The Edible Jungle

©2013 Jerry Redfern

There is a place in the hills where domestic meets wild, where humans meet jungle. Where the fertile valleys between forested mountains shelter villagers who plant fruit trees and rice and kitchen gardens across the acres they tame. But the wild – the jungle – also harbors a biodiversity that has long supplied the people’s needs: meat and fish, insects and vegetables, rattan for baskets, leaves for plates, sturdy wood for the community longhouse. Daily life is a balance between home and forest, here and there – so much so, the lines are blurred.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

Scientists are just beginning to understand more of this interdependence between people and land, which has sustainably existed for thousands of years. Here in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, villagers are not just farmers, not just hunter-gatherers. It’s not an either/or. The people do it all. They hunt, fish and forage for their food. They grow rice by hand, in verdant plots fed by mountain waters. They transplant wild spices and herbs from the jungle to the village. They toss pineapples onto the ground, and the fruits grow abundantly – without any additional help, so rich is the soil.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

The daily search for food entails a trek from home to paddy with pack on back and parang on hip.

JungelPreview 27

The trail inevitably passes through a variety of forests and fields – some young, some old. Some dense with edible gingers and wild greens; others open to the sun, where brilliant berries grow near at hand.

Pa Lungan Raspberry

In this way, the Kelabit people have lived and eaten from the land for ages.

But life changes; it always does. Borneo’s forests – particularly those across the border in neighboring Kalimantan, Indonesia – are losing out to loggers. In lower elevations, miles upon miles of palm-oil plantations replace that old-growth forest. (See here for the Schuster Institute’s recent investigation of human-rights abuses and environmental destruction related to palm oil.) In the Highlands, where oil palms won’t produce so well, lands are often logged and left; gouges dug into the heart of intact terrain.

We first visited the Highlands in 2006. If you’ve been reading here long enough, you might recall our Archaeology story of burial urns scattered throughout the jungle. Or our encounter with a wild boar on a trek that quickly turned into a hunt. Or my descriptions of edible ferns and water-filled bamboo.

That summer seven years ago, villagers told us they worried about the encroaching loggers. They wondered how long their forests and food supplies would last. Ever since that trip, I wondered what became of the people we met. This summer, thanks to the International Center for Journalists and the Ford Foundation, I received a generous International Reporting Fellowship to strap on my pack, lace my boots and head back to the Highlands to find out. (Fellows traveled far and wide this summer to cover all manner of issues all over the globe – check out the group Tumblr.)

We found families we met seven years ago…

Pa Lungan Rice Packets

such as Moriaty Udan (here, preparing pounded rice in a forest leaf) and

©2013 Jerry Redfern

her husband, Walter Paran, with daughter Mujan (who was just about three years old when we last met). They served us feasts of wild boar, pounded greens, sweet young bamboo and rice. And they told us how their village, Pa’ Lungan, is continuing to change as the younger generations leave for school and jobs far away. Mujan, home for holiday break, spends most her days and nights with other kids in boarding school, a five-hour hike from home.

In the past four weeks, we found many complex stories in this region in flux – stories of food and environment, aging and cultural change. Those reports will emerge in the coming months – we will let you know when and where and how to find them.

For now, I’m beginning the long-haul work of weeding through piles of notebooks, too-big files of recordings and video. My desk is cluttered with old-fashioned books and maps in print and PDFs on the iPad. But a part of my head remains in the jungle. It was hard to leave – harder than I’d expected. Despite leech bites, bee stings and bucket showers (cold water, of course), there was comfort in that land. Maybe it was the pitch-black nights of deep, restful sleep. Or the vast distance from cell phones and Internet, and all the frustrations big and small that go with those technologies. Maybe it was the sound of a thousand forest creatures singing through the day. Maybe it was all that fresh food (yes – it was local and organic and wholesome and sustainable, the epitome of modern-day food-movement buzzwords, but way out there in the Borneo boonies, far from the hubbubs that divide other food-minded folk.). But when we reached city again (after a terrifying all-day drive down a mud-slick mountain logging road) I literally stumbled on the sidewalk. Pavement, lights, honking horns – so quickly, it felt so foreign.

