Category Archives: Contributor

Doors of Somerville: A Photo Walk

Today we’re going to do something a little different. It’s time for you to see Somerville, Massachusetts — TwT style. The approach: a “photo walk.” The theme: “doors.” The partner in crime: my awesome, crafty friend Molly. Allow me to explain.

Molly is the mastermind behind this project. Luckily she thought of me to help her do it! Of course, as soon as my physics exam was behind me, I was all over it. Inspired by a blog (and Molly’s upcoming trip to Kenya and Tanzania — “jealous” does not begin to describe how I feel…), we decided to do a “photo walk” in Somerville. This basically consisted of us walking around, taking photos of anything that caught our eye in an area that doesn’t get many “photographers.” We looked a little creepy and stalker-ish, but I think Somerville appreciated the love. As we snapped photos of the ‘hood, we kept to Molly’s predetermined theme: doors.

Tavel and Molly, Somerville “Photo Walk.” Theme: Doors. Photo by Tavel.

Here is a collection of our photographs. If you have a favorite, feel free to give it some love as a comment. In other words, if you have what I call a “Doorgasm,” do share it (hehehehe… OK, this term accidentally flew out of my mouth when I saw an awesome door today and claimed to have a “doorgasm” in front of Molly. I almost called this post “Doorgasm,” in fact, but was worried what Google searches might bring me…).

I know, blah blah blah, you just want to see the photos. So… here they are. Hopefully they give you some sense of the ‘hood. As always, feel free to contribute! If you have taken a photo of an awesome door in some far off land and you want to share the image, feel free to do so by attaching a link as a comment.

Enjoy! (Let us know what you think!)

(1) By Tavel.

(2) By Tavel.

(3) By Tavel.

(4) By Tavel.

(5) By Tavel.

(6) By Tavel.

(8) By Tavel.

(9) By Tavel.

(10) By Tavel.

(11) By Molly.

(12) By Molly.

(13) By Molly.

(14) By Molly.

(15) By Molly.

(16) By Molly.

(17) By Molly.

(18) By Molly.

(19) By Molly.

(20) By Molly.

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Filed under Contributor, Photography, Somerville, Uncategorized

TwT Travel Playlist, The 2012 Edition

As I wake up for yet another physics-filled day, I can’t help but fantasize about making a break for it, and running/flying/getting away from all the incredibly hard work… The easy route is always tempting, but it’s never as thrilling (right… RIGHT?! Now is when you convince me this is true…). My creative spirit feels a little like a caged bird, or a plant that flowers in summer but has to be kept in the basement this year. My brain is mush, I’m exhausted,  and I’m just about to hit the halfway point in the most intense course I’ve ever taken (and I complained last year? HA!).

View. Sint Maarten. Netherlands Antilles.

But don’t worry! I’m used to dealing with this urge to escape every now and then. It’s in my blood. While I must be patient, I’m so looking forward to getting my time back to play with as I wish. (Only 4 weeks to go!) But just because I’m stuck in physics molasses (don’t get me started on drag forces…), that doesn’t mean my mind has to stay completely still. That’s the thing about wanderlust…

Horse statue. Rome, Italy.

A few years ago, we put together what has now become a pretty out-dated list of “Ultimate Travel Songs.” So, as a pleasant distraction for me and a fun opportunity for you, it is time to refresh this list with new music! I will now request that you — once again — provide me with a list of your CURRENT favorite travel songs. Again, this is not about judging people’s musical sensibilities; it is escapism through sound, wanderlust through music, a chance to get that excited little flutter in your heart that you (I?) get when you realize you’re headed somewhere foreign, and it feels like anything is possible. It’s that feeling on an airplane, when you take out your headphones because the captain announces you’re about to make the descent — the long trip somewhere is over, and you’re almost there. It’s that energy you get when you’re in a car with friends about to pull up to your first beach vacation of the summer and music is blasting through the speakers. It’s that stream of steady sound that accompanies you as you walk to work everyday, contemplating your next vacation, your love life, your hopes and dreams…

Prayers outside a shrine. Tokyo, Japan.

OK ok, you get the idea. Now don’t be shy!

Lantern in Sultan’s bathroom. Topkapi Palace. Istanbul, Turkey.

Please leave, as a comment, a list of 1 to 5 songs (with title and artist) that form the soundtrack for some sort of getaway — whether it is a getaway in your mind while you sit for another day in your sub-zero office chair wondering how to get out, an actual playlist you would play on your way to a perfect beach weekend, or a song that you listen to during a long flight to that new country you’ve been anticipating for years…

Guard outside Topkapi Palace. Istanbul, Turkey.

Once I have a decent list, I will add it to my “Music” tab with YouTube videos for every song. If you don’t do this for yourself, do it for me! I need new music, I need to daydream, and I need TwT to take me away from science, at least for a little while…

Cheers, and THANK YOU!!

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Filed under Contributor, Life Stuff, List, music, Travel, Uncategorized

A Brief Tour of Cairo

Time to reveal the Mystery Snapshot! But first, I want to quickly say THANK YOU to the past four weeks. My staycation has come to its inevitable end, and tomorrow I head back to school for more NYU pre-med intensity. It’s been a pleasure having a social life again, but farewell dear friends… Back into the study cave I go. (Although, I am determined to have a little more control over this semester — both academically and socially, so we’ll see how it pans out.)


The Mystery Snapshot was taken outside of Hatshepsut’s Temple, built just outside the Valley of the Kings (Cairo, Egypt). Andy, you are the official Mystery Snapshot winner. Good job! Egypt is one of those places I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Some day, I will actually get over there. For now, I’ve got this post.

Below, guest contributor, Raechel H. explains more about Hatshepsut’s Temple and about Cairo itself. (Enjoy!)

Guest Contributor Raechel H. w Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt.

