Inspiring young philanthropists

Believe it or not, Bernie Marcus and I have a lot in common. You would think more so in a few years once I make it big too! But so far, here is why I believe we have a similar path.

We both were instilled with a spirit of philanthropy from a young age. I started volunteering with my social worker grandmother in India as a kid, accompanying her to blind schools, orphanages, etc. My entire life, I have been involved with some non profit or the other, showing my continuous support to the community. Marcus’ personal connecting with giving and hard work started early in his life as well.

Like Marcus, I was also unable to afford college when I started. He worked as a waiter at a restaurant and supported himself through college. Determined to make it through college, my jobs included an Italian restaurant, Dunkin Donuts and a private tutor, while taking a full load of classes. We both were hard working straight A students. After being a successful employee and getting laid off, he decided to start his own company. Again, sounds a lot like my story!

I had the opportunity to hear the legendary Bernie Marcus speak at the Atlanta Press Club today. His business and philanthropic ventures have been an inspiration to me since I moved to Atlanta in 1997. He founded the Marcus Institute after noticing that one of his employee’s at The Home Depot was having difficulty dealing with her autistic child. Marcus and his wife spend hours and money at the Shepherd Center, helping war veterans who have suffered from traumatic brain damage. He also made a $250 million donations that helped open the Georgia Aquarium and changed the face of that section of downtown Atlanta.

Marcus’ parents were Russian immigrants and he grew up poor. His mother instilled in him that “you can be anything you want to be” living in the USA, a land of opportunities. They believed that the American dream was to be successful, provide for your family, live well and help others. He was told never to be envious of people who have more than him. Instead, to listen and learn from how they did it.

Even during hardships, he never took unemployment. Instead, he indiscriminately did whatever work was available. When Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus founded The Home Depot as a small business, they experienced a lot of difficulties. He said they bought empty boxes to show their customers that they had inventory and sometimes bribed them with $1 bills. Since he has experienced being an entrepreneur himself, he sympathizes with the small business owners across the US and is rallying against the politicians on laws and regulations that adversely affect them.

When Marcus was asked why he gives away his money, he answered that there is only so much he can eat or consume! Also, he gets a better feeling about his own life when he does something for someone else. That is perhaps what is most common amongst us philanthropists. We recognize the importance of giving back no matter if we are rich or poor. Clearly, there is only so much you need to take from the world in order to have a good life. Everything else that is bestowed upon you should be given back with gratefulness.

So what’s next for someone who has done it all? The Marcus center is moving towards education, they are opening schools for autistic children that would be able to provide care and education that public schools are not able to. The goal is to make these kids independent so they can provide for themselves.

I did get to exchange a few words with Marcus after the session. I told him about my background and the Go Eat Give movement. He said “Good for you!” and we got a picture taken together. I don’t know if he will go back and look up the website, but I am already honored to have stood next to this inspiring hero. We may have had a few things in common until this point in time, but I hope we have a lot more in the future.

Tasting Austin in June

I am in Austin, TX for the IACP Annual Conference. I have come to learn of Austin as a city full of arts, music, clubs and food. Known as the “music capital of the world”, “home of Whole Foods” and “city for the creative class” and a lot more- all keeps Austin weird. The people here are friendly, eclectic and open minded, as I would discover over the next few days.

As this was my first time attended the IACP conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. With over 700 attendees, I have obviously met a lot of who’s-who from the culinary world. Also, I got to taste some interesting food and drinks, showcased by chef’s, restaurateurs, and authors from around the world.

The opening night reception was a fabulous event that was held at the famous Bob Bullock State History Museum. We were greeted by bulls and armadillos waiting by the giant lone star monument. A few of us even raced the armadillos against each other inside the little barricaded area they were chilling at Well, not really raced, but gently nudged them to move along the cones in hopes of winning a bandanna!

Inside was a world of gastronomy to be explored against the backdrop of the museum’s rich history. Local vendors had set up tables of Austin’s finest creations for the most discerning patrons. Here is a brief synopsis of what was showcased…

Whole Foods Market presented an appetizer of cashew chive cream cheese with balsamic pickled fig on whole grain crostini and a sweet and spicy treat, smoked BBQ shrimp with carmelized ramps on a crispy flat bread. East to make and good hors devours one can make ay home for entertaining.

