Weekend in Westchester, New York

If you have made it up to Hudson Valley on your weekend getaway from New York City, also check out Westchester County.

Taste some of the best maple in the world at Crown Maple at Madava Farms. Their certified-organic maple products are so pure, you can taste the woods. Take a tour of the technologically advanced facility and learn how maple is harvested. Sample different kinds of syrup and homemade pastries made on the premise. The 800 acres property of Madava Farms is open to the public for picnicking and hiking. It’s a great place to enjoy the peaceful and scenic outdoors only 80 miles from the city.

crown maple farm new york

 

There are over 35 wineries in the Hudson Valley. If you have limited time, stop at award-winning Millbrook Vineyards and Winery’s 30 acres of vines include plantings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and an Italian grape varietal called Tocai Friulano. The winery officially opened for tours and tastings in 1988 and today produces between 10-12,000 cases of wine annually.

millbrook wine

For lunch, stop at Babette’s Kitchen, offering gourmet salads, pasta, sandwiches and entrees using local seasonal ingredients. They pride themselves in having long lasting relationships with local farmers who supply them with the best produce the Hudson Valley has to offer. You can also get boxed lunches to take with you on a scenic train ride or road trip.

Contemporary art lovers would want to take this opportunity to stop at Dia: Beacon art gallery. Occupying a former Nabisco box printing factory on the banks of the Hudson River, Dia:Beacon presents Dia’s collection of unusual art installations and spaces, such as white on white, homepage to the square, fluorescent lights and more. Since its opening in May 2003, Dia:Beacon has helped transform the city of Beacon into a vibrant arts destination for visitors from the region, New York City, and beyond.

Thereafter, take a tour of Lyndhurst Mansion, one of America’s finest Gothic Revival mansions. Overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York, The architectural brilliance of the residence, designed in 1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis, is complemented by the park-like landscape of the estate and a comprehensive collection of original decorative arts. Its noteworthy occupants included: former New York City mayor William Paulding, merchant George Merritt and railroad tycoon Jay Gould.

Lyndhurst Mansion

Dinner at Rivermarket Bar and Kitchen is a must. The restaurant and market showcases producers located throughout the Hudson Valley. Menu includes a variety of fresh seafood, poultry and meat paired with local wines. The rustic decor of restored wood ceiling brings the outdoors inside, and gives a subtle reminder of the restaurants’ sustainable initiates.

Those interested in learning about where their food comes from can visit the Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown. Here you can meet some happy chicken, pigs and sheep, who are treated humanely. The center also offers educational day camps for kids to learn about farming, livestock and sustainable eating.

Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture

Yonkers is an interesting suburb, where many New York City commuters also reside. Here you can visit the Hudson River Museum to see six art galleries, the Andrus Planetarium, and Glenview Mansion, an historic house museum of 1876; taste local brews at Yonkers Brewery; and enjoy a delicious meal at award-winning chef Peter Kelly’s restaurant, Xaviar X20 on the Hudson. A ride back to Grand Central is only 30 minutes aboard Metro-North Railroad.

This trip was coordinated by I Love New York, the state’s official tourism board.

Read Part 1 of my upstate New York experience in Duchess County.

Weekend in Hudson Valley, New York

When I think of New York, images of the city’s bustling streets, neon lights, Broadway musicals, top chef restaurants and shopping at 5th Avenue fill up my head. The fact is the state of New York has a lot more to offer than Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. For the first time, I took a train starting at Grand Central Station to explore the surrounding areas of upstate New York.

hudson river bridge

A 2-hour ride on Metro-North Railroad took me along the Hudson River to the city of Poughkeepsie in Dutchess county. A short walk from the train station to the elevator led to the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, spanning 212′ above the Hudson River and 1.28 miles across. This is a great place to get a good view of the river and the surrounding foliage, specially during spring and fall. During season, there are concerts, open air movies, marathons, and festivals taking place in the historic state park.

vanderbilt mansion

Poughkeepsie has a few restaurants, hotels and shop that sustain tourism in the area. Shadows restaurant offers great view of the Hudson and is often used for large events, such as wedding receptions. Also, nearby is the Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. Here you can visit the Roosevelt family home, burial site, see the president’s personal library, and an interactive museum. Just a few minutes drive away is the Vanderbilt Mansion, one of the smaller homes owned by the family. After spending an afternoon in the area, you begin to picture what affluence and stature the neighborhood had up until only a few decades ago.hudson1

Food lovers can take a break at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) for dinner. The oldest and most well known culinary school in the country offers four student-run restaurants. Here when you dine, you will become part of their classroom experience. The CIA’s new 800-seat, state-of-the-art Ecolab Auditorium in the Marriott Pavilion makes it possible for visitors to experience one of Half Moon Theatre’s New York-style theatrical productions after enjoying a meal at The Bocuse RestaurantAmerican Bounty, or Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici.

