Category Archives: Winter

Boston Bucket List

A few days ago, I received an email with details about my upcoming graduate school orientation, and it hit me: this grad school thing is really happening (soon!!), and my time in Boston is running out.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

I’m not quite done with Boston yet. In some ways, I feel like I am still just getting started. So, it’s time for a bucket list. I need help putting together a list of things to do, places to see (museums? landmarks? parks?), and food to eat (restaurant suggestions? outdoor eats?). What does Boston have to offer in the Spring? Who wants to get outside and explore with me? As winter slowly takes off its chilly armor, I look forward to seeing what’s been hidden underneath.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

But back to that orientation… My graduate school program is small. In a couple of weeks I am going to meet the 30 other people that I’ll be spending the next three years with, studying like I’ve never studied before and becoming a Doctor of something (whoa)… together. It’s going to be the very beginning of another adventure, one that will take me into a new decade of life. Sure, I wonder if I’m going to make new friends and who those friends are going to be, what we’ll go through together, how much this program is going to challenge me… But when you’re almost 30 and it’s your first day of school, you’re kind of past worrying about that stuff. At this point, I really just want to show up, kick the door down, walk in, and get this grad school party started. I spent nearly a decade waiting to get to this door — I sure as heck am not going to hesitate to walk in now!

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Ahh. As you can see, my mind is stuck between Boston and what I imagine will definitely be a hard place… But let’s keep the focus back on savoring the last few months in Beantown. Please tell me what I need to do/see before I leave. Winter made me a little less adventurous than I’d like to admit, so let’s get this show on the road before I once again hit the road myself.

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Filed under Boston, Healthcare, Life Stuff, Massachusetts, New York City, Photography, School, Somerville, Uncategorized, Winter

Tourist in my Hometown

New York City can be a lot of things — cold, frustrating, exhausting, lonely, grey — but it never gets old, even to a native New Yorker. After spending decades living in Manhattan, a visit to my hometown can still feel exciting, invigorating, new, and perhaps above all, inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, during an unusually long break between classes, I have had the opportunity to explore my hometown in a new way. This time, I have been the visitor (complete with having to crash in other people’s apartments due to a renovation project at my parents’ place), and in many ways, I have felt like a tourist. When new opportunities enter your life in an old city, things get shaken up — it’s a good thing. A great thing, actually.

This shaken-up (not stirred) version of NYC that I am seeing is particularly well-timed, as I am pretty sure that I will be returning to Manhattan for graduate school this summer. I have mixed feelings about going home. As is usually the case, there are pros and cons to this move (I am really enjoying life in Boston! Maybe I’ll be back some day…). But, in the end, after evaluating the logistics and the life goals, attending this particular program in New York just feels like the right decision. All we can do is make “right” decisions to the best of our ability as we go, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Eventually, you just have to make them turn into right decisions.

While I want to list all the awesome new places I got to explore (including a bar built into an old NYC carriage house where I sampled the best Manhattan I have ever had — when in Rome, right?), and the cool things I have been doing during my visit (listening to The Moth storytelling in Williamsburg, and attending a five-course chef tastings in Soho, to name a couple highlights), I thought I’d just share a few images of NYC from my trip. Over the last few weeks, this uptown girl spent a lot of time in a downtown world, complete with multiple walks around the WTC site, sky-high views of the entire city, and an early morning stroll by the Hudson River, with the pink of a new day bouncing off a surprisingly pretty NJ backdrop.

My relationship with New York City has been long, and it has had its ups and downs. But I feel like we are now moving into a new phase of life together; we’ve both grown up a lot, survived our own trials and tribulations, weathered our own storms, and risen up from the wreckage of lessons-learned. NYC is an old friend — one I know so well that it sometimes frustrates me, but one that also knows exactly how to make me smile when I need it. And no matter how many times I go to New York, or how many years I live there, it still manages to take my breath away. So NYC, I guess you could say we’re still going strong. This post is for you.

Upper West Side Street

Upper West Side Street

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, Photography, Uncategorized, Winter

Arepas, Truffle Oil, and Pizza: Three Places to Eat This Winter

As I wait to hear back from grad schools, I am beginning to acknowledge the possibility that I might not be living here next year. Everything is still up in the air (will it be Boston/Philly/NYC?! It’s still anyone’s game!), but I think it’s time to capture a few more of my favorite Cambridge/Boston spots before this whole year in Beantown melts away quicker than that first snowstorm.