So quickly, it reminded us how lives and cultures can change.

Stay tuned. More to come.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

Ginger: both flower and food.

 

Introducing: A Farm, a Website, a Recipe for Grilled Padróns

 RS RoastyPadron

ACKKK!

Confession: every time I look at this site lately, I’m socked with guilt. Guilt, because I see the expansive gaps between my posts. Guilt, because I miss my time with food and words, words and food. We’ve been busy. We’ve had a gazillion things going on in life – as everyone does – and my moments here have been squeezed to bits. But no more guilt. Let’s focus on the positives.

The positives are above: can you smell them? Can you taste that sweet-spicy allure of the Spanish padrón? What’s a padrón, you ask? It is, I think, the perkiest little pepper I ever did taste, and it harbors something mysterious inside. Something addictive. Toss a handful of freshly picked padróns into a hot wok of coconut oil, mix and stir, sprinkle with salt, then pop them into your mouth, one by one. Eat with drinks. Eat them all. You will drink more because of this pepper.

This is what our friends at Thunderhead Farms are growing. You can read all about them and their story at the all-new, in-progress Thunderhead Farms website. It’s an all-new, in-progress design by Jerry himself, the man behind Redcoates Studios web design and development (plus photography). Soon enough, the site will include recipes for all Thunderhead Farms produce. Farmer Jon walked into our kitchen one night, handed me a bag of peppers and said: “Here! Make a recipe!” It was the best darn excuse I’ve had  in a long time to get back into the kitchen with my thinking cap on.

I just kept thinking peppers, pine nuts, cotija. Then: peppers, pine nuts, cotija, lemon, anchovies. And sundried tomatoes, right? You need the sweetness of sundried tomatoes to balance the tart lemon, salty anchovies, and hot peppers. Right?

And so it went from there.

This is what the kitchen looked like, in mid-stream recipe development:

RS PadronPrep

And this is the recipe in its final form:

Grilled Padróns with Pine Nuts, Anchovies, Sundried Tomatoes & Cheese

Ingredients:
6 cups medium-sized padróns
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 lemon, juiced with flesh
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1 small tin anchovies, minced
3/4 cups minced sundried tomatoes
cotija cheese
sea salt

Method:
Wash peppers and grill high off the coals, careful not to scorch them. Padrons have thin, delicate skins that can easily burn. You want them toasty, not blackened.

Meanwhile, whisk together garlic, lemon, salt, olive oil and anchovies. Set aside.

After peppers have cooled slightly, trim off stems and chop into bite-sized pieces (if desired). Drizzle with dressing. Toss with sundried tomatoes and top with crumbled cotija. Serve warm.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

Rhubarb and strawberry sauce on yogurt with fresh mint leaves.

Rhubarb & Rain

Rhubarb and strawberry sauce on yogurt with fresh mint leaves.

A summertime strawberry double whammy: berries topped with yogurt, mint and rhubarb-strawberry sauce.

Here in New Mexico, we are living in exceptional times – “exceptional” being the word weather monitors use to describe some of the nation’s worst drought conditions: rivers gone dry, ditches of dust. We’ve seen some relief this past week with afternoon and evening showers, and the apparent start of the monsoons. But it’s not enough.

There is, in fact, debate as to whether this is drought. A drought, by some definitions, is a “deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time.” It’s described as “an insidious hazard of nature” with characteristics that vary from place to place (drought in the rain forest is different from drought in the desert). Its beginning and end are determined by detailed analysis of weather data and the degree to which precipitation veers from local averages. But what if low rainfall is the norm? What if, here in New Mexico, we’re not experiencing an aberration – but the way things typically were and will be?

It’s hard on people, plants and animals. Our gardens shrivel in the sun. They need careful attention, or they will not survive. The Rio Grande, less than a mile away, dwindles to a trickle, then nothing at all.