Rhinebeck is a charming city to stay overnight. Check into America’s oldest continuously operated hotel, Beekman Arms, for luxurious accommodations in a historic setting. Next day, stroll around the downtown area, shopping for antiques, clothes and local products, as well as boutiques and dining at historic taverns. Not to miss is Oliver Kita Confectionaries for hot chocolate, cupcakes and handmade chocolate truffles. Terrapin Restaurant features farm-fresh organic cuisine under the guidance of award-winning Chef Josh Kroner. There are over 30 wineries in this area and many of them are offered on the menu, paired with locally raised duck, venison and chicken.

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Early December is a good time to visit Rhinebeck for the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, where a local resident dresses up in a Santa-bishop like attire, accompanied by his long-time sidekick, the Grumpus, as well as the entire town parading through the town.

The Hudson Valley area is roughly 150 miles long and covers various counties. It is easily connected to New York City by train and makes for fun weekend getaways. Read Part 2 of my upstate New York experience in Westchester.

This trip was coordinated by I Love New York, the state’s official tourism board.

Highlights of the New York Times Travel Show

The New York Times Travel Show is the largest and longest-running trade and consumer travel show in North America, featuring the Travel Industry Conference, Consumer Seminars, and an interactive Exhibition including more than 500 exhibitors from Africa, Asia, Australia/South Pacific, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Mexico and the United States. In addition to discounts and special offers for travel, the show provides educational seminars and live entertainment for families, individuals, couples and seniors.

I attended the 13th New York Times Travel Show at the Jacob K. Javits Center last weekend. There were more than 500 exhibitors, representing 150 countries, which was great but also overwhelming. Entire rows representing geographic areas were set up, featuring different tourism boards, travel agencies, resorts and more. This year, there was a section on wellness travel as well, featuring one of our partners, The Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, North Carolina.

art of living boone

The winners and their categories were:

  • Best in Show: Turkish Culture and Tourism Office
  • Rookie of the Year: Go Touch Down Travel and Tours
  • Most Interactive: Destination Canada
  • Best 10′ x 10′ Booth: Flight 001
  • The People’s Choice: Mexico Tourism Board
  • Most Imaginative: Curaçao Tourist Board
  • Best Show Service: It’s Easy Passport Visa Services

Here are some of the vendors that stood out the most to me…don’t be surprised if you catch me at these locations in 2016!

Voyage Unique Mongolie organizes trips across Mongolia, the most popular being the Gobi Desert. They own two hotels – Dream Gobi Lodge and Dream Terelj Lodge. Both are yurt style camps with private bathrooms and luxury accommodations.

TimesTravel mongolia

Eco Sicily is a project to promote tours to the small towns in Sicily. The area has access to beaches, hills and villages. Old traditions are still followed when it comes to art, cuisine, agriculture, etc.

Yampu Tours offers unique tours across the world, focusing on local interactions, learning and adventure. You can design a custom itinerary choosing your own date, location and a theme that fits your interest.

Lernidee is a Germany based company that offers rain and river tours to remote parts of the world. The ones that caught my attention were the Silk Road tour across Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and the Trans-Siberian railroad.

Valdez, Alaska is a destination that encompasses the best of everything Alaska has to offer. Closed to cruise ships, this small town is most enjoyable by driving or ferry. It has access to glaciers, wildlife, fishing, hiking and more. The representative told me I can find myself standing fishing right next to the bears!

Seychelles are beautiful islands off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, which are frequented by European tourists. If you have had your fill of the Caribbean, this would be a great destination to combine with your African safari.