The heirloom tomato tart by Jeffrey’s had a good balance of crunch, cheese and tart. Again, easy to make for a cocktail party.

Ranch 616 put an interesting twist on the snack food-Frito chips, serving chilli, sour cream and pico de gallo inside the bag itself. I like the idea of serving everything in a bag with a fork especially when you are having a pool-side or backyard party. I bet kids would find it a novelty that can’t resists.

I wasn’t very impressed by Rosemary’s Catering. The combination of quail egg fry with bacon and soggy hard bread did not do it for me. I loved the Antonelli’s Cheese Shop presentations and would like to visit them to take a few things home. The freshness of cheese with off the beaten path combinations (blue cheese with strawberry jam), were a fiesta in the mouth.

Another interesting twist on the cheese balls was a corn flakes encrusted goat cheese ball. Your guests would keeping popping all through the night, forgetting the calories.

There was nothing to rave about the peach pie with bacon-pecan-maple sauce served with lavender ice cream. The peaches were undercooked and the ice cream “vanilla.”

For drinks, there were stations of tequila which ran out halfway into the evening. I managed with a peach iced tea. The ambiance of the history museum, along with a guest list, made the event even more special, in spite of the mediocre food. I was hoping to taste more local flavors with south-western influences. Perhaps I had bigger expectations from Austin’s culinary creators but I am sure they also had a challenge preparing for these many guests in 100F weather.

Let’s continue to explore rest of the food scene here…

Living it up at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

After years of hosting Food and Wine festivals around the country, Food & Wine Magazine finally found it’s way to Atlanta. Sourced to the duo, Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter at Corporate Community Outsourcing, this is the first year of the Atlanta Food and Wine festival. With it’s growing popularity of the dining scene, perhaps the only city in the Southeast (after Miami), it was about time!

The broad theme of the event was “southern.” Represented by local growers, farms, suppliers, authors, restaurants and chefs, the festival drew attention of the foodies around the country.

Over the course of the three-day weekend, you could participate as much as your appetite can hold.  There are street cars and tasting tents that are open till late in the night. A tour of the Buford Highway’s ecletic scene or a day at the Wonderland gardens. And if that wasn’t enough, you can attend one of the private dinners at various restaurants and chef homes. I attended some of the learning experiences and connoisseurs lounge yesterday (day 1 of the event) and here are some of the highlights.

The Bloody-Mary breakfast was perhaps one of the best in class. Top Flr and the Bakeshop joined forces to start your day with a healthy (umm…not really) breakfast that was sure to brighten up your mood. (If you start your day with vodka, how many things could possibly go wrong?)

 

If you happened to miss the breakfast of champions, you could still get your fill at the 9:30am Argentinian wine tasting with Susana Balbo, a prominent female winemaker.

 

If drinking early in the morning is not your thing, you could actually get a grilled breakfast by Delia Champion, owner of Delia’s Chicken Sausage, a popular unconventional sausage stand in East Atlanta. She demonstrated a Krispy Kreme chicken sausage on her grill at the terrace of the Lowe’s hotel. Yummy!

 

I then explored some exotic fruits such as white sapote and sapodilla with the Van Aken’s. They shared recipes that combined fruits and meats into interesting creations – ham and guava, passion fruit snapper ceviche, etc.

 

It was already mid morning, when I decided an “Escape to Greece” is just what I needed. Chef Pano Karatossas of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group explored the fine wines of Greece while pairing it with a rich piece of lamb. There are different grapa varieties found in the islands of Greece, but all of them have a similar sweet acidic nature to them. I went wine tasting at a vineyard in Santorini a few years ago and was intrigued to see how low the grape vines were to the ground. (So that the strong ocean breeze doesn’t blow the grapes away).

 

Tennessee Truffle growers attempted to solve the mystery of growing truffles in their workshop, “Truffles: Much Mystery, Little Mastery.” Clearly, you don’t need a degree in agriculture to either grow, cook or eat truffles. (See my recipe of cooking with truffles.) What I did learn was that were over 60 varieties of truffles found around the world, not just white and black (duh!). Truffle grits pie and a Manhattan with shaved truffle anyone?

