A Dog Named Zion


Zion, our adventure dog

It’s almost as if I knew I’d be missing my dog, Zion. I had uploaded photos of him so I would have them available on my iPhone for whenever I was near wifi. It’s only been a short time but I miss him dearly. I’m use to his morning “wake-up” of licking my hand from the side of the bed to his goodnight pet before he retires to his pillow each night.


Posing with Mt. Fuji in the background on one of his hikes

He’s a good dog who has been with our family for approximately three years now. He was a stray dog at one of the facilities that I oversaw in Rota, Spain. I was at the facility taking pictures in hopes of getting all the dogs adopted out. In true Zion fashion, he lavished me in doggy kisses and I was SOLD! Next up was my husband who was a bit harder to convince but came around in the end (truth be told, Zion and him are now the best of buds!).

Those initial months together were some of the most grueling. We were establishing our pack order, taking obedience lessons, getting use to having to consider Zion in our plans, and more. Throw into the mix that we found out we would be moving half way around the world to Japan (with some pretty intense animal import regulations)! It’s all been worth it though because what we have received in return has been a dog that loves us with all his heart, a great exercise partner, an adventurous hiker, world traveler and one cool dog.


Sleeping with his toy

So it’s not surprising that Zion is also a bit of a foodie (look at his parents)! He is served up homemade dog food because we believe that he should also be eating healthy, balanced food. This is his favorite recipe. I love it because you can adapt it to whatever you have on hand (no broccoli but peas, why not!). Hope your dog agrees!



Whipping up a batch of Zion’s food

Customizable Dog Food Recipe


2 chicken leg quarters (or chicken breasts)
1 cup brown rice
1 pound ground beef
2/3 cup rolled oats
1 (10 ounce) package chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans – rinsed, drained and mashed
2 carrots, shredded
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup olive oil

Place the chicken leg quarters in a large pot, and fill with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 40 minutes. Remove the legs and allow to cool. Strain and return the cooking liquid to the pot. Once the legs have cooled. remove and discard the skin and bones; chop the meat, and set aside. Stir the brown rice into the reserved chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender, 45 to 50 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid, and add the rice to the bowl with the chicken.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the ground beef. Cook and stir until the beef is crumbly and no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Pour off any excess grease, and place the beef into the bowl.

Stir in the oats, spinach, broccoli, kidney beans, carrots, garlic, cottage cheese, and olive oil. Store the dog food in resealable containers in the freezer. Thaw the daily portions overnight in the refrigerator.

Note: We like to use the food processor to finely chop all items together. We freeze into containers that hold about 3-4 days worth of food. We usually double the recipe and we have enough for about 3-4 weeks.

On My Way to the Camino de Santiago

Cruising the hillside

Hiking in Andalusia. Looking forward to some more spectacular views in Spain!

It’s close!!

So close that in a few hours, I’ll be departing my house for the next several weeks. In less than a day, I’ll be relaxing Paris and eat plenty of pan au chocolat before making my way to St. Jean Pied de Port to start the Camino de Santiago.  The range of emotions that I’m experiencing right now is overwhelming; I’m on my own personal emotional roller coaster. Excited, nervous, exhilarated, overwhelmed, ecstatic, scared…

I’ve realized in the last few days that I a lot of anxiety for this trip stems from our failed Camino trip.  Exactly five years ago, we planned this trip. We got as close as prepping our bags, training and coordinating every last details. Ultimately we cancelled the trip the night before we departed. It was necessary decision. It was hard decision. It was a lesson in being a responsible adult. That was because we couldn’t, in good conscience, leave when there was so much going on at work.

It is said that you are called to the Camino. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement but I also think that you have to be ready for the lessons you will learn along the way. Part of our lesson was not being selfish and managing our obligations. I think we chose properly and in turn, we were offered another opportunity to make this dream a reality. We realize that this is not the norm and we intend to fully enjoy it. It’s a bit of a homecoming to Spain for us!

So with that my friends, I’m off. I will be disconnecting a bit. A social media detox is needed. I will be walking, meeting new friends, and socializing along the trail. Hopefully making memories that will last a lifetime! It’s not that I forgot you; I’m just doing what the Camino has asked of me.

I won’t be updating my blog much during my time away. I will however be dropping in via Facebook so please make your way to my page and “like” it to get updates of the trail, photos along the way, and more.

Buen Camino!

Rebujitos & World Sherry Day


A taste of Andalusia!

Oh, rebujitos!

It’s early May and that has me dreaming (again) of Spain. Partially because I’m heading back in a few days for vacation but mainly due to several of my (evil) friends who are posting all their feria pictures on Facebook. The brightly-colored ruffled dresses, young men on horses, dancers stomping and clapping, tapas, and general merriment with good friends.

Rebujitos are the drink of feria season. The drink was simple, requiring only manzanilla and 7-Up. It was served by the glass; or for those sharing, by the pitcher. It’s a great introduction to sherry wine. Manzanilla is slightly sweeter and you can temper its intensity with 7-Up. The taste of sherry is unique. It tastes of sunshine, the chalky yellow soil of the area, and the salty sea air that blows over the vineyards. For me, it’s Andalusia in a glass!

It also seems fitting that this year, there will be the first ever World Sherry Day  on Sunday, May 26. There are events around the world from Andalusia all the way to Japan! They vary from gatherings with friends to large events put on by restaurants and bodegas. I am sad that I won’t be able to attend an event here in Japan but believe me, I will find my way to some sherry along the Camino de Santiago to toast this wonderful wine with everyone around the world!




Enjoy a rebujito this year in honor of World Sherry Day!

La Gitana manzanilla
7-Up (or Sprite) soda

Fill glass with ice. Pour as much manzanilla as you want. Top off with 7-Up.