By Raechel H:

Random fact about Hatshepsut: She was the longest-reigning female ruler in Ancient Egyptian history.  She ruled for 22 years, when she took over for her husband.  Basically, her son, Tuthmosis III was supposed to take over, but Hatshepsut declared that he was too young to assume the throne. Instead, she sent him to military school abroad, and ruled herself.  Eventually, Tuthmosis III came back, took over, and then tried to erase Hatshepsut from Egyptian history.  She built tons of temples, obelisks, and other monuments to the gods, and Tuthmosis tried to destroy all of them – thankfully he did not succeed.

What’s really cool (in my opinion) is that for the longest time it was believed that Hatshepsut’s mummy was missing.  Turns out, they found the mummy of Hatshepsut’s favorite nurse in her tomb, and found a tooth in some kind of box. A few years ago, they x-rayed the box, and the tooth fit PERFECTLY in another mummy that was already in the Egyptian museum in Cairo!  So they had Hatshepsut’s mummy all along!

Foreground: courtyard of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (symbol of ancient Egypt). Background: Mubarak's National Democratic Party HQ, a symbol of Egyptian modernity

Egypt is a place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a kid, and especially during the past year (which is no surprise to the people that know me, I’m sure).  Egypt provides a fascinating juxtaposition of ancient and modern culture, in the cross-world between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the Middle East.

Pyramids. Cairo, Egypt. Photo by RH.

Cairo itself is an enigma of sorts; it is absolutely overflowing with people (approximately 18 million officially, but more likely close to 21 million residents), and every one of them seems to have a car. All of that on top of ancient aquaducts, pyramids at the city limits (you can see the Cairo skyline from Giza), ancient markets, and the Citadel.  Traffic in Cairo is like nothing I’ve ever experienced — absolute gridlock at all times of day, with the exception of Friday mornings when everyone is at prayer or at home.

Cairo graffiti outside voting site for Parliamentary elections. Photo by RH.

During the Revolution, I didn’t understand why my friends who live in Cairo were making such a big deal about no one being on the roads, about it being completely shut down – but now I certainly do.  The traffic itself is absolutely fascinating. Cairo drivers get into this rhythm where they’re able to find every hole in every lane as they progress down a highway or main thoroughfare, and that’s how they progress from point A to point B.  Lane lines, when present, are merely suggestions – not absolute.  And most times, you’ll see at least one car, truck, or motorbike driving the opposite direction from the rest of the traffic.  As multiple Egyptians told me, this is “democracy in action – you can drive whichever way you like. If people don’t like it, they can have another revolution!”  Crazy to hear members of the Egyptian military joke about this, but it’s a good sign that people are proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Solar boat, discovered in the 1980s. It was found buried in The Great Pyramid. Its purpose was to transport the Pharoah to the afterlife (in particular, to the Sun God, Ra). Photo by RH.

I was fortunate enough to be there during the Parliamentary elections – seeing lines of men and women at the polls was pretty inspiring.  I was able to hit up the Khan el-Khalili (the famous market), wandering around the Ali Muhammad mosque and the Citadel, meandering through Islamic Cairo, trying out fantastic restaurants, and walking through Tahrir Square (although we were discouraged to do so).

Temple of Hatshepsut. Photo by RH.

Obelisk built by Hatshepsut, which Tuthmosis III tried to destroy by essentially covering it up. Ironically, this just preserved the obelisk, leaving much of the original details visible. Photo by RH.

During my trip, I was able to check out Luxor. I left as Cairo started to get crazy again (there was a sit-in at Parliament that led to clashes between different sides), which was probably good timing.  Luxor is the complete opposite of Cairo: it’s pretty tiny, there are only a few hotels where tourists stay, and you absolutely have to take a cab to get from point A to point B.  Luxor is more restrictive than Cairo in that sense – in Cairo we could walk around a lot more (mainly because there were things close by, in Luxor that’s not really the case).  Since I was solo, I hired a guide and a driver (a friend of mine connected me with a good company), and saw Karnak and Luxor temples before exploring the Valley of the Kings and Colossi of Memnon.

Cartouche for Ramses II, the longest ruler of Ancient Egypt (this particular cartouche is engraved all over Karnak Temple in Luxor). Photo by RH.

The guide and I talked about a lot of things — the revolution in Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, the impact of everything on Egyptian tourism (tourism has obviously taken a major hit, which is problematic), the efforts that the government is making to regulate and organize things a bit more (to try and give licenses so folks can set up stalls to sell things outside of tourist areas rather than letting various people bombard tourists who are trying to enjoy what they’re seeing), and Luxor itself. After everything we discussed, I left with a bit of hope that maybe Egypt, post-election, can go back to a semi-normal state.

Mosque built at what was street level before they discovered the Luxor Temple. The mosque is still a functioning prayer site. Photo by RH.

Additions to Luxor Temple made by Alexander the Great. Photo by RH.

I definitely need to go back and see more – there are tons of sites in Luxor that I was not able to explore, and I did not make it down to Aswan or along the southern border (which I’ve been told is pretty amazing).  Hopefully, I’ll be able to make that happen soon – and I’m always looking for someone to travel with me if anyone is interested!

Luxor Temple, Egypt.

Egyptian Sunset. Photo by RH.

Raechel lives and works in Washington, DC; Raechel and Tavel met while Raechel was conducting a Fulbright Fellowship in Brussels, Belgium.  While Egypt was phenomenal, Raechel’s favorite place to travel is Rome, where she spent a year abroad. She hopes to continue to cross countries and continents off her bucket list, and will head to Costa Rica this Summer with her family.

So there ya have it – Egypt. THANK YOU Raechel for contributing to TwT!