 

Renowned chef Mark Abernathytook the heat up while grilling vegetables and a pizza margherita under the hot summer sun of Atlanta. He was very approachable and interacted with the audience, answering all their questions about grilling. “I am not rich but if I was, each day I would eat and drink well and hang out with my kids” he exclaimed.

Me too chef. That’s exactly what I am doing at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival all this weekend!

Experience Ireland in Atlanta

I had the fortunate opportunity to attend an event held by Tourism Ireland in Atlanta, Georgia on April 28, 2011.  The event was held specifically for travel agents who send clients to Ireland and the media who write about traveling and destinations.  Titled “Experience a Flavor of Ireland”, the evening was filled with Irish entertainment, information, and food.  Tourism Ireland partnered with fourteen other organizations, ranging from tour operators to hotels and B&Bs to Dublin Tourism, to sell Ireland as a wonderful destination and to share details about travel and accommodation offerings.

I had recently visited Ireland at the beginning of April and wrote a post about my key learnings there.  This event was a wonderful opportunity to relive my experiences and gain new insights about the country and the island.

What impressed me the most about this event was the professionalism and the creativity.  How do you share information so that it is meaningful, memorable, and exciting?  How do you keep an audience engaged for over three hours?  Tourism Ireland did it with structure and with the senses of sights, sounds, tastes, and smells.

They began with registration and cocktails.  In the cocktail area, stand-up tables were manned by each of the fourteen partners.  This gave the partners one-on-one speaking opportunities to introduce their products and services to the attendees.  Brochures and other literature were offered at this time.  Live Irish music was played in the background.

This was followed by the core program in the main room.  Three large screens, professional lighting, an audio/visual team, and a stage up front hinted at the entertainment that was to follow.  After brief introductions, the female duo violinists from Sephira delighted the audience with their brand of Irish music.  This duo debuted in 2007 and has performed with Celtic Thunder and other musical groups.  You can check them out at their website.
The information from the partners was delivered via a two hour “skit” led by two professional actors.  One actor played a U.S. based travel agent arriving in Ireland to check out the destination, the tour operators, accommodations, food, and other amenities.  The other actor played an Irishman to help the agent get the information he needs.  The partners played themselves.

This approach was creative and entertaining, and it kept the audience engaged.

– The use of professional actors made it work.  They were natural, delivered their lines well, and kept the flow moving at a nice pace.

– The script was perfect.  Humor was used throughout the skit.  The questions asked by the travel agent actor were the type a regular travel agent would ask.

– The large screens gave the right visual clues all along the way.  Maps of Ireland indicated where hotels and other properties were located.  Images flashed on cue with the script, showing pictures of the outside and inside of hotels, the transportation vehicles, the golf courses, and the scenery.

– The partners played themselves well.  They are salespeople and they know their material.  This skit format allowed them to share the information in an entertaining way rather than behind a lecturn.

Wade Murphy, billed as one of Ireland’s top chefs, represented one of the hotel partners (he is the head chef at that hotel).  At the end of the skit, the attendees were led to an Irish food tasting prepared by the chef.  Samples included:  cheeses of Ireland; fish and potatoes; beef and mashed potatoes; salmon; and desserts.  While the attendees ate, live Irish music continued until the end.

It was a marvelous evening.  I hope to go back to Ireland to visit the places mentioned that I did not see during my recent trip.

– By guest blogger Daniel Sklar

Metropolitan cooking and entertainment show

Here are some highlights from the Metropolitan cooking and entertainment show at the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta this past weekend. It was a great event with hundreds of exhibitors, demonstrations and Food Network stars like Giada, Paula and the Neely’s. Entry was $25 and special events were extra.

It spanned both days of the weekend and attracted visitors from all over the Southeast.

Beef was the main sponsor of the event. There were beef recipes, tastings, giveaways and products for purchase.

Vendors from all over the US sold everything from home made jams, jellies, dips, breads, cupcakes to infused olive oils and vinegars. One of my personal favorites is Leonardo e Roberto’s. They have the best flavored vinegars and olive oils that last a long time and dress up any salads, seasonings and more. Delicious!

