California cooking classes teach artisanal, local food-crafting

cooking classesCooking classes are nothing new, but how about learning how to roast your own coffee beans, brew beer at home, or even prepare a roast chicken from scratch, including catching the bird? The Southern California-area Institute of Domestic Technology brings farm-to-table eating to a new level with workshops focusing on hyper-local food-crafting of everything from dairy products to artisanal mustard.

Classes are currently posted for March and April, with a few more on the schedule for early summer. Most workshops are around or under $200 including ingredients and lunch, and held at or near the Institute’s headquarters at Mariposa Creamery, north of Pasadena. The coffee roasting class will be held on April 28 with fees of $95 for supplies and snacks. The classes are a tasty way to take a piece of California home, and learn how to eat locally, wherever you are.

Photo courtesy Institute of Domestic Technology Facebook page.

Take a photographic adventure with National Geographic

Photographic adventures from National Geographic mix travel and learningFans of National Geographic have long been drawn to the magazine’s fantastic photos, with many of us wishing we had the skills to take similar shots ourselves. Now, National Geographic Expeditions is offering us the opportunity to go on a photographic adventure while building and honing those skills along the way.

Nat Geo Expeditions is the travel arm of National Geographic, offering up some excellent adventure travel opportunities to a number of far flung places. But they also offer aspiring photographers the chance to take part in photography workshops held throughout the country including New York, Washington DC, Tuscon, and Santa Fe. Those workshops range in length from 4 to 7 days, and will teach you everything you need to know about using that fancy digital camera that you bought, but never got around to learning how to operate. For dates and pricing on those workshops click here.

Perhaps even more exciting however are the Photo Expeditions that Nat Geo has to offer. Those trips are 8-12 days in length and will send you off to some amazing places where you’ll learn everything you’ve always wanted to know about photography. Destinations include Alaska, Bhutan, Morocco, Costa Rica, and the Galapagos Islands. Much like the workshops, these trips are designed for photographers of all skill levels and are led by National Geographic photographers with years of experience in the field. They also happen to add healthy doses of culture and adventure to the mix. For more information on the Photo Expeditions click here.

For someone who loves to snap photos (like me!), but wishes they had a firmer grasp on the technical aspects of the art (also like me!), these workshops and expeditions are fantastic opportunities to learn from an expert. So whether you use a point and shoot or a high-end DSLR, a National Geographic photographic adventure is sure to be a fantastic experience.

[Photo Credit: National Geographic Expeditions]

Hang with Hardy at writers’ workshop weekend in Britain

If you’re a big fan of Return of the Native or Jude the Obscure, there’s a travel package that’s perfect for you. Built around the chance to hang with Thomas Hardy’s ghost – or, should we say, Thomas Hardy in ghost form? – Summer Lodge Country House Hotel is bringing four writers under its roof for a unique weekend of literary bliss. Guests will be able to learn how to make it as a writer from some heavy hitters, specifically Roger Collins, Marcelle Bernstein, Eric Clark and Jim O’Connor. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Hardy himself will weigh in with a few tips.

Roger Collins is an actor, broadcaster and writer, who counts his weekly International Herald Tribune column “The Frequent Traveler” among his claims to fame. Marcelle Bernstein is a novelist, nonfiction writer and journalist and has written Body & Soul and Sacred & Profane, both best sellers that later became feature films and television dramas. Eric Clark is an investigative journalist, and Jim O’Connor is an advertising copywriter who has pushed everything from forklifts to Australian rum.If you want to get in on the action, Summer Lodge’s Writers’ Weekend package includes two nights in a classic double room, a full English breakfast every day, champagne and canapés upon arrival and a three-course dinner Saturday evening. You’ll also be able to attend three writer workshop sessions over two days, sip tea and coffee during the events and receive a signed book by either Eric Clark or Marcelle Bernstein.

“Summer Lodge has close associations with Thomas Hardy,” says General Manager Charles Lötter. “He lived nearby and the hotel is at the very heart of the Wessex landscape he immortalized. The village pub, the Acorn Inn is featured in his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles as The Sow & Acorn. What’s more, in his capacity as an architect, Hardy was asked to design the upper floor and the drawing room of Summer Lodge by the 6th Earl of Ilchester in 1893. So you could say the house is haunted by him – although I’ve yet to bump into him myself.”

The Worlds Highest Photography and Videography Workshop

A unique trek is about to get underway in Kathmandu, Nepal. It is a combination of adventure travel and photography/videography workshop that will see ten lucky people spending the next three weeks exploring the Himalaya, while receiving expert instruction in how to shoot better photographs and video.

Everest Base Camp Trek 2009 is the brainchild of professional photographer Chris Marquardt, who hosts the Tips from the Top Floor photography podcast, and professional videographer Jon Miller, who hosts The Rest of Everest, a video podcast that is the most comprehensive look at climbing in the Himalaya you’ll find anywhere. Each day, Chris and Jon will provide lessons, tips, and inside information to those joining them on the trek, all the while hiking up to Everest Base Camp, located at 17,500 feet.