What a switch to the soggy, muggy summertime Midwest, when we visited family in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago. It rained almost every day. We stopped at a store one morning, parking beneath heavy, leaden clouds. By the time we’d finished our errands, the sky crackled and growled as an opaque cascade pummeled the ground. Water pooled and puddled everywhere. It hung around for days. Plants grew lush and green…

©2013 Jerry Redfern

©2013 Jerry Redfern

…fragrant and tall. I’d almost forgotten what the Midwest could be, in summertime. I’d forgotten what it was like to know the rain would come without all the hoping and fussing.

I found a turtle crossing the road, then helped it back to the woods…

©2013 Jerry Redfern

©2013 Jerry Redfern

…while the resident red-bellied woodpecker regularly showed its colors (curiously: a red cap but no red belly). Day in and day out, Jerry sneezed, in fits of five or 10 or more, thanks to this burst of verdant growth.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

©2013 Jerry Redfern

And he picked rhubarb in the garden for my Mom to make sauce. Rhubarb: we don’t get much of that here in the desert Southwest, where it wilts in the heat. It’s a cool-weather plant that needs a good winter to stimulate later growth. The tangy sweetness of that simple sauce (rhubarb and strawberries mixed) was something I hadn’t tasted in a very long time. We brought it back to the desert and ate it on cornbread. And somehow, breakfast that morning felt a little more humid, a little more Midwest.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from the old tattered green-covered cookbook my Mom has had since her early days of marriage: Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, published in 1952.

Rhubarb-strawberry sauce:

2 pounds chopped rhubarb stalks and strawberries (about 8 cups)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water

Boil ingredients gently for about five minutes. Cool and serve.

Rhubarb and strawberry sauce

Garden rhubarb with strawberries

Portobello Summer Soup

Mushroom soup 1

Let’s say you have a couple of leftover portobellos and you really don’t feel like grilling them. You could, instead, make summer soup with garden herbs.

You could slice one shallot, a couple of garlic cloves, two carrots, three celery stalks and sauté them with butter in a stock pot. Then—because you open the fridge and find you’re out of white cooking wine—you could drizzle sake into the pot with a sprinkle of salt and one portobello, roughly chopped. The other portobello, you could slice neatly and set aside.

When the veggies are nicely satuéed, you could add five cubed potatoes and a hefty pinch of turmeric (because it adds color, because it’s good for you), cover with water and boil until the taters are tender; then let the mixture cool. Meanwhile, you could sauté the sliced portobello in a little more butter and a little more sake with another little sprinkle of salt; then, just before finishing, a drizzle of white balsamic, just a touch.

Then you could take your handheld immersion blender, that wizard tool, and puree the soup before bringing it back to a simmer. You could go to your garden and pluck several sprigs of rosemary and thyme, rinse and chop them real fine. After the soup has simmered a bit, you could add the sliced portobello and rosemary, perhaps a drizzle of that white balsamic or a glug of sake or another pinch of salt—taste and decide. Right before finishing, you could add that fresh thyme for just a taste of the heat, just a moment on the stove.

And then, if all the flavors align (let your tastebuds guide), you could let the soup cool to a temperature appropriate to the heat (hot summer day? serve it chilled); then take your pot to the backyard patio, beneath the big tree, in the flicker of candlelight, and eat your soup with grilled chicken and garlicky green beans.

Mushroom soup 2

20 Years of Democracy in Cambodia

©2013 Jerry Redfern

1998. A man hangs an English-language banner from poles at the Democracy Square protest in Phnom Penh. Thousands of people gathered in front of the National Assembly Building for weeks to protest the outcome of the 1998 national election. The banners were for international observers and news crews, as most Cambodians could not read English.

I’m veering away from food again, to note a quiet anniversary that is slipping past the world, largely unnoticed. Twenty years ago, the international community brought democratic elections to Cambodia under the biggest, boldest peacebuiding mission ever attempted: the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).

As the country braces for its fifth round of national polls in July, what’s become of the UNTAC agenda? Where does democracy stand in Cambodia today? I tried to shed a little light on the issue in my latest story for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab.

In a way, this is a story about food. It’s about land and human rights; the struggle for survival. As the article notes, land disputes are among the country’s most pressing problems and the people’s greatest worry. Land is sustenance, security and hope. It’s access to food and livelihood. “Land is life,” opposition politician Mu Sochua wrote earlier this year.