 Tasting was a big part of the event since you don’t want to buy something before tasting it first! There was a heavy emphasis on desserts this year, but you also found a few savory items such as flavored peanuts, chips and dips.

Seriously? Paula Deen is now selling her veggies in bags!

I also enjoy the concept of infused salts. They work really well for seasoning meats and dressing cocktails. This year there were a few booth selling salts from around the world including Salt of 7 Seas. A unique item I discovered was a salt plate to cook on.  

Finally, the demonstrations were perhaps the best value for the show. You could learn from experts all day on entertaining ideas, tea tasting, ice cream sundaes, theme parties, knife skills and much more. These classes were free and went on all day long.

Dinner with a Passport

I had the opportunity to attend the two-year anniversary of Dinner with a Passport this weekend. Dinner with a Passport is a foodie group started by Sonia Catalina Viteria, who is originally from Ecuador but now lives in Atlanta. Sonia had friends from all over the world who loved to cook and eat, so she started coordinating a once a month event doing just that. About ten people meet at someone’s home and a different country is picked each month. The hostess prepares dishes from participating countries while the rest of the members help cook and bring drinks.

After two years, the group has 194 members, so this particular event enjoyed the diversity accumulated over time. Every person was asked to bring a dish or drink from their representative country. The result was an international buffet that matched no other! There were original, home-cooked dishes from Greece, Poland, Russia, Peru, India, Ecuador, USA, Mexico, Italy, Japan, Spain and many more!

Scroll through the pictures and see if you can identify some of these dishes…

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La Fete Internationale

This weekend, I attended the annually held Dogwood Festival in Atlanta, GA. It’s the time of the year when all the dogwood trees are in full bloom, the spring season is kicking in and people want to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. The festival is held at Piedmont Park, Atlanta’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park, located in midtown Atlanta. The entire park is covered with booths, bands and festivities. Artists from all over the U.S. come to display and sell their artwork, ranging from photos, paintings, woodwork, metal, jewelry, etc.

The opening night of the Dogwood Festival was a special event called, La Fete. For $35, you got private access to wine and food tasting pavilion, including entertainment and silent auction. Despite the tornado warnings, I attending the event on Friday night and really enjoyed it.

There were four broad regions of wine, with a hundred bottles to taste from! Food was sponsored by local restaurants and included Indian, Moroccan, Spanish, Lebanese, Mexican, American and many others. I tried everything! The most memorable was the chocolate BBQ sauce prepared by 3 Brothers Catering. The dessert of rolled nuts and chocolate in phyllo by Imperial Fez was also unique. Desi Spice is a new Indian restaurant and was serving juicy and tender tandoori chicken. Apres Diem European bistro served stylish chicken liver pâté.

Also met some interesting people, made friends and checked out the silent auction. Overall, it was a good event, much better than it was last year where they ran out of food before I got there and there was no entertainment.

This was a great international food and wine festival for Atlanta. I hope there are more of these throughout the year.

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A taste of Italy a casa mia

The Italian language club, Ciancia met at my place last night. I have to say it was one of my most memorable evenings. Not sure if it was because of the wine, the food, or the conversations, or a combination of all of the above.

I prepared some wine and cheese platters, antipasto, penne arrabiata and fettuccini with white truffles. A good friend had gifted me a jar of fresh white truffles for my birthday, which I decided to use on this special occasion. I made a simple sauce of butter, cream, salt and pepper. Then I tossed it with the fettuccini and grated parmesan. Finally, I shaved the truffles on top and then gently tossed the pasta before serving.

People from all walks of life gathered in interest of a mutual passion for Italian food and language. The linguistic skills ranged from zero to native, so you could join in a conversation of your aptitude. Each person was required to bring a bottle of Italian wine, a dish or pay $10. We had an upside down moussaka, penne with meat sauce, salads and endless bottles of red and white wines.  

The grand finale was my home made Gelato in three flavors – chocolate, mango and maple-walnut. I could not find a recipe for mango Gelato anywhere, so came up with my own. Needless to say, it was over before you knew it!

The crowd was very diverse and eclectic. We talked about everything from food, travel, music, living abroad, volunteering, to spiritually and business. I feel like I made some really good friends who share many mutual interests.