Times Travel seychelles

There were also workshops, seminars, cooking demonstrations, cultural performances and book signings taking place during the show. Celebrity personalities included Madhur Jaffrey (Indian actress, food writer, author), Ruth Reichl (chef, food critic, author), Arthur and Pauline Frommers (travel writers), and many others.Times Travel 2016

If you are in New York City or surrounding area in January 2017, make sure to add The New York Times Travel Show to your upcoming calendar.

Top 5 Meals of 2015

It has become an annual tradition. Each year, I write a blog about the 5 best meals I ate. This is very hard to do since my job involves eating and traveling “for a living.” This year, I traveled to 14 countries and 5 states in the US. Needless to say, I ate a lot of good food!

After considerable thought, these memorable meals made it to my top 5 picks of 2015:

Machneyuda Restaurant in Jerusalem – This concept restaurant is run by three genius chefs – Yosef “Pappy” Elad, Assaf Granite, and Uri Navon. They run the business like a party. The quirky website and non-descript menu that offer dishes like “Entrecôte Django Unchained Style,” and “Lamb with lot of tasty stuff,” with pairings like “yummy stuff, some sauce” offer some clues. The waiters are not just friendly, they are singing, dancing and even doing shots in the kitchen…at work! The food is served in unpretentious sharing plates and is absolutely to die for. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding Machneyuda market.

The biggest surprise for me was the dessert. Our server cleared out our table (we were 5) and laid out aluminum foil to cover it. On it, was orchestrated a symphony of cake, chocolate sauce, caramel, candies, nougats, cookies, ice cream and whipped cream – spread around the entire table within matter of minutes. It looked very haphazard as it was happening, but then appeared to be a delicious pile of artful looking happiness. We dug in with our spoons feeling like kids, and started dancing to the Israeli pop tunes.

Catalina Rose Bay in Sydney – Located on the world-famous Sydney Harbour, this family run restaurant is known for serving the highest quality meat and poultry sourced from all over Australia. Sydney Seaplane Highlights Flight Fly/Dine experience, included lunch at Catalina overlooking the Rose Bay. We start by enjoying fresh oysters on the shell paired with an Australia white that is produced not too far from the bay. The warm Sydney sun refreshed us as we watched the Seaplanes go by. I had the Poached Western Australian Marron Tail (something I had not had before), and the small sushi plate with delicious fresh tuna, salmon, prawn, kingfish, tataki tuna and Catalina roll. Dessert was caramelized fig with bitter caramel mousse, brik pastry and sugared pistachio. It was a memorable dessert, though the others I took bites off were pretty good too.

best seafood in Sydney

Boulanger Patissier Le Fournil Notre Dame in Marseille, France – My husband and I got to this bakery in the South of France early Sunday morning when the aroma of fresh baked goodies were oozing out of this tiny neighborhood bakery. There were sleepy residents, some still wearing pajamas, lined up to get bread, croissants, pastries, macrons, and Tropezian cakes. We got a few assortments to share with our cappuccinos. Till this day, we still talk about how the croissants flaked into a thousand pieces and melted the moment it touched our tongues. It was so good, that we had to eat another. Though so simple, it was by far the best breakfast I had this year!
best croissants in France
Marea in New York City – My close friend know that I am a big snob when it comes to Italian food. I can just about dismiss majority of the Italian restaurants in the U.S., but when I find a good ones, my heart melts into clarified butter. This is what happened at Marea, 2 Michelin star restaurant located on Central Park South. My friend and I had to wait for a long time to a spot at the bar (reservations few days in advance are highly recommended), but it was great people watching too. Everything at this high end Italian eatery boasted freshness of ingredients, integrity of flavors, and perfection in cooking. Some of my favorites were the tender Noca Scotia lobster and burro found in Astice; al dante and earthy Funghi Risotto; flaky and dressed Branzino: as well as the fried doughnuts dipped in lemon ricotta and dark chocolate Bomboloni. The portions are not small and you may end up eating 10k calories, but now you can die and go to heaven on earth.
best Italian in New York
Yachiyo Ryokan at Himeshima Island in Japan – It’s hard to imagine that one of my top 5 meals was at a 1-lady run Bed and Breakfast in a sleepy island off the coast of Kunisaki. I stayed at this beautiful family run 8-room inn surrounded by gardens, where we were served a delicious seafood dinner with ingredients that were probably swimming just a few hours ago. I had eaten a lot of good sushi throughout my stay in countryside Japan, but this was an unbelievable spread. Every inch of the table was covered with a fresh piece of fish or vegetable that was delicately prepared and artful served. The Japanese chefs take great effort in presentation as you can see from this picture. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have a website and the manager, Michuri-San, speaks limited English, so good luck finding it.
best sushi in Japan

Women of Vision Come to Atlanta

Ever wondered what it would be like to travel the world, taking photographs, working for National Geographic? What sounds like the best job in the world, is actually one of the most difficult ones personally and professionally.