But I’ll stop there and let you take contemplate these photos, stretching across the years we’ve been watching the country’s democracy. Then, if you want to know more, follow the link to the article and take a look at Jerry’s photo gallery documenting democracy in Cambodia.

All photos by Jerry Redfern.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

2012. Police carry a protester to a waiting police van following her arrest. Buddhist monk Loun Sovath videotapes the proceedings. He was arrested two days later. The woman was one of the “Boeung Kak 13″ women arrested for protesting the loss of their homes to a commercial development by Shukaku Corporation, which has since filled in the lake with sand. Many of the protesters were forced out of their homes along the lakefront by the land developer and the municipal government.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

2003. Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy speaks to a crowd of several thousand supporters from atop a truck at a rally, on the first day of the campaign season preceding the 2003 national election. Sam Rainsy showed up two hours late for the event.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

2013. A young boy eats a snack in a shanty town in what used to be the Borei Keila apartment complex in central Phnom Penh. The government sold the land beneath the apartments to a developer who demolished the buildings with little notice. The company had agreed to build 10 new apartments for the displaced, but it built only eight. Many of the homeless now live in squats on the cleared land.

On Boston and the Eternal Tragedy of Bombs

XiengKhouangCraters

SCARS OF BOMBARDMENT: an aerial view of the countryside around Phonsavanh, Laos, showing the ubiquitous bomb craters that remain throughout the province, 40 years after US bombs fell across the country.

This week, our nation grieves for lives lost, bodies broken, futures ripped to bits. We mourn the blood splattered on sidewalks of innocents. It is unconscionable, what happened in Boston. As human beings, we struggle to understand. But there are no answers to our repeat questions: Why? Why then and there, to him and her, in that particular city, at that particular event? How long can we expect this pain to last?

As a country, we will move on, because life does. Time does. But grief never expires, it merely moves to the backdrop of daily routine. The memory remains, and many victims will carry both physical and mental reminders through every passing day.

It’s like war: how do we really know the end of war? How do we know when to stop grieving?

It is sadly ironic that the Boston Marathon bombings occurred this week, of all weeks, as we note another key date in a long line of human tragedies with bombs. By some accounts (no one knows for absolute sure, and I’ll explain), April 17, 2013, marks 40 years since the last American bombs fell on Laos. Forty years since the end of that violent deluge—yet nowhere near the end of grief. For nine years straight, US forces flew, on average, one raid over Laos every 8 minutes. They dropped 2 million tons of bombs. An estimated 30 percent of those bombs didn’t detonate, and they remain in the soil today. Since that time we classify as “the end of war,” more than 20,000 Laotians have been killed or maimed by bombs. For many Laotians, the pain runs as deep right now as in any previous year.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that Jerry and I have a book due for publication this June. Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos (ThingsAsian Press, June 13) is the result of our seven-year investigation of Lao life among bombs. We trekked across the countryside, interviewed hundreds of villagers, and recorded their thoughts and hopes and losses.

I was not in Boston this week, and I cannot say what it was like to be there. But I can share a few things I’ve learned in Laos.

Every victim is different, and every case unique. But the psychological damage left in the wake of a bombing sometimes lasts years, even decades. Trauma from the blast, fear of more to come, feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, worry about future work and well-being, and the invisible but real pain of a limb no longer there—these are the scars that far outlast the incident itself.

©2010/Jerry Redfern

Phou Vieng lost his left arm and leg when digging holes for a new house for himself and his new bride in 1998. “I hit something left from the war.” Now he lives in a house on the edge of Phonsavanh and his wife is the family breadwinner.

In the aftermath of bombings, I find the mechanics most difficult to fathom—the mechanics of a device so deliberate in its design, so efficient in its methods, for such monstrous outcomes.

All bombs are ruthless. They obey the laws of science. And bombs like those used in Boston—reportedly packed with bits of metal—are strategically designed to shred human flesh. Whether stuffed into a casing and dropped from an airplane high in the sky, or built with a pressure cooker and planted amid swarms of spectators, that bomb behaves in a predetermined way when it blows.