Harvard Square, first snow. Cambridge, MA.

Harvard Square, first snow. Cambridge, MA.

Let’s start with Orinoco. I was at a friend’s party talking with a guy I just met about travel and food, and he told me I had to try this Venezuelan place. He didn’t know me well, but based on our discussion I trusted his recommendation. The moment my first arepa craving hit, I decided to give it a try. As I approached the restaurant down a small alley slightly off of the main foot traffic in Harvard Square, I already felt pleasantly surprised. The little pathway to the restaurant felt delightfully unexpected, and I was intrigued with what I might find. I got there early, perhaps 30 minutes before they’re used to getting their first customers, and merengue was blasting throughout the cozy space while a cluster of waiters chatted loudly in Spanish. Ahhh, yes!! I felt instantly at home. They seemed a little surprised to see me, but I was seated promptly at the table of my choosing where I could easily take in the candle-lit quirks of the restaurant. I had an instant crush on Orinoco and its vibe. Sadly, the music was turned down while I waited for my friend, but luckily the Latin beats continued to pulse throughout the meal (just not as aggressively as I may have secretly liked).

We began with a delicious pitcher of sangria, which was just the right amount of sweet for a cold night. As I entered a tropical daydream, our Pelua Arepa arrived (a traditional fried corn pocket with Venezuelan-style stewed shredded beef and yellow edam cheese). It was everything I hoped it would be; it was hot, the meat was tender and flavorful, and the arepa had just the right amount of crunch to it. I could have easily eaten only arepas all night, but like a good Argentinean girl, I had ordered the Parilla Caraqueña (an assortment of strip steak, chorizo, chicken, guasacaca, and fried yuca with mojo — oh how I love yuca). I was full, to say the least. But my appetite wasn’t the only thing satisfied. I loved the adorable space, which was originally built in 1900 and housed Cambridge’s first Spanish restaurant. They’ve done a wonderful job decorating it with multicolored wooden chairs and colorful painted religious figurines throughout. There is no way I am leaving this town without at least one more trip to Orinoco, preferably after winter thaws so I can enjoy the Venezuelan comida in the outdoor patio. Who will be lucky enough to join me?!

Inside Orinoco. Cambridge, MA

Inside Orinoco. Cambridge, MA

To switch things up a little, I was happy to receive an invitation to a new restaurant in the Financial District called Granary Tavern. I’d call it swanky but comfortable. I loved the atmosphere, which was sleek and modern but with rustic undertones. I’m not usually a cocktail gal, but seeing as my time in Boston has been so cocktail-infused, I had to give the Ginger Rogers a try (Absolut Vodka, ginger liquor, fresh squeezed lemon, mint, and a splash of ginger ale). And then, I had to give it a second try — you know, just to make sure that the first one wasn’t a delicious fluke. (It wasn’t.) And then I had to give it a THIRD try… Err, ok ok, just kidding. Only two (I swear!). I shared the Porcini Flatbread, which cast its spell on me as soon as I got my first whiff of truffle oil… Oh, I’m such a sucker for truffle-anything. I’d give the flatbread a high ranking. It was followed by the pan-seared scallops, which were extremely tasty as well, although a bit too buttery/creamy for my liking. I do not blame the scallops though; they did their job, I just happened to be in the mood to go slightly out of my comfort food-zone and was inspired by the predominantly seafood menu. I definitely owe Granary Tavern another visit, but with so many other places to try I am not sure how or when I will get back there. If nothing else, I hope to at least spread the word that Granary Tavern is definitely worth at least a good drink and a yummy flatbread.

Somerville sunset. Somerville, MA.

Somerville sunset. Somerville, MA.