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Filed under Africa, Contributor, Egypt, Mystery Snapshots, Travel

That Summer Place

Summer has arrived. YAY YAY YAY. (If you haven’t picked up on this by now, I’m a major warm-weather girl.) But this year, I’m a student in the big city. I need your help getting to those special summer places we’ve all been before… The ones that give you chills of excitement during the winter, the ones for which we wait all year, the ones that come with dripping slices of watermelon and pink toenail polish — BBQs outside, humidity-heavy breezes, and road trips out of the city, the ones that are about to arrive because TODAY is the very first day of my favorite season… It’s sweet, sweet SUMMER TIME!!

View of Adirondack chair and pool at my parents' place upstate. Dutchess County, NY.

Last year I spent my summer in the perpetual spring of Quito, Ecuador. I was over 9,000 ft up in the stunning Andes mountains, but couldn’t stop dreaming about sea level. This year, I will fill my summer with as many weekends in Dutchess County by the pool as I can. Man, I love summer weekends.

No matter where future summers take me, the summers of my childhood can never be replaced. Back then, life was as simple as the crinkly grass under my feet. All I was looking for in my life was blue sea glass or an extra pretty shell. I spent each summer at a beach house on the North Shore of Greenport, LI called Rocky Bluff. My parents began renting the house with another couple before they even got married. We continued to spend our summers in Greenport until there were just too many Tavels to squeeze in the old cottage. Not to mention, rents skyrocketed as the nearby Hamptons became, well, THE Hamptons, but Greenport always remained a slice of Heaven; it had the happiness and peace of a still-undiscovered perfect place, far away from the swankiness of the it-town.

Summers revolved around life in the backyard eating corn on the cob with our neighbors, and playing imaginary games of shipwrecks with my then three siblings using the washed up driftwood, seaweed and garbage that covered the shore. Our backyard smelled constantly of ocean and honeysuckle, fruit was as ripe and fresh as I’ve ever tasted it, and we’d eat only vegetables from our overly successful garden, which we tended to daily with the help of my once organic-farmer dad and our neighbor Byron, who looked like Elvis Presley. Oh, and the fresh fruit pies from Briermere Farms – the best, freshest pies in the world. How could I ever forget the pies?!

This summer, I’m obviously doing the whole student-thing (and they weren’t kidding: it’s hard work!). I’m also writing, and working on a book dream. But no complaints! Things are off to a wonderful start. I’ve got some really good new people in the picture and great old ones, too. I’m doing my best to balance everything (school, writing, pressures of academia, friends, special friends…) with summer’s sweet charm, but  things are inevitably going to spin off-balance here and there, and that’s ok. I just hope I can get some “summer” out of this summer, while working my butt off.

Wave. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

As we all know, I’m staying put for a bit. (Read: a “bit” — this is deliberately vague, as we never really know where life will take us next. Can I please still believe in that a little?) I’ve begun wanderlust-ing for Thailand pretty hardcore. Not to mention the constant yearning to stroll beside the Alhambra with the sweet citrus scent of orange trees and ham in Southern Spain, or even the simple and constant desire to be by the sea, near wild blueberries, somewhere far away from the city…

But summer as a student in the city is different. And mine needs your help.

Because I cannot travel right now, I would like everyone to contribute — as a comment — a few sentences about their favorite summer place (how does it feel, smell, sound, and taste? where is it? why there?).  What is your ideal summer setting? Let’s all sip a sangria (or iced coffee, depending on time of day people!) while we read, and let real life and it’s imperfectly busy moments wash away with our footprints in the sand, at least for a few shared moments on TwT…

Take us to your summer place, wherever it may be, and feel free to recommend exact hotels, beaches, B&Bs, or whatever…

Now, about that sangria… I’ve gotta make some. And soon.


Filed under Contributor, Life Stuff, School, Travel, Uncategorized

And Nothing Happened…

I don’t know much about avalanches, but today’s TwT contributor, Tom H., came very close to learning a bit too much about them. As one of the last  (if not the last) guest contributors for February Contributor Month, let’s see if we can dodge a few avalanches with him.

By the way, I took the month of February off to see what a month might bring in terms of my future plans. During this month, more than I expected has come together. You’ll have to wait for the next post, written by ME, to finally learn more about that…

And Nothing Happened

By Tom Hazel.

On Sunday January 30th, 2011, I sat in a conference room at the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. The avalanche awareness course I was taking was almost over. The last thing we did was watch a short documentary called, “A Dozen More Turns” (Parts 1, 2 and 3), which describes an avalanche that struck five experienced skiers on a hut trip in Montana. The avalanche danger was High, but the skiers stayed in the trees on a low angle slope, hoping to mitigate their risk. As Doug Chabot, says in the film, “they were doing a lot of things right,” but the risk was High, they still went skiing, and someone didn’t come home. In that moment I decided that I wouldn’t go skiing when the avalanche risk was Considerable or High. Easy decision.

Tom H. (red jacket, white goggles) and friends. Photo by John Davies.

Four weeks later I found myself on a similar trip in Eastern Oregon with an eclectic mix of friends hailing from New England, Texas, San Francisco and  the Pacific Northwest. We knew going in that the avalanche danger was Considerable-High because of an unstable snow layer about three feet below the surface. Here I was on my first trip after the avalanche awareness course, and already I was being tempted by great snow to break my own safety rules.

Just like the guys in “A Dozen More Turns,” we started out by playing it safe. On day one we decided to stick to some low angle terrain covered in trees. Both the angle and the trees make avalanches less likely.This was my first backcountry trip and I was nervous in the first place. The more experienced members of the group seemed cautious, but not worried. The only experience I had with this area was reading the avalanche forecasts before the trip. These guys knew what they were doing; they wouldn’t be putting themselves at risk, right?

Snow-covered mountain. Oregon. Photo by Tom H.