Right now, Chris, Jon, and the rest of their team are gathering in Kathmandu, and the trek/workshop will get underway in the next few days. They’ll spend a little time siteseeing in Kathmandu, before flying off to Lukla and begin the actual trek up the Khumbu Valley. Most days will be spent on well marked trails which lead to Himalayan villages, and like most visitors to the region, they’ll spend the night in traditional tea houses.

But the aspect that sets this trek apart from all the others, is the workshop. Several hours each day will be set aside for photography and videography instruction. The students will then have the chance to immeditely put what they’ve learned into action in one of the most scenic settings in the world.

The team will be posting regular updates to their website over the next few weeks, sharing their experiences along the way. Hopefully they’ll be sharing some of those amazing photos as well.

Band on the Run: Shelter Valley Folk Festival in Grafton, Ontario

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

The Shelter Valley Folk Festival is only in its fourth year and you’d never know it. It’s one of the smoothest run festivals I have performed at in years. This was our first time there, but I walked onto the site on Friday evening and felt immediately at home.

I’m not sure if it’s the shape of the land, how it lolls uphill in Northumberland County (just south of Grafton, Ontario) and overlooks the huge sparkling body of water to the south: Lake Ontario. Maybe it’s the energy of the festival, which is geared towards community, local suppliers and artists, collective decisions, family. Or, maybe it’s all of the above combined together that draws around the event like an embrace and made my shoulders loosen up and take it in.

Whatever the reasons, it was a breath of fresh country air this Labour Day weekend.

I arrived to my band mates and friends lying in a pile in front of the stage Friday night, their faces lit up by spill of the stage lights, listening to Bill Bourne‘s set (accompanied by Michelle Josef on drums and percussion.) The pile gaped open to allow me to drop myself into it and we all huddled together staring up at the stars to the melodic lilt of Bill’s dancing guitar lines. Everyone was mesmerized and the whole audience seemed to be breathing in time to his tunes.

The next day, I kept running into my fellow artists who I knew weren’t programmed to play that weekend. I had read the schedule but their names weren’t on the performer’s lists. I found out shortly that many artists combine forces and volunteer at this event. It might have something to do with the founder, Aengus Finnan, an artist himself who was the visionary for this festival. And, while it may have been his vision to start with, many artists now share that same vision and lend their energy to prove it; they were doing things like MC’ing the stages, taking tickets, clearing plates in the dining tent, stage managing. That’s testimony right there to the magic in this event. It’s very rare to see musicians volunteering to work events that don’t include their music.

That’s belief in an event’s power.

That’s powerful.

We performed a total of seven times this weekend. Usually, I’d grumble a bit at being programmed so much at a festival. There was only one full concert on Saturday night, but we were playing in several workshops that included two or three songs round-robin style. (If you’re reading this from Australia, this is the “song swap” style of performance.)

What I found instead of pure exhaustion from these additional performances (which has been the case at other festivals at different times in my festival touring career) was an injection of energy from each workshop. We were collaborating with several other artists whose work all aligned beautifully with ours, like complimentary colours of a continuous musical spectrum. We did workshops whose themes were road stories, songwriting, community and collaborations, to name a few. I looked forward to each one and they all delivered that same post-performance grin.

A distinguishing feature of this festival compared to many others is the arts and wellness areas. In the artists’ booths, there were local artists from all different media whose only stipulation for being part of the festival was to provide demonstrations of their work to festival goers. There were people glass-making, painting, carving and paper-making for all to witness and learn from. Those booths were humming all day with onlookers and questions flying. I found it fascinating.

I was peering at the paper-making demonstration when there were suddenly horns blowing, shakers shaking and drums drumming coming down the path. Everyone’s head lifted and turned to see the kids’ parade walking towards us having already walked the circumference of the site and through the backstage as well. Kids were dressed and painted and smiling. Parents were filming. The young ones held onto a rope like the kind they have for preschoolers on walking trips through the city. It created this colourful spine around which the older kids and adult supervisors danced and jumped like the legs of an enormous caterpillar as it snaked its way around the remainder of the festival site.

This plastered a smile on my face as I took in the wellness area just beyond the artists’ booths. The area included talks and demonstrations of various body work. You could attend a shiatsu seminar and follow that up with a talk about sustainable organic gardening, for example, before catching a late afternoon musical workshop and then heading to the food stalls for organic and locally grown food.

All in all, this festival is educational, entertaining and healthy. The backstage area had full recycling drop points including composting and the use of re-usable plates, cutlery and glassware. It was healthy towards all things living, most importantly the Earth which we all can’t live without.

My friend Darlene (performer and volunteer at this festival) makes hula hoops as a side project to her amazing music and she graciously gave me one as a present this weekend. I think the gift may have been inspired by my long hula hoop session with a few eight-year-old girls in the open space to the east of the main stage on Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t stop playing with those hoops and I had to be tugged away when it came time for all of the performers to take to the stage for the finale songs.

Now I have a bright red hula hoop as a memory of this event.

And hopes to return some future year.

Shelter Valley Folk Festival is worth your attendance.