Food Adventures That Last a Lifetime
What a thrill! I will be speaking at The Three Tomatoes Renewal Summit in New York City on Saturday, May 11, at 3:00 p.m. I couldn’t have asked for a better title or subject: Building Your Thrill List: Food and Travel Adventures,panel moderator Roni Jenkins, and speakers: Wanda Radetti, Croatia Travel Expert; Gabriella Constestabile, Italy expert; and me, travel and food writer. What’s one without the other?
My best friend always says, “Whenever Sheryl says what to eat or where to eat, I say yes.” I do know food and I love to eat. My father actually made me who I am today. The story goes that at six months old, sitting in my highchair, watching my parents and seven year old brother eating pumpernickel bagels with vegetable cream cheese, lox and black olives right in front of me, I swatted all of my soft mushy carrots, peas and sweet potato onto the floor. My father’s reaction was loud and clear, “From here on out, she’ll eat what I eat.” Then he handed me half of his bagel.
He fed me pickled herring, lox, pastrami, corned beef, and brisket and teethed on chunks of dried salami. He also gave me a love for traveling. We had no relatives where I grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia. All of our cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents were in New Jersey and New York.
We were never told ahead of time, but my parents waited until we went to sleep, then put us in the car for the six hour trip north. It never failed, I woke up to the sound of crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the shadows and smells of the Baltimore Harbor tunnel. We usually ended up in Newark at my mothers’ parents’ apartment. The food was terrific, freshly squeezed orange juice, stuffed cabbage, her special cinnamon star cookies, freshly baked breads, and grape jello with pineapple.
It didn’t matter where we went or what we did, food was a major factor. My dad was a traveling salesman. He sold jewelry up and down the east coast. Whenever he serviced his Virginia clients, I rode along with him. Food was just as important as being on time, unloading his jewelry cases, and making sales. Depending upon where we were going, he’d tell me if I should eat anything before we left home or not.
“Don’t eat breakfast, we’ll stop for those great buckwheat pancakes and bacon over in Winchester and have lunch later, after our third store visit, when we stop for barbecue in Petersburg. He knew every inch of every road in his territory, where to stop for gas and where to eat what. In every client’s store, he knew the names of their children and husbands and wives. He taught me to become part of everywhere we went. We didn’t just run in to sell jewelry, we became part of the community and the total experience.
My father not only turned me into a traveler and eater, my first award-winning travel book, Immersion Travel USA: The Best and Most Meaningful, Volunteering, Living, and Learning Excursions, was built on the food and travel adventures we shared. Margie from Greenville, South Carolina, sent me my first fan letter after reading Immersion Travel: “So happy to find a food-obsessed and food-knowledgeable travel writer who fully understands that food, people and place are just as important as museums, cathedrals, and local attractions.”
Wherever I go, whomever I meet, I ask questions: What do you love most about living here? What is your favorite activity? If I could only see or do one thing while visiting, what do you recommend? Tell me your favorite local restaurant and what do you most like to eat there?
Then I actively pursue building my own memories. Smells, tastes, and bites become part of my personal experience. Thoughts about everywhere I’ve ever been unite with a description of what I ate. Visiting Costa Rica, I lived with a local family in the Rain Forest and thrived on their fresh bananas, passion fruit, watermelon, guavas, mangoes, papaya, pineapple, and coconuts daily from the backyard. The best coconut ice cream I ever ate (two and more times a day) was in Cancun; best escargot, Left Bank, Paris; best churrascaria (traditionally grilled meats), Rio de Janeiro; best white lasagna, Brindisi, Italy; and best frozen custard, Fredericksburg, Virginia. I also love learning from the pros and local experts how to create their specialties. Have any questions on where to go or what to eat, send me a note where you’ll be traveling and I will try to include information on that location on May 11. See you then.