Tiny bits of metal are shot in all directions, with the straight-forward mission to annihilate. We’re told this type of bomb is a killer device “favored by terrorists from New York to Afghanistan.” But this method of jamming an explosive with bits of metal is also a favorite of militaries throughout many recent wars.

Embedded in that bomb is the same concept used in cluster submunitions, the baseball-sized bomblets that are loaded into casings and dropped from mid-air, little weapons to be scattered across the land. That’s the type of bomb most likely to kill Laotians today—when farmers find them in their fields, or children toss them like toys, or the devices burst into flames as families light their nightly cooking fires on land contaminated with ordnance.

The physical effects of a fragmentation device are gruesome. This Landmine Action report explains the impacts on a human body (taken from a Third World Network emergency medical manual, Save Lives Save Limbs):

“Although the inlet wound looks small, the damage inside can be massive. A stone hitting water makes waves. Our body is 70 per cent water. A fragment sends pressure waves into the tissues. The waves are very fast and hit the tissues like a blow. How the tissues are damaged depends on how elastic they are (how easily they stretch).

The skin is very elastic. It stretches when the fragment passes through then springs back without much damage.

But muscle is not very elastic. The pressure waves tear a wide and ragged wound track through the muscle. Because muscles have a rich blood supply muscle wounds bleed a lot.”

Bone, the report continues, is not at all elastic. It will stop a fragment in its tracks. A pressure wave forms, “like the splash from a flat stone hitting water.” Human tissue suffers the damage of that force, the report states. Imagine trying to heal from that pain, those wounds. And then, imagine the psychology.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

Bo Ya, 35, begs for money at the bus stop in the tiny town of Kiukacham. He lost his hands and most of his vision when he picked up some UXO ten years before.

In Boston this week, there were moments of uncertainty and long minutes when no one knew whether more blasts would come. I know a smidgen of that fear, having covered shootings and riots, not knowing for sure when the firestorm would end.

And I have tried to comprehend the weight of such fear when I interview bombing victims in Laos. In decades past, during the height of war, people naturally feared the next day—when more planes would come with more bombs. Today, the fear is underground. It’s in the knowledge that a calm day on the farm could suddenly, abruptly, turn life inside out.

According to the Center for Air Force History’s unclassified report, The War in Northern Laos 1954-1973, the last US bombings occurred this month 40 years ago. And according to Spencer C. Tucker’s authoritative Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War (2012 edition), it was on April 17, 1973, that the last Operation Barrel Roll sorties were flown over Laos.

The history is hazy because much of the documentation is. Some sources point to March 29 as the last day of bombings, but the National Archives database contains records of raids and bombings well into April. Not all entries are complete—all of these records, from all the years of warfare throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, were originally filed with punch cards, recorded to tape and subsequently re-recorded to new media. It’s easy to see how clarity was lost. There were years between transcriptions, during which various media degraded. And in some spots, entire months are missing from the records—for unknown reasons. But these archives offer the most of what we can hope to know right now.

I wanted to get a sense of what life might have been like for people living in Laos on April 17, 1973, that supposed “end” of war. And on that day, according to National Archive records, the US Army and Air Force initiated some 60 missions originating at various bases—Nakhon Phanom, Korat, Takhli, Anderson, Udorn, Ubon, Utapau—aimed for Laos. There were F4s, A7s, F111s, EC130s, EB66 Cs, U21s and B52s. Many were reconnaissance missions. Some were aborted. Some were diverted to Cambodia. But three missions originating at Utapau were noted as “heavy bombard.” While there seem to be double entries for those three attacks, the records indicate each plane was loaded with 500-pound MK 82 general-purpose bombs. Their targets were precisely entered into the archive. The planes dumped their loads near a trail snaking along the Nam Ngiap River in Xieng Khouang province.

Interactive Google map

When I look at those coordinates on a satellite map today, I see pinpoints—one near a village called Thaviang, another up the road a bit, and the third in a green mess of forest.

I wonder: what was it like on the ground that day, 40 years ago? It’s unlikely villagers would have heard the B52s that dropped those bombs—they flew too high for detection from the ground. But other flights—for reconnaissance or electronic intelligence gathering—civilians might have seen and heard. And feared.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

A man named Bounkheng, who says he fears the unexploded bombs in his village, points out craters everywhere on a tour through the small town of Boualapha.