I recently attended an exhibition on Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment at Fernbank Museum of Natural History (on display September 26, 2015- January 3, 2016), where the influential photography of 11 award-winning female photojournalists is on display. Sponsored nationally by The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., Women of Vision was curated by National Geographic Senior Photo Editor Elizabeth Krist, who had the challenging task of choosing a selection of images to best represent the broad portfolios of the 11 extraordinary photographers.

women-of-vision-national-geographic-photographers-on-assignment-2-638Next to the photographs is a background story on what social issue the photographer witness or what her feelings were. There is also a video podcast about the female photographers where they talk about what it’s like to be a traveling photographer on assignment for National Geographic.

Some of the things these acclaimed women talk about is having courage to go to places most people wouldn’t think of going to. National Geographic Photographers don’t just cover tourist attractions; they go to warn torn, disaster sites, and are often in the middle of conflict. Safety is an issue. They could be out on the field stuck in the middle of a dessert with little water or in the jungle waiting for leopards to emerge for weeks at a time.

There is the pressure of finding the right photograph that tells a story. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is not a catch-parse in this line of profession. While there is a details story to go along with most photographs, these women are out there to capture a moment in history with a photographer. Sure it’s wonderful if they get recognized as a National Geographic photographer of the year, but most National Geographic photographers do what they do because they are passionate about it.

Women of Vision features nearly 100 photographs, including moving depictions of far- flung cultures, compelling illustrations of conceptual topics such as memory and teenage brain chemistry, and arresting images of social issues like child marriage and 21st-century slavery. In addition to the photographs, visitors have an opportunity to learn how National Geographic magazine picture editors work closely with the photographers to select images and tell a story.

“For the last decade, some of our most powerful stories have been produced by a new generation of photojournalists who are women. These women are as different as the places and the subjects they have covered, but they all share the same passion and commitment to storytelling that has come to define National Geographic,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of National Geographic Exhibitions. “The exhibition reaffirms the Society’s position as a respected leader in the field of photography.”

“This provocative exhibition will take our visitors on an eye-opening journey that highlights a range of subject matter and natural history themes,” said Dr. Bobbi Hohmann, Fernbank’s Vice President of Education, Collections and Research. “Through their compelling images and stories, Fernbank’s visitors will gain a better understanding and appreciation of our world and its many inhabitants.”

Women of Vision underscores National Geographic’s history of documenting the world through photography and its ongoing commitment to supporting photographers as important and innovative storytellers who can make a difference with their work.

Go Eat Give is giving away 4 tickets to see Women of Vision and Queen of Sheba exhibits at the  Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Leave a comment below and enter to win. Drawing will take place on Monday, Nov 23, 2015 and notified by email. 

Eat Well and Give Back in Atlanta

Atlanta foodies, we’ve got something for you! Your chance at an inexpensive culinary tour around metro Atlanta has finally arrived with the release of the Atlanta DiningOut Passbook. This tiny book of two-for-one entrée deals features over 50 of Atlanta’s favorite eateries and over $1500 in value. Participating restaurants include Agave, STK, Apres Diem, Anis, Murphy’s, No Mas Cantina, McCray’s, Sun In My Belly, Meehan’s, Einstein’s, and dozens more!

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In addition to eating good, purchasing the passbook also benefits the non-profit Open Hands Atlanta. Look at you, you philanthropist foodie!

Enjoy the Atlanta DiningOut Passbook for only $39.99, regularly $99 with special discount code GOEATGIVEPASS2015. What’s more? DiningOut will donate another $10 to your favorite charity, Go Eat Give. That’s a win-win for everyone.

So start saving, eat well, and give back along the way!