We wrapped up the evening at midnight, by when my feet were desperately asking for some rest. I went to bed with the lingering sweet taste of truffles in my mouth.

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Mango Gelato Recipe

Make the plain base and refrigerate overnight

Peel 2 ripe large mangos, take all the pulp out into a bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, add all the mango pulp and 1 cup of the plain base in a blender. Blend until the mango is completely pureed and no chunks are remaining. Whisk into the rest of the plain base. Churn in ice cream machine for 30 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Inspiring global humanitarians to travel

As mentioned in my earlier post about the Global Health & Humanitarin Summit, I presented a session on “Volunteering Abroad – from a writer’s perspective” at the summit. My 20 minutes session focused on trends in volunteer vacationing, my personal experiences from my volunteer trips to Morocco and Russia and a perspective on some things I learned.

Watch the video What I’ve learned from volunteering abroad

I also tried to include some resources and Q&A that people can take back.

The presentation was very well accepted and the audience was very engaged with my stories and pictures. They asked questions and wanted to know how to sign up for their next trip. I had several people come up to me after the event and tell me that I inpsired them to volunteer abroad.

Here are some comments I received by email…

“Thanks you for your EXCELLENT presentation.  It was inspirational and filled with practical tips as well.  Hope to see you next year or on one of our vacations!” – Susanne

“Thanks for your presentation, Sucheta. Your talk was very inspiring.” – Tom

“The Summit was amazing – and so glad that you were a part of it.  Your presentation was very insightful, thought-provoking and left me inspired to check out this opportunity for myself.  LOVE the Go Eat Give Movement!!” – Mitzi

 

Patch unites global humanitarians in Atlanta

This weekend, I attended the Global Health & Humanitarian Summit at Emory University in Atlanta. It was three days of speakers, networking, exhibits and activities. The organizers want to make it into a movement, similar to the Global Economic Summit and it was a great first event. There were hundreds of people from all over the world in attendance.

Speakers included nonprofit organizations, individual humanitarians from different field’s doctors and Emory University students.  There were simultaneous sessions going on throughout the day, so one could move around to specific areas of interest. Rollin McCraty spoke about Heartmath and the Global Coherence Project, which I am a member of already. Andrew Chung, a cardiologist taught us about fat and heart disease. Student groups talked on human rights conditions in North Korea and the Emory China Care group shared their events and activities. I also heard Celeste Koshida educate us about the Women’s Federation for World Peace. A renowned artist from Athens, Georgia, Stan Mullins has built sculptures in Rwanda and Australia. He is commissioned for the Respect project. I also enjoyed Ed Wolkis photographic display of Tibet when he was touring with doctors.

I presented a session on Volunteering Abroad – from a writer’s perspective, where I shared about my volunteer trips to Morocco and Russia.

The highlight of the event was the closing speech by the real Patch Adams (who was played by Robin Williams in the movie about his life). Patch has a larger than life personality and is engaged in many humanitarian efforts. Contrary to his clown act, he is actually very intellectual and well read. He has a deep understanding of spirituality, life and love. Patch shared his personal story of being beaten up as a kid, having his father die in the World War and trying to commit suicide three times as a teenager. After his third attempt, he decided that he would never be unhappy again. He started practicing reaching out to people by riding on the elevators, calling wrong numbers and showing up at events dressed as a clown. He said he has stopped thousands of violent acts by just appearing in his funny distracting outfit.

Patch pays his doctors less than $300/ month but they love working for him. He promotes communal living where expenses are much lower, people support each other and you always have friends. He also gave us some tips and pieces of advice to follow as humanitarians, such as take care of ourselves, not to be led down by disappointments, our job would never be over but we must take time out for ourselves, etc. He showed videos of himself engaging children in a Russian orphanage and in Peru, as part of his humanitarian clown trips. It reminded me of my time in Russia when I was trying really hard to play with this little girl who just wanted to be by herself. She was an adorable four-year old but never smiled or interacted with anyone.

As expected Patch was hilarious during the two-hours that he was on stage! He was dressed as a clown and performed his antics to make the audience (young and old) laugh to their heart’s content. Walking out, I felt invigorated, inspired and determined to make a difference in this world.

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