That’s another thing I’ve learned from villagers who lived through that time: people feared the planes. They never knew when or whether or where the bombs would fall, but the fear set in when the skies rumbled with engines (and later when the ground shook from unforeseen attacks). That fear, they remember clearly. It would haunt them on April 18 and April 19. It would haunt them months down the road. It would haunt them through decades of accidents that have claimed the lives and limbs of friends and family.

That fear haunts them still.

That is the human toll of terror by bomb. We can count the dead, we can tally the injured. But we can never quantify the scars that remain on land, body and mind. And in that way, a fragmentation bomb is the utmost of insidious weapons.

SopphoonFields

A local farmer returns home from washing in a stream near Sophoon. The field behind is where another villager was injured by a bombie when she was digging with her husband.

The Cambodian Worker’s Diet

©2013 Jerry Redfern

Srey Pot Mom and Ben Sarith eat a dinner of steamed rice and beef soup with gourd. The slat table on which they sit serves as dining table, kitchen counter, living room sofa, and bed. Their room, like all of their neighbors’, is just big enough for a person to squeeze between that slat bed and the wall. Most apartments this size sleep 3, 4, even 8 people. Srey Pot Mom and Ben Sarith both have factory jobs during the dry season. When the rains return, they will head home to their countryside farm.

The New York Times has a story this week on Cambodia’s economic uptick as companies—notably, factories—shift business from China to Phnom Penh. The article, I think, leaves the impression that Cambodian wage-earners benefit from that trend. But the piece neglects a key voice that might offer a more nuanced perspective: the voice of the worker.

It’s true: Phnom Penh bustles with business, and the streets clog with trucks escorting workers to and fro, and industrial centers sprout from the former rice paddies that surrounded the city not long ago. Big-name brands and international corporations increasingly claim Cambodia among their places of work. And the minimum wage for factory employees goes up and up (again next month, to $75 plus a $5 health allowance). Good, right?

©2013 Jerry Redfern

One family’s kitchen pantry hangs on the wall: a bag of market food, a small bag of oil, and a cleaver. Eight people live in this room about 12 feet by 16 feet. An ailing mother sleeps on the bed while a relative cooks dinner on the floor beneath it. All the healthy adults in the family work in factories. They came to Phnom Penh from the countryside to pay for their mother’s hospital bills.

But here’s what happens: salaries go up, and so does rent. So does the price of food. When government approves a minimum-wage increase, it’s in the news. Everyone knows. Landlords know, vendors know, drivers know. And the workers pay.

Most factory workers come from the countryside. They are farmers, but few can survive on farming alone these days. So they come to the city in the off-season, hoping for work. Or they come to the city when a kid gets sick or a storm wrecks the roof or they run out of food. And then they search for work—not with hope, but dire need.

Many workers plan to save what they make and send it to relatives back home. Or to pull themselves out of debt. Or to send their kids to school. Or to find a better life. That’s the plan.

But what they say, at home, at night, in the cramped quarters they share in a neighborhood maze with hundreds of other workers, is this: very little goes according to plan. They are happy to have work, but sick in mind and spirit to be working their fannies off all day long, every day, with no spare riel to save.

And when the money runs thin, they eat less. They grow weak, and tired, and they often get sick.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

A woman cooks dinner in the alley behind her apartment. Clothes hang on the wall—the rooms have no space for closets or dressers.

But the cycle continues—it doesn’t pause for the time they need to heal. The workers go to work. They sew buttons on shirts and zippers on pants that get packed into boxes destined for department stores and strip malls in every corner of Europe and America. We all wear the labels, we all shop at the stores. They are everywhere. And the work of these men and women hangs on all of our backs.

©2013 Jerry Redfern

A vendor sells papaya salad to factory workers outside their apartments.

Photos by Jerry Redfern.

Introducing Sabor: The All-New Must-See iPad Food Magazine

©2012 Jerry Redfern

OK, I’m a little biased. I had a hand in the editing. And I’m proud of the results.