Lastly, for this entry, I feel like Cambridge 1 deserves a nod. So, I live with a pizza editor/food writer, which makes it very hard not to be critical of (or impressed with, if such is the case) the Boston pizza scene. It seems the strength is in flatbreads, not the deeper-crust or “NYC slice” styles, and I’m ok with that. One day, I met a friend for lunch at this cozy Harvard Square spot, which I hadn’t even noticed after walking by it at least 100 times. Unassuming from the outside, I was happily surprised upon entering the simple warehouse-like space. It was a dreary day, and the green of an outside pre-winter tree lit up the large back  window, illuminating the otherwise beer-hall brown benches of the restaurant. I went with the Iceberg Lettuce Wedge (drizzled generously with a shallot vinaigrette), followed by the Spinach, Artichoke Hearts, Chevre, and roasted Tomato pizza, per the waitress’ recommendation when I couldn’t decide. The pizza was fantastic — although it could have been hotter, and the salad wedge was refreshingly crunchy. I returned a separate evening to find that the place was a different scene at night. It was totally packed, and I actually had to wait 30 minutes to sit down. Ordering the Bolognese Meat Sauce pizza the second time around was a mistake, as it was a soggy experience, thus taking away the initial satisfaction I felt with my first pizza choice (Note to self: trust the waitress). Nevertheless, a great beer selection and satisfying flavors (despite lackluster texture) made Cambridge 1 a very convenient and pleasant option to keep on file.

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Leaves. Cloud forest in Mindo, Ecuador.

So there you go. Winter is all about staying warm with good food, good people, and sure, some good booze. I am feeling inspired to take on the Boston winter and take advantage of the many places that make this city so beloved by its inhabitants. I might be a New Yorker at heart, but at least for several more months, I am a Bostonian/Cantabrigian (I’m sorry, but I count both cities as my home right now). So, bring on the restaurants, the bars, the museums, and the accents because I’ve still got some serious Beantown exploring to do. (Suggestions welcome and encouraged!)

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Filed under Boston, Food, List, Massachusetts, Somerville, Winter

Vacation Without A Vacation

Vacation has been Heaven-sent. I cannot tell you how much I am LOVING the time off! (Or maybe I just did.) Well, calling the time “off” is generous; the fact is, I am pretty much constantly writing and editing my sample chapter for the second round of submissions to editors/publishers, and a second chance at making this lil’ book-dream of mine come true. It is thrilling and terrifying (in a good way) and my fingers and toes are crossed in every direction.

Chilling in the spring-like winter upstate this past weekend. Dutchess County, NY.

Writing and editing all break has been a welcome change from all the science. It’s challenging in its own way, but at least I’m working with words — my native tongue. I’m back to science — what I can now consider my third language, I suppose — in two weeks, and boy am I savoring the final days of freedom. Once it starts back up, I will be studying like there is no tomorrow. The amount of additional tiny pieces I have to put into place in order to get this whole grad school plan in motion is pretty overwhelming, but I’m trying to take it one day at a time for now.

New Year's Day sunset walk by the Hudson River. NY, NY.

Even though I’m sitting here, intensely  jealous of my friends who just posted photos from trips to Thailand, Egypt and South Africa last week, I know my “trip” is awesome in its own way — albeit less sexy. It stings a little to have to subdue the travel bug I’ve got constantly crawling around my mind, but I know I’m doing what I want to be doing. I’m trying to think of it as just having more time than usual to plan for my next trip. Lemme tell ya — when I get on that plane and fly somewhere far away from all this work (preferably with someone very special, TBD) — man, is that trip going to fucking blow my mind. Until then, I’ll keep looking at all of your photos, reading about all of your trips, minding my own business and attempting to keep my arms and head inside the vehicle I’m on.

Trying to make two dreams come true at the same time is actually one of the scariest and most exciting trips I’ve ever been on. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more writing to do.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, School, Travel, Winter

A Moment In… Tokyo

Summer classes ended over a week ago and they start back up two weeks from today. In the last few days, I’ve been almost struck by lightning (ok fine, more like I watched it strike a tree very nearby and that is as close as I ever need to get to being hit, thank you very much), and then – five minutes before the power came back on (after being out for five hours), I found a four-leaf clover. Just sayin’ (yeah yeah, probably means shit, but lighten up people  – it’s still summer!).

I’ve decided life can be just as crazy when I’m not traveling. There is no calm before this storm, there is only storm; my “vacation” has become a whirlwind of to-do lists. With my sister’s wedding fast-approaching (it’s this weekend! WHOOHOO) I figured I should take a quick moment on TwT to escape it all and travel the farthest away that I have ever been: TOKYO, JAPAN.

You enjoy this post while I put the final touches on my Maid of Honor speech. Oh, and feel free to share your impressions of Tokyo as a comment if you’ve been!

Shibuya at night.

