, September 17, 2010


My latest adventure begins in Switzerland. I have never been to this country before, and it is the one that I have the closest family connections to- which is why I have started journey here… and accompanied by my older brother and 79 year old Grandma. A desire to connect with our roots in a curiosity for my family history, this has brought us to Giswil. A small village nestled somewhere in between Lucern, and Interlakken. Farmland for those in sync with the slower, simpler pace of life. Half of the town shares the last name of Abacherli- which I also share through the branches of my family tree. The single commercial grocery store offers cheese made by local farmers, hand knitted wool socks from a neighboring home, and milk from the dairy which you can hear the bells from as you exit the store. This is the village that my great grandmother, at 19 years old stood proudly on the soil and made the dedication to herself to board a ship and go start life in a foreign country- America.

My German-speaking Swiss grandmother has held our hands in making transactions and interactions with locals fluid and easy. While we have held her hands down narrow European stairways, and up steep mountain trails to witness the glory of this spectacular landscape. One that she has not seen for almost 20 years, and one that she assumed she would never see again.

A trip up Fronalpschtok via train, ski lift and by foot on clear and cool September day, we followed signs for “Apkase”- Alp Cheese. A round woman with rosy cheeks and rubber boots on her feet, greeted us at her front door. Then escorted to a space bellow her house where she makes and stores the cheese from her cows. 7 francs for a half a pound of beautiful summer-milk Alp cheese. I walked my wedge of Swiss-bliss from the hands of the farmer, through the moist pasture, past the cows that created it, and down to the bottom of the mountain. I was so happy that my whole body was zinging for hours to come.

16 days of strong cheeses, cold cuts in the sunshine, Post-hike Alp mac n cheese (with applesauce), plum Kuchen, Apple kuchen, warm Lebkuchen, weak beer, strong schnapps, and the best tasting milk and butter I have ever had. 2 days left here, and then on to the next….. How do you say “DETOX” in Spanish??