It’s been months in the making, a lot of back-and-forth, a lot of tweaking. A few failed attempts, but mostly success. And I give a huge, whopping platter of credit to editor/publisher Fermin Albert, who has done a stunning job under interesting circumstances and a limited budget (just read his editor’s note).

©2012 Jerry Redfern

But wait til you see the lineup of contributors and their menu of offerings! I mean, there are names in this magazine. There is knowledge. There are things you need to know—like food during wartime in Syria—and things you want to know—like the meaning of Rod Stewart’s bottle of Blue Nun. There is Eric C. Rath eating his way through Kyoto, and Merry White drinking coffee across Japan, and Jane and Michael Stern sampling America’s road foods, and Darra Goldstein reminiscing about Russian mushrooms, and Larry Karol remembering his days at Gourmet. Nicholas Coldicott takes us to a Japanese distillery. Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman take us to Turkey’s Central Black Sea Coast in search of anchovies. Nicholas Lander reveals his favorite meals. Frederick Kaufman tells us how grains stopped being food and became commodities.

And there’s more, so so so much more.

©2012 Jerry Redfern

There are photos that slide, and graphics that move, and recipes organized neatly into their own “vault.”

©2012 Jerry Redfern

©2012 Jerry Redfern

There’s an interactive graphic telling you what to do with each and every part of a goose.

©2012 Jerry Redfern

©2012 Jerry Redfern

There’s even a movie.

There is, in this magazine, every element I think publications everywhere could be, should be, using these days. This is what the technology offers, and Fermin Albert has embraced it. Just think: what if your local newspaper (if it still exists) did this? Or your favorite science magazine?

Full disclosure: Jerry and I have a story inside, too. I’ll tell you more about that later. But now, take a spin through Sabor. Watch it, tap it, scroll. Make it move, and see what happens. If you like it… get ready for another edition later this year. And if you don’t like it, please tell us why. Tell us what can be done better the next time. This is a work in progress, and we want to hear from you!

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Travels in Video

Come, join us in our travels across Asia. Now you can hear the sounds and see the sights in motion. After long hours (hat tip to Jerry) and a fair bit of back-and-forth, we’re introducing the book trailer to This Way More Better. See it here.

What a learning curve! We’re still new to this, recording our work in sound and motion. And now that we’ve created this footage, I know what I will do differently next time. Sound is such a tricky thing. It’s hard to get the mood just right. It’s tough to block the wind or exclude that rumbling motorbike from the background. Then again, sometimes that belching moto is exactly the sound you want to include.

Recording sound forces me to think about my writing through other senses. I spent a lot of time talking about this in the nonfiction course I just wrapped up teaching at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop. As a writer, it’s so easy to think in terms of quotes or the things we see. But how often do we incorporate tastes, sounds, smells and textures into our words? How often do we let our senses overlap in our descriptions? One participant in the course struggled with how to describe the smell of coffee. Perhaps the answer lies within its associations, through our other senses—how does coffee sound? How does it feel, hot on the tongue on a cold winter morning? How do we picture the steam rising from a mug? Sometimes a certain thing is best depicted through the world around it. Often, this is the case for food.

I recently read Barb Stuckey’s fascinating book, Taste What You’re Missing. I love the way she explains that single sense through all the others. Take, for example, her entry on “The Sound of Texture.” Studies show that the crunching sound of a potato chip in the mouth influence eaters’ perceptions of how delicious that chip really is. The crunchier the sound, the tastier people believe the chip to be.

In some ways, I understand these distinctions as I go back through the recordings I’ve taken in Asia. The sound of a market (listen to the start of the video), to me, evokes as much imagery as a picture. Just as the sounds of crickets and frogs will put me right back at that pepper plantation where we stayed in a breezy wooden home overlooking Cambodia’s prized spice.

So, welcome to the journey. We hope you’ll have a look and a listen, and enjoy the ride.

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Brunch on a Lao roadside while waiting for a jackknifed truck to be cleared from the scene.