Tokyo is one of those places that somehow manages to combine two opposite worlds into one. In a lot of ways, it encompasses everything I dislike about NYC (Times Square — the lights, the chaos, the crowds, the fluorescent, constant noise), which is then multiplied by ten and covered in an indecipherable (to me) script, making it all the more noisy. Yet, at the same time, it is a city speckled with beautiful, clean and simple Shinto shrines that stand high above the fuss, stoic and strong. The chaos of modern Tokyo life is woven gently into the fabric of a very beautiful Japanese history, and somehow, in Tokyo, it works.

Temple near Ueno Park. (Notice the man passed out on the rooftop?)

Prayers from locals and travelers dangle on wooden postcards outside a shrine in Tokyo.

Tokyo train. You spend many hours hopping around the city on public transportation, and usually a random Japanese person sitting next to you falls asleep on your shoulder.

Me (circa 2006) with one of many very delicious udon soup bowls that drew me into a cozy Japanese bubble when the dreary February air made me want to run away.

Street near Ueno Park. Tokyo.

A fountain outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Japanese kimonos for sale on a street in Tokyo.

Paper lantern outside an Asakusa temple.

One day, I ventured to the Asakusa Senso-Ji temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo) for a morning away from the modern side of the city. The smell of incense wafted through the damp February air, and people entered each temple barefoot to pray before monks and admire the beautiful Buddhist artwork.

Approaching the Central Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Central Asakusa Temple. Tokyo.

One of the coolest things about going somewhere like Japan is feeling inescapably like an outsider. In some countries, I can blend in seamlessly (well, almost). In others, like Japan, I wear my “visitor” card like a name tag everywhere I go. But somewhere between the cups of hot sake, the confusing subway lines (you try finding your stop when it is written in Japanese script! Here’s a visual.), the quiet Shinto shrines, and the neon lights of Shibuya, there is a beautiful city that can be just as quiet and zen as it is loud and in-your-face.

Hopefully I can find that place right now, as I jump around in the pleasant chaos of this so-called summer “vacation.”

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Filed under A Moment In..., Asia, Japan, Life Stuff, Travel, Winter

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.

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

Not Travels and Not Tavel

Yep, you heard me (errr… read… me). I’ve decided that February (which I’ve also apparently decided begins today) is going to be a month for TwT contributors. I want as many contributors as I can arrange, and I want the subject matter to span the world. This is my chance to introduce you to fellow travel bloggers, fellow foodies, friends, and maybe even family (any volunteers?!). However I identify them, they’re all people just like you and me who are writing/reading blogs because it’s fun. Together, we will spice up TwT (at least temporarily) by weaving a web of relatable stories and experiences. Maybe it will trigger your wanderlust, maybe you’ll start salivating, or maybe you’ll just smile. The bottom line: TwT isn’t just about me, it’s also about everyone who’s joining me for the ride.

Today, my good friend from college (and one of my favorite Kansans), Molly, has agreed to be the first contributor. I hope you show her a warm, comment-filled welcome and enjoy the different “flavor” she brings to TwT.

You were getting sick of me blabbing on and on about life anyway, weren’t you?! (SAY NO!!!)

A Kitchen Adventure in Jamaica Plain

By Molly

Today is Sunday.  These past few weeks have been quite busy… I’ve worked the past two Saturdays training college mentors and volunteers for both my own job with Jumpstart and as a guest trainer for an organization called Strong Women Strong Girls.  These days are fun, a tiny bit stressful, and great at depleting my energy tank.  Today I am in the mood for quiet and food.  The quiet will be easy, both roommates aren’t home today.  Now for the food.

Sunday mornings start with a big cup of black coffee and a stack of cookbooks.  Before I tackle the cooking, I need to go to the market.  And I can’t go without a list.  I can’t make a list until I have a plan.  Black coffee is perfect for planning.

Casco the Cat and Cookbooks. Photo by Molly

A colleague recently gave me Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating and I’ve been thinking a lot about cooking and eating food that is both healthy and sustainable.  Bittman makes suggestions that feel very attainable and realistic.  I keep that in consideration and think about planning for leftovers (I’ve got another busy week ahead) as I peruse my books and favorite blogs.  I don’t love leftovers, and I struggle to figure out what I will still want to eat 3 days in a row.  I’ve fallen into the habit of baking on Sundays.  I have an office that would happily snack on fresh baked goods but all baked goods I make never seem to make it out of the apartment.  Hmmm…  back to the list.

