Brave-ish’s Lisa Niver: Traveling, Foodie Adventures & Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins Recipe

Taste Buds with Deb - Episode 21
September 6, 2023
Lisa Niver (Photo by Judith Gigliotti)

Food and travel go hand in hand.

“The thing most people reference when they come back from traveling is the great food experiences that they’ve had,” travel writer and Jewish Journal blogger Lisa Niver, author of “Brave-ish: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless After Fifty,” told the Journal. “One of the best things to do besides try new food is to try new food with someone … It makes a big impression because it impacts so many of your senses.”

Whether you seek out food adventures abroad, in another state or close to home, there are plenty of options. It’s not just about trying new restaurants. “I took a great cooking class in Vietnam, and they actually took us walking from the restaurant to the market.” They pointed out what’s in season and talked about what food they were going to make. It was also a great opportunity to strike up conversations with locals, as they know all the best places, from restaurants to bakeries. “Be curious,” Niver said. “Talk to people.”

Niver also recalled a cooking class she took in Tuscany. “We made fresh pasta, we got to wear funny hats — I liked that part — and I tasted lots of different wines,” Niver said. “There were amazing desserts, we made different sauces and they gave us the recipes.”

A cooking class is a great activity for traveling, but it’s also a way to travel without leaving home. For instance, a class Niver took at Sur la Table in Los Angeles was a delicious and social experience. “We got to taste everything,” she said. “Usually you work in a group of four, six or eight, and sometimes different tables in the cooking class are making different parts of the meal.” Niver said that she talked to everyone, found out where they were from and why they were there. “I made lots of new, best friends,” she said. 

For those who want to be more brave with their food adventures, Niver suggests pairing up with a friend. “One of the things I learned from scuba diving [is to] never go underwater without a buddy,” she said. “When I’m at a restaurant, one of my most favorite things to do is share, because I want to try more than one thing.” The other benefit to pairing up, is, if you are not sure about something on the menu, perhaps your friend will order it. “My friends from college, Carl and Heather, will eat pretty much anything,” she said. “So sometimes, if I’m a little bit interested in something, they order it, and I can taste it … Most of the time in full honesty I don’t even taste it, but I like to see them eat it; they get very happy.”

While Niver enjoys cooking some of the Jewish dishes she grew up with, especially something like brisket for the holidays, one of her favorite things to make is chocolate chip banana muffins. 

When traveling, “I basically bring my elementary school lunch on the plane,” she said. Niver packs a lot of food for road trips too.

Along with her muffins, Niver takes a little bag of carrots, hard-boiled eggs, those little red cheeses (Babybel) and crackers. “I literally eat the whole plane ride,” she said. “I’m having my smorgasbord as I cross different time zones.”

Another tip for travel, Niver suggests, is to make an effort when interacting with the locals. “When I was first starting to travel, I had spent a semester in Jerusalem,” she said. “Some of my friends were in other places around the world, and I went to visit.” She continued, “When I was in Paris, I walked into a shop [and] talked in English, and everyone ignored me.” 

In the next shop, Niver tried another approach. “I spoke not very good Spanish with my terrible accent … to a woman who promptly answered me in English,” she said. “And the lesson I took away from that is, if you make even a small, not great, effort, people appreciate that, so I always have tried to learn a few words.”

Remember, you don’t need to cross oceans to have new experiences. “I think that people get caught up in what other people are doing,” Niver said. You don’t need to quit your job and travel around the United States in an RV or live abroad in hostels for six months. “It doesn’t have to be that dramatic,” Niver said. “If you’re not traveling much, my suggestion is to start close to home. There are so many adventures in your own backyard.”

Learn more about Lisa Niver and “Brave-ish.”

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast:

Watch the interview:

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

5 large bananas
¾ cup white sugar
1 egg
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
1 ½ c flour
1 cup chocolate chips

On a plate, cut the 5 bananas into small pieces. Add to bowl and mash bananas with a spoon.

Add sugar, egg, oil and mix well.

Add remaining dry ingredients and mix well.

Spoon into muffin papers, which I put in a muffin tin.

Cook for 20 min at 375 degrees.


Debra Eckerling is a writer for the Jewish Journal and the host of “Taste Buds with Deb.Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. Email Debra: tastebuds@jewishjournal.com.

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