Ethical and Delicious Wildlife Friendly Chocolates

As you begin to stock your pantries with chocolates and candies, pay attention to the list of ingredients listed on the package. Depending on the brand and quality of a chocolate, it may be a product that is harmful to your body, as well as the environment.
However, there is a chocolate brand that we like, as it surpasses all expectations of quality ingredients, refined taste, and global standards. Nuubia is a new ethical chocolate shop based in San Francisco that goes far beyond Fair Trade.
san francisco chocolates
Nuubia hand-makes specialty confections from humanely sourced ingredients, without using either palm oil or GMOs. Founder Alexandra Saunders was born in Java, Indonesia and has dedicated to life to conservation (cultivating palms for their oil is highly destructive of the environment so Nuubia has found a way to make ganache without the use of palm oil). Just few weeks ago, Alexandra Saunders was an Honoree at Pongo Environmental Awards. 
Nuubia is the first chocolatier to not only refuse to use palm oil, but to insure that what they make has no negative impact on the rainforests of the world. The company is also working to launch the Chocolate Wildlife Project which provides farmers with a viable source of income. For example, Nuubia purchases their chocolate and ingredients directly from farmers who learn to produce sustainable, habitat-friendly crops.
nuubia chocolates

With Indonesia being the world’s 3rd largest exporter of palm oil, the production of palm oil has devastated the natural habitats of the animals and orangutans that inhabit the area. Founder, Alexandra Saunders took a personal interest in orangutan conservation when she lived in Indonesia and studied them in graduate school at UC Berkeley. It was through this passion that Nuubia created the Chocolate Wildlife Project, which provides small farmers living on the edges of Orangutan habitat with a viable source of income to abstain from destructive farming practices.

Some standout chocolates include fresh squeezed lime juice with vanilla bonbons, Caramelized Hazelnut Spread Sauce, that can rival just about any Nutella out there, and finally Johnny Walker Black Espresso Ganache Half Spheres! So when a box of chocolates is under the tree, you know that no orangutans were harmed to make your chocolate and that your treat can be enjoyed guilt free.
Not to mention the OMG Candy Bar was awarded “Best Foods in the U.S.” by Esquire Magazine. Layers of hazelnut praline, sea salt caramel, rice crisps and dark chocolate come together in harmony to create the perfect mood-altering balance. The chocolatier at Nuubia is Lionel Clement in 2011 he was named Chocolatier of the Year by Pastry Live.
Best Foods in the U.S
Nuubia also offers a heart shaped chocolate special (for pick up only), filled with more chocolate bonbons. This is the ultimate sweetheart gift for any special occasion.
nuubia choclate heart valentines day

In February 2015, Nuubia San Francisco opened its first flagship retail space in the newly built “Market on Market” inside the Twitter building, bringing fine chocolates, confections, natural spreads, macarons, hand crafted ice creams and seasonal specials to the city. Either take a selection of these handmade items home, or stay and enjoy a chocolaty treat with freshly brewed latte in-store while sitting at Nuubia’s Chocolate Counter. The chocolates can be purchased at their San Francisco location, or ordered online. They are very well packed with an ice pack and delivered within a couple of days directly from the store.

Nuubia San Francisco
1355 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 660-2030
http://nuubiasf.com
@nuubiasf

Le Diner en Blanc brings Paris to Atlanta

On Sunday, September 132015, Atlanta welcomed for its second consecutive year, Le Diner en Blanc, a 25-year-old Parisian tradition of an all white affair that has now taken its showcase of elegance and friendship international.

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Surpassing last year’s attendance at the inaugural event, which took place at the Millennium Gates Museum at Atlantic Station, the dinner caught the eyes of over 1700 guests and shut down Peachtree Street for a posh picnic taken above and beyond our imagination of a plaid throw and a woven basket.

Le Diner en Blanc unites people from all walks of life each year in 60 cities across 25 countries. This year, Donae Burston and Cleveland Spears hosted the Atlanta event in partnership with Moët & Chandon. They delivered an exceptional evening of entertainment, camaraderie and celebration. Guests came dressed to impress in the finest white attire – gowns, suits, headdresses – you name it. Also suited for the event, Moët & Chandon featured Moet Ice Imperial packaged in all white and the only champagne of its kind to be served chilled.