On my way home from the market, I snap a picture of this tennis court covered in snow.  Clearly it’s time to get back home.

Snowy Tennis Court. Photo by Molly.

So once my groceries and I reach the kitchen, it’s time to get started.  I tackle Paula Dean’s Savannah Red Rice recipe first (I used her book, but you can find it here:  http://www.smithfield.com/recipes/recipe/savannah-red-rice).  Paula’s not known for sustainable or healthy recipes.  I put a lot of her recipes in my “Farm Food” category…. those are foods you would eat in Kansas but rarely in yuppie Jamaica Plain, MA.  But it is cold outside and I know I’ll be grumpy if I don’t have at least one “stick to your ribs” option.  The fact that Savannah Red Rice doesn’t call for cream of mushroom soup makes me feel a little better.

Savannah Red Rice. Photo by Molly.

Once that’s in the oven, I wipe off the cutting board and get started on the chili.  This time I’ll do better at sticking to Bittman’s teachings so I select Deb’s Three-Bean Chili on Smitten Kitchen.  I love love love beans, this will be great.

I decided to throw in carrots and green peppers.  The first time I made chili with carrots, I thought it was going to be weird.  But I actually liked it.  I think it adds nice color.  The green peppers are a different story.  Red peppers are far superior to green but today I talked myself into buying the green because they are half the price.  I keep telling myself that green peppers add nice color too.

Onions, peppers, carrots. Photo by Molly.

I see a lot of recipes that call for Chipotle in Adobo.  I am not quite sure what brand these cooks are using.  My local grocery cooperative carries a brand that burns so badly I am convinced my face will look deformed if I eat any more.  It’s really that spicy.  And I like spicy food.  I’m skirting around this ingredient by adding roasted diced tomatoes with adobo and some chipotle seasoning.  Crisis averted.

As I am reading the recipe, I see something about broth.  I can do better.  I look around the kitchen, and it hits me.

Beer? Photo by Molly.

My roommate brews beer and he has his brew on tap in the apartment.  Up next:  the secret ingredient.  I feel badass adding beer AND cocoa to chili.

Cocoa... and Dinner. Photo by Molly.

Just simmering the chili for a while.  I’ll taste it, but really this is for dinner.

Work-in-Progress. Photo by Molly

Rice and chili are ready.  Yum!  Leftover potential=Through the roof!

Earlier this week, my roommate brought home Red Velvet cookies.  They’re addictive.  As I was perusing cooking blogs, I remembered that Ali posted a recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes on her blog Alexandra’s Kitchen.  Ali is my friend Katy’s friend and I met her while I was in California last spring.  I’ve tried several of her recipes and they are all awesome.  I have high expectations for these cupcakes.  I rarely stray from recipes in the baking department and I’m following this one exactly, except I’m using a bit less red food coloring.  For some reason, food coloring scares me.  The staining potential is just too much.

Makin' Red Velvet Cupcakes. Photo by Molly.

Red Velvet Cupcakes. Photo by Molly.

As I read the ingredients for the frosting, I notice that I’m supposed to use two sticks of butter and 2 cups of powdered sugar.  I know Julia Child would be disappointed in me, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.  I used a little more than half of what the recipe says.  The result–frosting is very cream cheesey but still good.

Red Velvet Success. Photo by Molly.

I’ve just surveyed the damage.  I have just made enough food to feed 6 people and I’m the only one at home.

I’m going for a run.

Molly lives in Boston and works in the non-profit world.  She loves to run, cook, and tap dance.  Sebago Lake is her favorite place to visit. You can follow her on Twitter for more kitchen adventures in Jamaica Plain at @molstherunner.

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Filed under Contributor, Food, Winter

One-Way Ticket to Trouble

To everyone who contributed their 2011 Travel Wish Lists: THANK YOU! Great lists. Go ahead and check out the comments to see where other people hope to travel this year. It’s always fun to get you all participating. I knew I couldn’t possibly be the only one daydreaming about vacations, especially this time of year.

Oh look, another snowstorm. I am not amused, winter.