We picked out the lowest angle route up to the top of the ridge. Low angle was the theme for the day. Most avalanches occur on slopes between 35-45 degrees. Slopes under 30 degrees are considered pretty safe. The downside in our situation was that there was too much snow to ski on slopes much less than 30 degrees. With 20 inches of new snow, a 25 degree slope isn’t really steep enough to ski on; it ends up being more of a hike downhill. Any slope above 30 was potentially unsafe, anything below 30 was almost unskiable. We had a clinometer (a tool for determining slope), and the route up was just about 30 degrees.

On the way up we heard a loud WOOMPF. A “woompf” is a scary thing in the backcountry. Imagine you’re minding your business, hiking up a nice 30 degree slope, when all of a sudden you hear a loud sound from under you. Your skis drop an inch and all the snow on the surrounding trees falls off. We immediately looked for signs of an avalanche.

Tom's friends Sam and John examining layers in a snow pit. Oregon. Photo by Brian R.

In this case, nothing moved.  The sound is caused by a layer of snow collapsing somewhere beneath you. A woompf gives a skier two important pieces of information: First, there is indeed a weak snow layer somewhere beneath you; and second, your weight is enough to collapse that layer. Neither of these pieces of information bode well for a safe trip. A bit shaken, we pressed on being sure to stay away from open areas.

Another WOOMPF. Shit. Should we really be up here? I knew that we were on a slope angle that was supposed to be safe, but I sure didn’t feel safe. I tried to keep my heart rate down and not freak out. I was sweating, but not from the hiking. It was that nervous kind of sweat that you get when speaking in public or waking up from a bad dream. We backed down the slope a bit and changed course, hopefully in a safer direction.

Before too long, we made it to the top of the ridge. Our ideal route would have taken us down the steeper northwestern side of the ridge. We dug some snowpits on that side of the ridge to test stability. As it turns out, the northwest side of the ridge was not very stable, so we went back to the lower angle side. We skied each pitch one at a time, in case anything happened. I was pumped to start heading downhill and it was great to make a few turns. The snow was amazing, but the low angle meant slower skiing. Despite my apprehension at every turn, we all ended up at the bottom, safe and sound. We were happy and wanted more. We took a couple more laps along the same route, accompanied by the sound of a a few more WOOMPFS, but nothing else.

Slope in Oregon. Photo by John Davies.

I was worried. The “woompfing” really freaked me out. I wasn’t sure if it made sense to ski another day. The group made the choice to ski a bit steeper terrain the next day. Being cautious and remembering the documentary, I decided it wasn’t worth it and stayed back at camp. In the afternoon people started trickling back in. They spoke of an amazing day of skiing. Once again, everyone came back safe. Maybe I was being too cautious.

With a 10 am departure from camp, only the early risers had time to ski on the third day. Four of us woke up early that morning to try to get a last few turns in. We got our gear on and left around 6:30 am. We hiked up a southwestern slope right behind the camp — the steepest we’d skied all trip — but it was nearby and there hadn’t been any problems so far, so we thought there wouldn’t be too much more risk. I heard a couple big “woompfs” and a couple small ones on the way up. The trees were tightly packed, but we were hiking up right next to a more dangerous open area.

Trees are a mixed blessing in avalanche terrain. A group of tightly packed trees can make a slope more stable. The cumulative effect of many trees adds stability to the snowpack. However, trees by themselves can cause problems. Snow tends to be thinner and less cohesive around the base of trees. Especially conifers with their wide bases. When the snowpack is less cohesive, it is easier to break off and cause an avalanche. Areas that are completely devoid of trees make for some of the best skiing, but since there are no anchors to hold the snow in place, they are riskier.

We decided not to hike up to the top because we would’ve passed through an open area. We got ourselves ready to head down through a tight cluster of trees. I was the second to go and followed the first set of tracks pretty closely. There was an easy pitch at first, and I made some nice turns before rounding a corner into another slope. It was much steeper, just the sort of thing we were supposed to avoid. I can remember my brain splitting into two parts: One part of me knew it was some of the best skiing I’d ever experience, the other half was petrified about starting a slide. I made my first few turns and then…

Nothing happened. There was no slide. The snowpack felt solid below my skis. We were all fine.

Freeland (Tom and my friend) hauling a sled full of gear out from the huts on the last day. Photo by Tom H.

On the five mile hike back to the car I was swimming in thoughts about the experience. Was I a better skier now because I had experienced more difficult conditions? Or had I lost some of my fear and respect for what I was doing? Was I more likely to make bad choices because nothing happened? Did we just get lucky?

I guess there’s no way to know until the next time I head into the backcountry.

Tom Hazel is a software engineer by day who splits his time between Boston and Austin. He spent a year shoring up his skiing chops in Salt Lake City, but has since settled down on the ski hills of New England. Tom shares some Barcelona routes with the Tavel herself, but most of his recent travels have been centered around finding good snow. You can follow him @TheRealTHazel.


Filed under Contributor, Natural Disasters, Travel, Uncategorized, USA, Winter

Incredible Crunchy TwT Flavor

Travel, food… Food, travel… The two go hand-in-hand. Ahhh, yes (that was a content sigh, not an AHHH!!!! — just for the record).