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The location, unreleased until minutes before the event, nestled eloquently between the historic performing arts venue, The Fox Theatre and upscale Midtown hotel, The Georgian Terrace Hotel. Guests checked in at multiple locations across Atlanta to be shuttled to the top secret location upon its announcement. Atlantans brought tables, chairs, white linen and competitive decor along with homemade dishes to the outdoor party. Rebecca Kailer Downs sparked the evening with sensational tunes performed in French, truly setting the mood for an evening of Paris in Atlanta.

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The waving of white napkins from Ponce de Leon Avenue to 3rd Street signaled the commencement of dinner and concluded with attendees lighting over a thousand sparkers, illuminating Peachtree street. Now, the real party has started.

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Ashanti Floyd, also known as The Mad Violinist, impressed many as he skillfully performed hit songs on the strings of his violin. Based out of Atlanta and Los Angeles, DJ Hands of Grace followed with a set of Top 40, House and R&B that couldn’t help but raise guests out of their seats and onto the dance floor.

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Le Diner en Blanc Atlanta was an unforgettable evening of great energy, class and pleasure. Check out the official website to stay up to date with next year’s locations and dates near you. You don’t want to miss out.

Photo credits: Kayla Freeman

http://dinerenblanc.info/

Africa – Full of Promise

On the 9thof August, I attended Go Eat Give’s Destination West Africa at the Clarkson Community Centre. It was quite a mind blowing experience even for me, having roots in East Africa. I realized just how culturally diverse the African continent is and the special attributes of different regions that set us apart in a special way. Unfortunately, I haven’t travelled vastly in the continent of Africa, but this event definitely piqued my interest to explore West Africa in the future.

The guests arrived in large numbers and dressed for the occasion. The ensembles were quite impressive and most people went out of their way to showcase African fashion with glamour and poise. I interacted with a lot of people who had visited different African countries and some of them even spoke my mother tongue, Swahili.

Conun Drums, an Atlanta based all women’s group opened the event with a spectacular percussion performance of West African rhythms. They engaged with the crowd and had everybody singing and dancing along. The group of four women and two little girls was clad in colourful African attire, embellished with vibrant print and patterns. Needless to say, they have mastered the art of playing drums.

conondrums

Owokoniran Taiwo, a renowned Nigerian musician based in Atlanta, who has been performing for over 30 years entertained the guests with some African tunes. His band is very popular among the Nigerian community and has been known to perform in different events, festivals and weddings. He sang and played the keyboard beautifully. He was accompanied by a skilful drummer. I was surprised to hear him play a popular Swahili song titled Malaika, which means Angel, with such great ease. He sang it like a native. The other Nigerian tunes he sang were very soothing and made me quite homesick. I thought to myself how my father would have enjoyed Owokoniran’s genre of music.

The keynote speakers made great speeches with strong conviction. I was especially moved by the Honorary Consulate of Mali Vince Farley’s and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the US Geoffrey I. Teneilabe’s speeches. They emphasized on the social and economic potential in Africa at the moment and how sustainable trade and tourism will contribute to the growth of the continent. They applauded Go Eat Give’s efforts at promoting cultural awareness and community service with their programs and Teneilabe called for more trips to West Africa in the near future. In the recent past, all that was heard from West Africa was the Ebola Crisis and this negatively affected the region. Teneilabe was keen on reminding the guests that the crisis has been dealt with in the region and Ebola is no longer a threat, which I am sure was a great relief to many.

vince farley

Their speeches resonated with me because they told a positive story of Africa. I have had the opportunity to travel around the world, and I have seen how the danger of a single story can have adverse effects in a society. Most people I have interacted with during my travels have usually had an unfavourable perspective of Africa, thanks to the media. Therefore I have taken it upon myself to always tell of the other positive stories that exist in my beloved continent whenever I get the chance. Also, most people group the continent into one entity, which is entirely false. We have thousands of diverse tribes, languages and cultures. I was happy to see Mr Vince Farley hang a map of Africa during his speech and pointed to different countries where he has visited and worked. It was very educational. He has served as the deputy ambassador in the Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, South Korea, and Yugoslavia.

ambassador of nigeria Geoffrey I. Teneilabe

After the keynote speech the guests lined up to serve the delicious mouth-watering dishes prepared by Chef Okon James from Nations Café restaurants. I was eagerly anticipating the food because it was my first time to sample West African cuisine, and I must say I was quite impressed. My favourite dishes were fried plantain and Jollof rice, a popular fried rice dish in West African countries especially Nigeria and Ghana. Every dish was rich in flavour. I also tried Banku, a popular Ghanaian dish consisting of fermented corn and cassava dough mixed into a paste. Its acidic taste went well with the fried tilapia topped with bell peppers.