The above is the traditional form served at feria. You can dressed it up by adding an orange/lemon slice or  lemon/orange juice. I once served it in a champagne flute with a blood orange slices.


O’ngo Cooking School – Seoul, South Korea


Stone bibimbop
photo credit: L. Cordes

I’ve always loved cooking and baking. From a very early age, I was helping my mother in the kitchen or whipping up what I called “Courtney Creations.” However, it wasn’t until 2006 that I had a travel “a-ha” moment.

My husband and I were planning our one-year anniversary trip to Italy. I was researching things to do while we were there and a pasta-making class popped up. Hmm, I have always wanted to learn how to make fresh pasta….and I love Italian food…and free-flowing Chianti wine, YES please! I promptly signed us up for our first cooking class in a foreign country. Seemed like a small decision at that point in our lives but it has forever changed how I/we travel the world.

Teamwork making the pasta

Making homemade pasta during our first cooking class
Florence, Italy

The class was loads of fun! We rolled pasta, made friends with our fellow students, laughed over our “red” pasta when one person dumped wine all over the pasta, and had a leisurely late lunch with “family” because let’s be real, we felt like family at that point! There’s something about joining around a table after learning and cooking together that makes you feel connected to those around you more than any other type of tour. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip and our pasta-making skills have now been shared with many hungry guests in our home.

Fast forward seven years and I have now taken cooking classes and food tours around the world from Spain to Japan. The latest one was on my girls weekend trip to Seoul. Our entire trip to Seoul focused on one of three things: food, photography, and more food. Ok, maybe we mixed some sightseeing into there but you get the point, we were there for Korea’s delicious food and to document this culinary adventure with our cameras.


Our instructor at O’ngo showing us how to properly chop the carrots

We signed up for a custom cooking class by O’ngo Cooking School. We all love the Korean dish bibimbap which consists of white rice, marinated beef, several types of vegetables, egg and the spicy gochujang sauce.  It can be served in a metal bowl, or our preferred way, in a heated stone bowl.

The class started at 10AM on but we arrived a little late. Note to fellow travelers to Seoul, the taxi drivers do not know where they’re going and/or they cannot be inconvenienced by dropping you in front of the building. So while the taxis are cheap, we would’ve been better off taking the metro because of clear directions from the metro stop. Instead, we had a taxi driver who dropped us on a major road and pointed down a road before driving off. After 45 minutes of wandering the streets, asking for directions and retracing our steps, we finally stumbled into the cooking school 30 minutes late.


O’ngo cooking school in the heart of Seoul
photo credit: T. Hong-Sandmel

We quickly washed our hands as our instructor began preparing and showing us how to recreate the stone bibimbap dish. The dish is relatively easy and can be cooked quickly in the house. It just requires chopping, marinating and then cooking the meat and several vegetables. Our instructor said that Koreans prefer around 5 different colors in the bibimbap dish (and that works beautifully for food photography as well!). After she completed her demonstration, it was our turn to whip out the dish. We had fun chopping, cooking and taking pictures along the way.


Mixed greens salad with a mustard-sesame dressing

While our stone bibimbaps were sizzling on the stovetop, we prepared a simple mixed green salad. I had never thought of a mustard-sesame dressing but it was divine. The dressing was easy to whip up with mustard, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil (Korean sesame oil is fabulous – seek it out!) and sesame seeds. The surprise ingredient to the salad greens was sesame leaves which Koreans think are a good mix with meals that serve meat.

Once everything was cooked, we were able to sit down and enjoy our lunch together. We took plenty of pictures prior to eating but once we did, the room became quiet. The type of silence that comes from enjoying your hard work learning a traditional dish of the culture you’re visiting.


Lunch is served!
photo credit: T. Hong-Sandmel

It was a great experience and we thoroughly enjoyed our time at O’ngo Cooking School. The company offers cooking classes as well as food tours around the city in English. We were unable to do on any of those tours but I hope to next time I visit Seoul.

I’ve included a mixture of photos from the cooking class. My friends allowed me to share their photos as well. It’s nice having friends who are such talented photographers!


Our ingredients for bibimbap
photo credit: L. Cordes


Our instructor showing us how to make bibimbap
photo credit: T. Hong-Sandmel


Now it’s my turn to cook!
photo credit: L. Cordes


My fellow foodie photogs preparing their bibimbaps


Stone bibimbaps cooking on the stove
photo credit: L. Cordes


My best impersonation of Julia Child
photo credit: T. Hong-Sandmel

A Day of Firsts


Performing tea ceremony
Photo credit: NAF ATSUGI MWR

It was a day of firsts….

My first time performing tea ceremony.

My first time wearing a kimono.

My first time being asked for an autograph.

My first time having insanely large camera lenses in my face!

The morning of the performance I was a nervous wreck. Would I mess up? Would I be able to walk in zori shoes? Would I remember the Japanese phrases, or mash them all together like I’d been doing throughout the week? Deep breath in, exhale…

An experienced fellow tea student told us that many Japanese don’t fully know the intricacies of tea ceremony.  So while we aim for perfection, slight mess-ups probably would go unnoticed. Whew!

Throw in the wind that kept toppling our chasaku (tea scoop), the addition of a stand to hold up the chasen (tea whisk) and all those other “X” factors, we learned to just give into the moment and enjoy the experience.

In the end, we were thanked by many for serving them tea, learning an ancient Japanese art, explaining tea ceremony procedure to them, and allowing them to photograph us.

It was a beautiful day and I can’t wait for my next performance.



Pouring in the hot water.
Photo credit: NAF ATSUGI MWR


Cleaning the chasen, or tea whisk
Photo was given to me by Japanese participant


Caught enjoying the performance!
Photo was given to me by Japanese participant