This reminds me of the first essay I ever wrote in college. It was for one of my favorite professors, Kidder S. (we just called him Kidder). I was a young, nervous freshman taking an Asian studies freshman seminar called Seekers Lives, which focused on different paths to enlightenment and Truth (capital T – just trust me: there’s a big difference between Truth and truth). I had no idea what to expect when I got my first essay back. The second Kidder handed it to me, I saw this written in big letters across the top: “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Now, I wasn’t sure what to think. So, after class, I asked Kidder what he meant: “Is this an ‘AHHH!!’ [I made an extended, horrified AH sound] or is this an ‘ahhhhhh, yes’ [I made a pleased and calm ahhh sound].” He looked at me, concerned, and said “oh, Tavel!” (yes he called me Tavel, as did everyone in college),”That was definitely an ‘Aha!’ ahhhhh, as in ‘yes yes yes!’ ” And that is when I learned the difference between AHHHH! and ahhhh…

Well that was a sloppy segway… (Asian studies… Asian food… errr…)

ANYWAYS: Today, my TwT blog goes hand-in-hand with one of my favorite food bloggers. In case you weren’t hungry enough, lets take a trip to China on a sub…

General Tso’s Tofu Sub

By IncredibleCrunchyFlavor, (also secretly known as Katinka).

i saw this recipe and was totally intrigued instantly. i mean, i love general tso’s and since i’ve been eating a lot of vegetarian bahn mi sandwiches recently (from eden center in falls church, virginia), flavored tofu on a bun with toppings was especially appealing.

so i got all psyched to make it, but then i actually read the recipe, and i realized you had to fry.

deep frying has always been the third rail of my cooking – the thing i won’t touch. my mom was (is) terrified of frying and never did it at home. i have carried on the feeling that frying is dangerous and best left to the pros.

fortunately, there was a note in the comments section that someone had pan fried it, so i decided to give that a try instead. (deep frying = entire pot of boiling oil. pan fry = half an inch or so of hot oil in a pan). but we’re not there yet.

i started with the edamame puree, which didn’t turn out so well. you are supposed to put ¾ of a cup of frozen, shelled edamame in blender with “just enough water to make a smooth paste.”

i don’t know if it was because it was such a small volume in my big ol’ blender or what, but i ended up adding more than a ¼ cup of water and it still never got nice and smooth the way i wanted it.

(Above: edamame paste next to ginger, garlic and soy sauce for the general tso’s sauce)

it occurred to me later that since you’re supposed to mayo the bread too, maybe i should have blended up the edamame with the mayo and some water to make one creamy spread.

next, the sauce. ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, white vinegar, mirin, sesame oil, red dry chinese chilis (i omitted), salt, sugar and xanthan gum (optional. i opted out) in the blender.

i didn’t know what sweet soy sauce was, and clearly didn’t have any, so i used an extra tablespoon of regular soy sauce.

this was probably a mistake. i learned later that sweet soy sauce is thick like molasses, which – with the xanthan gum – would have made the texture more like the traditional sticky general tso’s of chinese take-out fame. perhaps one tablespoon (instead of the required two) of actual molasses would have helped the texture without messing too much with the flavor.

also, the blender had a hard time with the ginger fibers, so if you have a microplane, i recommend microplaning the ginger first.

leave it in the blender for a long time…

for the pickles, i didn’t even bother with the blender. i chopped the shallot, ginger and garlic, and ended up shredding the scallions by hand, which worked well.

although, you better believe i was missing my mandoline for this part:

mix well and let sit.

now that we’ve got the puree, the sauce and the pickles, it’s time for the tofu.

make sure you are using extra firm. i used firm and it wasn’t firm enough, breaking when i was trying to handle it.

this breading-frying-assembling process moves really fast, so it’s best to have everything set out and ready.

make sure the tofu is very dry when you season it.

dip in egg, coat in panko and drop carefully into the oil.

while it’s frying away, toast the rolls, slice and schmear up.

when the tofu is golden brown, remove it from the oil and dunk it into the sauce.

(i can’t believe i was frying AND taking pictures. phew!)

load onto sandwich and top with some sesame seeds and pickles.

so for all my complaining, i bet you’ll be surprised to hear that the finished product was a huge hit.

the bread, which i had toasted gently in the oven, was warm and flakey on the outside, the tofu was crispy from the panko and super creamy on the inside, the pickles were crunchy and cool, the sauce was tangy… even the (chunky) edamame puree added a nice contrast in flavors.

would i make this again? no. way too much work for a sandwich. would i eat it again if someone made it for me? you betcha.

Incrediblecrunchyflavor is the creative outlet of a disenchanted federal government worker in Washington, DC (her name – yes her real name – is Katinka). Other things Katinka does to keep herself sane are kayak, volunteer, watch a lot of “Man vs Food,” discover really authentic Asian restaurants in the DC suburbs, and celebrate Champagne Thursday. If she could go anywhere in the world at this moment, it would be Tuftonboro, New Hampshire; Antigua, Guatemala; somewhere in Italy; or Tokyo, Japan. Check out more recipes and food porn on and you can follow her on Twitter, @crunchyflavor.


Filed under Asia, Contributor, Food

A Foggy Day in Galveston, Texas

Not all travel is glamorous. Not every trip seeks adventures and “the exotic.” Some trips are more rough around the edges — not because one stays at a hostel or camps in the woods. Not because we buy fancy outdoor gear for “roughing it” and take a guidebook along with us into the controlled unknown. Some places ruffle our feathers just enough to make one feel uncomfortable; it’s a welcome feeling, one that those eager to learn about the world actually seek out.

Today’s guest blogger shares her experience on an alternative spring break trip to Texas, post-Hurricane Ike, and explains what it feels like to go from an excited college kid ready to help, to a volunteer scraping mold and decay off of the walls of what was once someone’s home, sweet home.

A Foggy Day in Galveston, Texas

By Katie Woods.

It was a foggy day in Galveston, Texas, but the other student volunteers and I were smiling and laughing.  We were clad in hazmat suits, which made us feel like clunky spacemen on a mission.  But we weren’t headed to space.  We were about to gut a small house that had stewed untouched since Hurricane Ike hit Galveston about seven months prior.  Flood waters had ravaged the neighborhood we stood in, leaving it full of empty houses and overflowing dumpsters.  But my friends and I were taking photos of ourselves and goofing around.  For the time being, we felt good.

Overturned house in Galveston, Texas. Photo provided by Katie W.

We were in Galveston for Emerson College’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB). Rather than go on our own vacations, we decided to apply to build houses, feed the hungry, or clean beaches.  In 2008, a freshman, I went on my first ASB trip to Waveland, Mississippi, to work on Hurricane Katrina relief.  And then I was hooked.