Other dishes included Chichinaga (meat Kebab), Vegetable Samosas, Puff Puff (an African snack similar to a doughnut), Ugba (fermented African oilbean seeds), Mafe (tender beef in peanut sauce), Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast, Fried Tilapia, Moi Moi (steamed bean pudding), and Red Red (black eyed peas cooked in palm oil). The dishes vary significantly from what we eat in East Africa. However, I was more than happy to indulge.

After dinner, we enjoyed a Manga African Dance performance by Ramatu Afegbua and her team of agile dancers. They moved the crowd with their ethnic sounds and body movements. Manga is actually a registered non-profit organization founded in 1990 by Ramatu with a mission to teach and preserve indigenous African cultural arts through dance, drums, songs and more. This was my most favourite performance of the day. They executed the true African spirit through dance and music.

manga dance

To close off the event, Sucheta Rawal made some closing remarks, thanking everybody for their role and participation to make the event a success. I extremely enjoyed myself and was honoured to be a part of such a great cause. I believe a lot of people left Destination West Africa having gained so much more knowledge, understanding and appreciation for West Africa, and more importantly, Go Eat Give’s mission.

~ By Christine Okwaro, event planning and fundraising intern at Go Eat Give. Christine grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and has lived in China and Switzerland. Her personal blog is www.thetravellers.de

A Slice of the History of Pizza Pie

Luca Varuni is a master at his craft. As head chef and owner of Varuni Napoli he swears by the freshest ingredients and uses traditional Italian techniques to create the best Neapolitan pies. Growing up in Naples, Italy, he was surrounded by Italian chefs and studied under renowned chef Enzo Coccia, head chef of the only Michel rated pizzeria in the world. After years of experience, he has settled in Atlanta with the goal of showing everyone what real Italian food is supposed to taste like. Inside Varuni Napoli you will notice large family-styled tables as well as conventional seating for smaller parties with the aim of creating an atmosphere best fit for you desired experience. Don’t be afraid to go alone, sitting at the bar gives you a firsthand experience and a direct view of the chefs at work. Since Varuni Napoli is based on the idea of tradition, we must travel back in time to see where these traditions originated to appreciate how pizza has ended up on our dining table.

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Pizza has a complex history. Some suggest this dish started in Greece, others say Egypt, but the pizza we are familiar with today, got its start between the late 1700s and early 1800s in Naples, a city filled with the poor and working class.

The majority of the population required a quick and inexpensive meal during the day, before returning to work. Street vendors sold these flatbreads made with different toppings to satisfy the needs of workers. They were not looking for a rich or high quality meal, just a little something to tide them over during the long work hours.

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A man named Raffaele Esposito, considered by some to be the father of modern pizza, was known all over Naples to serve the most delicious pizzas. After Italy was unified, King Umberto and Queen Margherita visited Italy when Esposito was called on to make different pizzas for this royal couple. During the meal, Queen Margherita expressed her delight with the flatbread covered with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (to represent the three colors of the Italian flag) so much that they named the pizza after Queen Margherita. After approval from the queen, the popularity of pizza grew and expanded beyond the borders of Italy.

Similar to Queen Margherita, Luca Varuni is also passionate about margherita pizza. He says here in this interview, “You can tell the quality and authenticity of a pizza place by the quality and authenticity of the margherita.” He proudly explains that the cheese, sauce and olive oil for his pizzas are all from the region Naples.

During the late 19th century, many Europeans moved to the United States of America searching for factory jobs where the Neapolitans started family run pizzerias. Americans couldn’t get enough of this Italian novelty as it spread quickly all over the country. Once pizza made it’s way to US, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first documented pizzeria in New York City in 1905, which still operates today. Pizza is a simple dish that started as a snack for peasants, and is now devoured by young and old people all over the world. There are hundreds of pizzerias all over the United Sates, but the Gayot Guide recently named Varuni Napoli as one of the top pizzerias in Atlanta for 2015.

Join Go Eat Give for a taste of Napoli at Destination Italy on July 29th at 7:00 PM at Varuni Napoli. To purchase tickets, click here.