It’s that time of year when winter begins to take its toll on me. It becomes not just a season, but a state of mind. The cold dark days hold my spirit down like a snowball and chain. Some days, I forget what a little warmth and sunshine could do for my soul. The idea of tulip buds springing out from the blanket of winter is a distant memory, a fantasy of a world hidden from this one. The sun is an afterthought, the warmth – a dream…

Bah! Enough sulking! Things are good! Dreary, but good. I can already taste the happy-high I get on that first spring-like day. It makes all this winter crap WORTH it. Vale la pena, people. Vale la pena…

In the meantime, there is one travel story that I haven’t written about yet… I’ll call it: One-Way Ticket to Trouble

Love in the snow. Central Park, NYC.

Before returning from Quito to NYC, I did something I will avoid for the rest of my life: I bought a one-way ticket from a South American city to JFK International Airport. (You just can’t get away with this stuff anymore!) Now, I’m used to getting pulled aside for security checks at airports (apparently my combination of visas and stamps from Japan to Turkey to Belgium to Argentina several times to Ecuador to Mexico to the Dominican Republic to… (you get the idea)… is a bit suspicious).

All was off to a good start until I got to the front of the line at the Quito airport. I had one large suitcase (afterall, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be living in Quito for 1 or 2 years), one small suitcase/duffle bag thing, a backpack, a purse (god I hate that word), and only one suitcase lock. In South America, most people have their suitcases wrapped in plastic so that no thieves can get in. I never bother. If they want to steal my cheap socks, power to them (actually no, please don’t do that). I was dreading this trip because it was probably the most luggage I have ever had to travel with (by plane), and I was alone (eh, I’m used to it) with a layover in Bogota. Have you ever tried to use a restroom in an airport with that much stuff? Yeah, good luck.

As soon as I entered the airport, my body covered in luggage (ugh), an Ecuadorian man began walking beside me insisting that I get my bags wrapped for security. It, of course, would cost me $10 plus more for the extra weight my oversized suitcase was carrying, so there was no way. I knew my bag was going to be overweight (the suitcase itself weighs a ton — it’s an old one, and I borrowed it from my parents but let me tell you people: invest in a really GOOD lightweight suitcase, even if it’s a little more expensive: the over-weight penalties aren’t worth it, and if you’re as professional a packer as me, you will need it!).

Anyway, I was not into the whole Saran-wrap thing, and I was not forking over the money. I had a lock, and a couple paperclips. I locked one suitcase and unfolded the paper clips to create makeshift “locks” for the zippers of my other suitcase, twisting them in such a way that maybe a thief would look at the tangled clips and go “forget this nonsense, onto the next one.” I’ve learned that if you make it just SLIGHTLY inconvenient for someone to rob you, they’ll pass. I do what I can.

I get in line and eventually make it to the front of the check-in pack. I am told that the combined weight of my two suitcases is over the weight limit for the Colombian airline, and I couldn’t bring everything.

HA. No.

I do my usual nice begging and ask about my options. They say I have to remove some stuff. I see an Ecuadorian guy next to me with the same problem, starting to empty out the insane amount of t-shirts he has in his suitcase while a friend tries to put them in his own bag. I ask the woman, “What can I do? I need to bring my stuff home….” She looks at me and sighs. Then says to give her a second. I do what I’ve learned to do and say: “How much will it cost?” She comes back with a number, and my bags are good to go. First crisis: averted.

Winter in Central Park. NYC.

I’m about two hours early (oops), so I buy the most expensive magazine I’ve ever purchased (don’t ask — let’s just say I hadn’t seen a Vanity Fair in seven months and I was beyond excited to be on my way home). I go through security, buy a little snack, and park myself at the gate, my heart buzzing uncontrollably with excitement for my too-good-to-be-true anticipated return to NYC. All I need is for the voyage to be smooth.

Twenty minutes before the flight was supposed to depart, I see a man from the airline start walking around the 40 or so people sitting at the gate, asking to check everyone’s passport and name. When he gets to me, he asks if I will come with him for a few minutes… Not to worry, this was “a standard safety procedure.” Oh crap. Here we go…

Luckily, two other people were also selected form the crowd. We walked through everyone like we had already been convicted of a crime, left the gate behind, and headed down a dark, long hallway. I asked where we were going (of course!), and he told us they were going to do a thorough security check of our luggage. Curses. My suitcase packing-job was a work of art, I tell ya. I don’t think anyone could possibly fit more in that thing than I did, and now I was going to have to watch them open it, dishevel my shit, and remove each item one at a time, in front of four armed Ecuadorian officers (one of which kept flirting with me… grr).