Since then, I have journeyed to Galveston and Cedar Rapids, Iowa for flood relief.  This year, after months of working on the trip-planning, fundraising leadership team, I’m headed to Pensacola, Florida to work on wetland restoration, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  Each trip is a unique, perspective-altering journey that is incredible to experience but difficult to describe. But I’ll try.

House in Galveston, Texas. Photo by Katie W.

Let’s go back to that house in Galveston.  Before Hurricane Ike, it was inhabited by an elderly woman.  We volunteers didn’t know much about her, but on that monochromatic day, we took her personal belonging from her home and set them on the curb, turning this woman’s life – her photos, her fish tank, her little statuettes – into a pile of water-rotted garbage.  We’d all gutted houses before, but only when they had already been stripped.  Then it was fun – tearing into drywall, hammering toilets to pieces.  But this house had a personality. Soon into the job, we stopped goofing around.  We needed the hazmat suits to protect us from the extreme mold in the house.  Two students squeezed a soggy, stinking mattress through front door. Bugs scurried across the walls when we removed pictures from their nails.  The refrigerator – unopened for months – sloshed dangerously as we carefully lugged it outside.  Even through our masks, we could smell the decay.  We were utterly silent.  On the front lawn, I approached one of my friends who was standing totally still, looking stricken.  She pointed to the grass, where the body of a cat lay flattened and gray.   No one joked.

Debris in Galveston. Photo by Katie W.

I describe this day not because it was sad – which it was – but because it will never leave my memory.  I frequently imagine who this woman was, where she ended up living, what has become of her house now.  These are things I’ll probably never know.  This woman, or whoever lives on the property now, will never know me.   But we’re connected somehow.  And the other volunteers and I, while laughing about the frustration of a particular patch of drywall or while holding back tears to avoid steaming our goggles, all formed a bond of our own.  We grew closer to members of our college community while serving a community miles and miles away.  We experience a side of life and a type of work that was utterly different than what we – aspiring filmmakers, writers, and actors – did in our normal school-week.

Gutted house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photo by Katie W.

There is no way to quantify the impact that service trips have.  Sure, this many houses are built, this many pieces of trash are cleared.  But the links formed between people cannot be measured.  When my Waveland group went out to dinner in a local restaurant one night, a middle-aged couple approached our table.  Teary eyed, the woman thanked us for being there, for not forgetting them, for helping though we didn’t know them.  Alternative Spring Break teaches people to care and reminds others that they are cared for.  It puts life into perspective.  And that’s something wonderful.

Photo of Katie Woods during ASB trip.

Katie Woods is a senior at Emerson College, earning her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing.  She is the Student Coordinator for Alternative Spring Break through the Office of Service Learning and Community Action.  Her favorite place to travel is the redwood forests of Northern California. You can help her and the other volunteers go on this year’s trip by donating here.


Filed under Contributor, Life Stuff, Natural Disasters, Uncategorized, USA

Peru, Bolivia, and a Nonexistent Basement

Living in an Andean country has its challenges. Remember my little friend, Juan the Amoeba? Well, I just want to announce once and for all that he is 100% DEAD. I already suspected he had evacuated the premises, but now I know for sure. Juan, you and your family will NOT be missed!

Then there was the coup attempt, several attempted robberies, and the simple fact that living in a South American country — no matter how beautiful, no matter how sexy it sounds — isn’t always that easy. But sometimes the challenges have nothing to do with what’s happening on the “outside”; they spur from the personal choices we make, and the struggle to both give and take from these decisions.

Well, I’m not the only one who has tossed her hands up in the air, given up the comforts of home and taken on an adventure in the Andes. Today’s guest blogger, Julie, shares her honest mixed feelings about a deep-seated desire to uproot herself from both her American and Danish homes, while acknowledging that sometimes there’s nothing quite like watching a football (no, not soccer) game at a Massachusetts bar with old friends, and blueberry pancakes.

Contemplating Life and Moving into my Parent’s (nonexistent) Basement

By Julie.

In two weeks I’ll be finishing up a 7-month stay in South America, of which I’ve spent 3 months in Peru and 4 months in La Paz, Bolivia, working for a microfinance organization as part of my master’s studies. What a perfect time to do some REFLECTING! There’s a lot of stuff I could reflect about – the expectations I had before leaving and how the reality has matched up, what I’ve learned about the world of international development (and perhaps what role I want to play in it), how I’ve grown professionally or personally…

International dance festival a few hours outside Puno, Peru. Photo by Julie.

To provide some background – I grew up in the States, but a longtime fascination with my mother’s native Denmark lured me to the other side of the Atlantic at the age of 21. I have been based there ever since (approaching 5 years). On top of this, I am pursuing a career in international development, so naturally, I get these questions a lot: Where do you want to live when you grow up? Where are you going to settle down? Even if other people weren’t asking me, I wrestle with these questions on my own. And even if I told you right now where I thought I would end up, my answer would probably change tomorrow. Not only am I torn between the choice of living in the developed or developing world (where the work is naturally more interesting), but the Denmark vs. America choice also factors in.

These last 7 months have reminded me that there’s something truly special about being abroad, the people you meet and the friendships that develop (when I say being abroad, I am not including time spent in Denmark, though that is special too…in a different way). One of my all-time favorite social scenarios, one I encountered both when I backpacked through South America and again now, is being out to dinner with a huge group of people from all different countries, where I haven’t known anyone for longer than a few weeks or months (in the case of backpacking, it was more like hours).

Preparing Juanes (a traditional Amazonian dish) at a friend's grandmother's house in a small village down the river from Pucallpa, Peru. Photo provided by Julie.

That being said, a recent trip home to Boston for a friend’s wedding reminded me of a very different type of social interaction (or togetherness), one I definitely didn’t value enough during my angsty teenage years. I’m referring to the time spent with the people that were there to witness the sweatpants and matching turtlenecks, the mini-backpacks, and the braces and bushy eyebrows.