The Next Big Things in Books

I’ve been tagged! Jennifer Margulis, author of the forthcoming book The Business of Baby, invited me to participate in a blog meme highlighting authors and their new and forthcoming work. I don’t do a lot of memes—but I’m delighted to take part in this one. I have to break the rules a bit, though. (More on that in a minute.)

Here’s how it works: I answer 10 questions about my book, This Way More Better, then I tag five other authors whose work I admire.

Here goes:

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1. What is the title of your book?

This Way More Better: Stories and Photos from Asia’s Back Roads

2. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A journalist travels off the beaten path: 11 countries and a dozen years of narrative storytelling about the peoples and places of Asia.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

It crosses into a few categories: travel literature, Asia, narrative nonfiction, narrative journalism. And, for food lovers following this blog… there are a fair number of food stories, too!

4. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Jerry (whose photos appear in the book) and I had been living and working in Asia for several years, and I’d accumulated boxes of journal notes stemming from weeks and months of travels all over the map. Much of that writing hadn’t made it into print. This was creative nonfiction—the juicy bits that often don’t fit into journalistic reports. I needed a home for all that material; all those stories-behind-the-stories. While some of the book’s chapters have been published previously in magazines, most have not.

5. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

That’s a tough one to answer because I’ve really been working on it since I first lived in Cambodia in 1998—although I certainly didn’t know it at the time. I wrote this book in fits and starts amid other assignments, fellowships and teaching jobs.

6. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The many, many people Jerry and I met in our travels, particularly those in rural locations far from the hubbub of mainstream life. The more time we spent delving into villagers’ lives, and the more we learned from our experiences with them, the more I knew I had to write this book.

7. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by ThingsAsian Press, which is also publishing our next book on June 13 (yep, it’s a busy year!): Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos. Jerry and I have equal part in that book, a journalistic and photographic investigation of unexploded ordnance remaining in Laos since the U.S. bombings 40 years ago.

8. What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

I don’t really like questions such as this because I hope to have my own style for telling unique stories. BUT I certainly aspire to write as engagingly as other travel-writing greats, such as Paul Theroux.

9. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I couldn’t imagine actors playing the parts of the people I write about—they are characters themselves! And that’s something I would love to see: all of these wonderful personalities playing themselves.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The depth and breadth of stories in this book can help put current events into context. We trek through Burma’s Shan State and talk to dissidents long before the country began to open up. We tour Sri Lanka amid a ceasefire, right before the 2004 tsunamis, which I write about in the aftermath. The book begins with the story of a 10-year-old Hmong girl in northern Vietnam. More than a decade later, we reunite—and we meet a young woman quickly becoming a leader in her culture and community. What has and hasn’t changed in her life says a lot about the social and economic changes sweeping through Vietnam.

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OK, now I get to tag other authors. And this is when I start bending rules. When I was tagged for this post, I had several authors in mind. But it turns out not all of them fit the mold of this meme. I know authors who have taken a hiatus from public work and life—to reconnect with their own world. I know others who are not yet allowed to promote their own books, according to their publishing contracts. And then I know authors whose work has already been published—but I want you to know about it anyway.

So here’s what I’m doing. I’m listing several authors I admire—way more than five. Some of these people have been huge supporters in my writing life—and beyond their own work, it’s important to know what good human beings these writers are. All of these folks have books currently out or on the way. They may or may not follow through with this meme. But who cares? They’re doing great things, and the world should know! This, by no means, is a comprehensive list. Just a few people whose work you might like to see. I give you the links, and I leave it to you to discover who they are.

Janet Brown, author of the forthcoming Almost Home.

Dan Fagin, author of the forthcoming Toms River.

Kim Fay, author of The Map of Lost Memories.

Leah McGrath Goodman, author of The Asylum.

Sasha Martin, author of the forthcoming The Spiced Life.

Mike Ormsby, author of Spinner the Winner. (This one’s for your kids.)

Jonny Waldman, author of a forthcoming book about Rust.

Tara Austen Weaver, author of a forthcoming book about her garden—and what a powerful metaphor that place can be.

Florence Williams, author of Breasts.

And beyond all these, I invite you to check out my fellow fellows at the Schuster Institute, which offers up a whole platter of great books and important reporting.

Enjoy!