My “sheltered” upbringing in a small suburb of Boston always pushed me to seek opportunities away and abroad, but in my older (eh herm, wiser?) years, I’ve really come to appreciate the phenomenon of “this person has known me my entire life.” And holy crap there’s something comforting about spending a Sunday afternoon, tired and knowing you aren’t your most attractive nor coherent self thanks to the champagne in the bridal suite at 4 am, watching the Patriots game at a bar and realizing the people sitting in the booth with you know you better than anyone and don’t really care that you sort of look like crap. I’m not joking when I say that the week home left me thinking it was time to call it a day with all the traveling and move into my parents basement. (A decision slightly complicated by the fact that we don’t have a basement.)

Clients from the organization I was working with in Peru gather for all-day workshop. Photo by Julie.

After a week of battling snowstorms and catching up with friends, it was time to get back to my life in La Paz – the one that, during the previous week home, had felt like a distant dream. A distant dream that I questioned how badly I wanted to return to, knowing there were just a few weeks to go.  And on my first weekend back I managed to see every one of the handful of friends (I now realize) I’ve gotten so close to since getting here in early November.

That’s another thing about being abroad – these types of processes are mysteriously accelerated. I think it’s something about everyone being in the same position, strangers in a new country, and maybe we have more in common to begin with if we are in fact both drawn to living in La Paz.

Side note: There is something unsatisfying about writing a post about the friends I’ve met abroad and referring only to other foreigners (and mostly Americans). But unfortunately it can be difficult to meet and develop a relationship with the locals, especially if you are in a place for such a short time. And while I have met many Peruvians and Bolivians that I’ve gotten close to, this time around, the lasting friendships seem to be with Americans.

Coroico, Bolivia. Photo by Julie.

The underlying point about friendships old and new is simply that the existence of one reinforces the value and importance of the other and vice versa. I wouldn’t be happy if I only had friends I’d known short-term and I can’t imagine I’d be happy if I’d never met anyone new after my childhood. The same idea can be applied to the more general “being home” vs. “being abroad.”  I’m probably more capable of appreciating and enjoying time spent at home because I know that the abroad and the adventure is out there waiting for me, and I’ll be getting back to it soon enough. Likewise, I am better able to enjoy time spent away because I know there is a home (and delicious blueberry pancakes) waiting for me.

It reminds me of a very cruel and unreasonable ”would you rather…?” I once heard: Would you rather be in your home country and never be allowed to leave it or be outside it and never be allowed to return (but free to travel to every single other country in the world)? This presents a tradeoff that would make living a satisfying life very difficult for me… so I’m grateful that the chances of ever having to make this decision are very slim!

The view of the Illimani, taken from near Julie's office in El Alto, Bolivia. Photo by Julie.

So in the spirit of making grand statements about how the last 7 months have impacted me (in addition to the thing or two I’ve learned about microfinance), I’ve learned an important lesson about the life I want to live: Though I don’t know what country I’ll end up settling down in, I’ve identified the balance I’ll have to achieve if I want to be happy. So my next step? The simple and straightforward (ehrm?) task of achieving that balance.

Julie visiting with a borrower outside Cochabamba, Bolivia. Photo provided by Julie.

Julie is the sister of Tavel’s friend Erik from Bowdoin, and while the two have yet to meet in person, for years now they have enjoyed a Facebook friendship that has quietly blossomed into a blogging friendship. You can read more about Julie’s South American adventures on her blog, Julie’s Kiva Adventures.


Filed under Bolivia, Contributor, Life Stuff, Peru, Travel

Love and The Journey

There is one day every year that forces many to look their love or lack thereof square in the eyes. This is a post about both a journey across the world, and the love that can come with it, or get left behind. Long-distance love is a journey in and of itself — one I know all too well.  It’s the kind of journey you don’t buy a ticket for; you stumble across it by accident, and it doesn’t say whether it’s going to be a one-way or a round-trip, but you inevitably find out at some point along the way because you just can’t resist its mysterious lure to an unknown place…

Sometimes you say goodbye to a person, you leave them behind for a journey on your own, but even after you’re gone you feel their invisible presence, like static electricity, like a good or bad ghost — it’s hard to really tell. But one thing’s for sure: no matter who gets left behind, no matter how far away you go, your heart — with all its beautiful stories and scars — well, it always comes with you. Sometimes it’s the only thing that does.

But I didn’t write this post.

I will let today’s TwT contributor, Mara, take it from here.

Love and The Journey

By Mara, with thanks to TwT for the space to share words from my journey!

Digging new potatoes while WWOOFING. Photo by Mara.

I am living in New Zealand. And I am here because of love. Not love that is sprinkled like fairy dust, but love that spoke to me when I was on the floor wondering how I’d ever get up. Or love that somehow found me, miraculously, one among the crowd.

My journey in New Zealand began last November in Auckland with my boyfriend (B.) and a car we bought and called Hermione—a name I later happily discovered means patron of travelers.

Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park. Southland, NZ. Photo by Mara.

Our trip started in Northland and by the time we covered ground in Southland and arrived to Christchurch, we drove 3,500 km. It sounds ordinary, writing it like that. But it was a journey that for me had begun years earlier.

And it was a journey designed with a fork in the road. When we booked our tickets, I knew B. would return to New York City after a few weeks. I’d stay in New Zealand for an undetermined amount of time. To write. To be. To find the space I needed and that eluded me in New York. To let me really soak in my life. And to maybe find direction towards work that really feels like “Yes!”

Crater Lake, Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Northland, NZ. Photo by Mara.

I still don’t know why that decision was so simple to make, because even what’s simple is not always easy. It was the start of something perhaps so predictable, but still unseen.

When B. and I met, love followed—as easy as breathing and as familiar as knowing.

But then, love always involves a leap, entrusting yourself to someone else. So, my faith was blind. Our love would stay strong. What distance would take away, love would transcend.

Mt. Cook reflection. Lake Matheson. Southland, NZ. Photo by Mara.

And then, recently, there was a moment just as I was waiting to turn in a line of traffic that it entered my mind—just one question. It was easy, the way doubt slipped in: would our love survive the journey?

One question to release the flood gates for all others. Is love transportable? Is love durable? Is love enough? Is love renewable?

If everything begins and ends with love, I had not considered finishing this journey with our love not still thriving. But how had I made that presumption? What had told me to take that chance?

Tongariro National Park. Northland, NZ. Photo by Mara.

You see, I had to first become the person who met B., because once I was lost and without love for myself. With work and in time, I became that person who loved herself strong enough to both choose love and leave a life in New York for the journey that would diverge in New Zealand and converge again in New York at some future point.

Mara sitting in a rock. Coromandel Peninsula. Northland, NZ. Photo provided by Mara.

Now my time in New Zealand is nearly over and soon I’m going to Indonesia. Though I’m getting closer to home, I’m leaving the last place our love physically touched the ground. What I must do out of love for myself, and what I must do out of love for B. are sometimes seemingly at odds, though I know the bigger picture blurs these relatively tiny movements, the daily decisions.

We speak and we write, and most days our love carries the vast ocean and time between us, but there are times when it feels strange to be so focused on me, and also a committed part of We. And that is where the faith, in all its obscurity, comes and takes my hand.

Faith inherently is blind, but in it I know that wherever the day or doubts might stray, love—transportable, durable, renewable love—is enough. Love has been my source and sustenance, and in it, anything is possible on my journey.

Mara jumping. Lake Matheson, Mt. Cook. Southland, NZ. Photo provided by Mara.

Mara worked with Wall Street investment analysts to incorporate environmental, social, governance issues into investment strategy, until she realized she needed to give her voice to the issues she cares about. Having deferred graduate journalism school, Mara now travels, writes and curates words in an eponymous blog–:mag:. Of all the magical places in the world, Mara loves to be anywhere where she could stay…just a while longer. For more from her journey, check out Mara’s blog,, or follow her on Twitter: @maragrbenick.


Filed under Contributor, Life Stuff, Love, New Zealand, Travel

Kenya in the Philippines

Here’s a blog post that takes us to a place TwT has yet to visit: The Philippines. It is written by one of my fellow travel bloggers from the Twittosphere, so it might have a slightly different vibe to it than most of my posts. Just go with it: February is all about variety — in tone, style, material, and the guest blogger’s relationship to TwT. So here is another spoonful of something different. Eat up!

And yes, I promise it will be all about me again soon… (HA! Please tell me that my sarcasm comes through…) Trust me: I’ll put the Tavel back in Travels with Tavel once I’ve starved you all just enough to miss me and my rambles a little bit more.

Calauit Island: African Animals Deep in the Heart of the Philippines

By Raymond, AKA Man on the Lam

Man on the Lam in Philippines. Photo provided by Raymond.

Yes, you read that right.  Just about the last place you would expect to find African animals roaming freely would be on a sun-soaked island in Southeast Asia, but there they are.  Over 5,000 miles from their original home in Kenya live a mix of giraffes, gazelles, zebras and impalas among others.  Little-known and little-visited, the Calauit Island Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary is a curiosity indeed.

Entrance sign. Photo by Raymond.

The day that I went, I was one of four visitors.  That’s four for the entire day.  The day before, there were two.  The day before that, there was none.  There are no turnstyles or gift shops.  There are no crowds clamoring at the gates.  Well, there are no gates really.  The lack of crowds leads to its appeal, but it also makes you wonder how they manage to make a go of it at all.

Calauit Island lies on the Northwestern coast of Palawan in the Philippines.  In the 1970’s, the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sent out an appeal to save endangered African animals.  Ferdinand Marcos, never one to turn down free stuff, and sensing a photo opp to boot, responded eagerly.  And are we glad he did. The park that resulted is nothing short of amazing.

Kenyan Zebras in the Philippines. Photo by Raymond.

Initially eight species of animals, 104 in total,  made the long exodus.  Today those numbers have swollen to well over 600.  The Kenyan animals now co-exist with other endangered animals endemic to the region.  Calamanian deer, mouse deer, bearcats, and others, not to mention thousands of birds, are all part of the new host family for the displaced Africans.  The project itself has been a resounding success. The marketing however, has not.  And that’s a pity.

Furry creatures in the Philippines. Photo by Raymond.

While the furry four-legged variety here thrives, the cash-carrying two-legged variety is a rarity. The lack of tourists here has a great deal to do with the location. Getting there is nothing short of a trek in itself. After a 45 minute flight to Busuanga from Manila, you can expect up to 3 hours over some of the bumpiest dirt roads around.  The final 15 minute boat ride is a welcome respite.

Those who do make the journey though will be rewarded with the chance to get up close and personal with some amazing wildlife.  The island itself is an oddity as well.  More African savannah than Asian island paradise, the landscape lends itself to stunning vistas more reminiscent of  game parks in South Africa.

Giraffe in the Philippines. Photo by Raymond.

While overexposure for any park is never good, supporting wildlife sanctuaries like this worldwide is essential to ensure their ongoing success.  So if you find yourself in Southeast Asia, and longing for a bit of adventure well removed from the normal tourist trail, check out the Calauit Island Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  And spread the word.  They need it.

Raymond is a man on the lam.  He runs a travel website at with a focus on the upbeat, the offbeat, and the word on the street. His favorite place to visit is the Middle East (he is a self-described desert junkie). You can follow him on Twitter, @manonthelam1.


Filed under Africa, Contributor, Philippines, Travel, Wildlife