They took us up and down staircases, around corners, through doors, and eventually, we were outside and practically on the runway. We ended up in a garage behind the airplane with our luggage sitting there, waiting. Luckily, they only had one of my two suitcases – the smaller one. Yippy.

One by one (I was last), they opened our suitcases and removed every single item. As the police officer took out each pair of my underwear, the wooden hand-painted bowl, an alpaca blanket, etc. etc., I stared uncomfortably. All the Ecuadorian cops were just watching and I just wanted to get this overwith. I was a little alarmed when the guy started sniffing my bag (hey!), but what can ya do? He found my large, external hard drive (cords dangling off and all) and asked suspiciously what it was. I explained, he had another guy check it. They moved on.

Finally, we were all cleared and were sent back up to the gate. Whew, I thought. Got that overwith!

The short flight from Quito to Bogota was a rough, bumpy ride over the Andes. I knew it would be; you can’t fly over mountains without a healthy amount of prayer-inducing turbulence — but whoa. Let’s just say I was happy to land in Colombia. That happiness was then short-lived.

Immediately, after we got off the plane, we were somehow in line for something else. None of us knew what, since the line was so long and it passed through a tiny, hidden doorway. But, sure enough, it was a security check. I had already been through security TWICE since I was randomly selected for an additional full security check in Quito, and there was nowhere I could have gone (and nothing I could have done) between the last security check and this one, having only been on the airplane in between, but there we were, getting thoroughly checked one by one, again. Fine, it’s Colombia, I get it.

As you can imagine, this took some time. Luckily, I had a 3 hr layover, so things weren’t too desperate. I open every single pocket, remove laptop, etc., put it all back, put shoes back on, clear security and start walking to my gate.

I get to the gate, buy a water to drink in between flights (I was still about 8,500 feet up and you need to keep hydrated… I was totally lightheaded from the altitude). I buy my water, go to walk into the gate, and the woman who had been sitting next to me on the plane and I decide to sit together. She was Ecuadorian, but had family she was visiting in NJ, so we were on the same two flights and both happy to have an in-transit buddy. After getting comfortable for about 20 minutes, we were told everyone at the gate (an enclosed glass room) had to exit the gate and re-enter through a security checkpoint designed only for our flight. Annoying, but fine.

We go out of the gate, they say no food or water beyond that point. I’m forced to chug the water bottle I just bought before i re-enter, but am in good company as the young French guy next to me had to as well. We commiserate. Then, we have to open every pocket of every carry-on bag, remove all of our stuff, put it all back in, take off shoes, get frisked, and put everything back together as quickly as possible to get back into the gate. I still have two hours before the flight, but after just chugging a water, I know I will want to use the restroom before we board (I avoid airplane bathrooms when I can). I dread this moment, because they informed us that if we leave the gate again, we’d have to repeat the security process. You’ve got to be kidding me, I think.

The sweet Ecuadorian woman has to get food and asks me to watch her bag while she runs out, to keep the security measures to a minimum. I agree (something I was hesitant about doing, especially in a country like Colombia…) but decide I’m being paranoid and it’s ok. While she is gone, I am left there alone for about 20 minutes. A couple cops with drug-sniffing dogs make their way through the rows of chairs. I start getting scared — what if there is something in this woman’s suitcase and this was all planned?!? SHIT SHIT SHIT. Suddenly, over the loud speaker, I hear my name called and I have to go to the front desk. My name is NEVER called! HOLY SHIT. My heart starts racing and I remember that I didn’t lock my suitcases. What if someone planted cocaine in one of the unlocked pockets on the outside? GAHHH.

There I am, with all my stuff and this woman’s stuff, she is not there, and I’m being called to the front. I run up, keeping one eye on the bags, and ask them if it’s ok to wait until my “friend” comes back from the restroom, as I did not want to leave her stuff behind. They say that’s fine, and I’ve got all eyes on me in the quiet terminal. Wahhh.

The woman comes back, feels bad for keeping me waiting, and is shocked (and probably suspicious) when I tell her I just got asked to the front. Two Colombian police officers take me to a back room, where my OTHER suitcase is sitting, and tell me that they need to do a security check on my bag. I get a little flustered and whimper, realizing this is my completely over-stuffed suitcase — the big one — and worry that they won’t be able to close it afterwards. In a sad voice, I just tell them that there is so much stuff in that bag… (Did I really have to go through this again?!) Big mistake. I was just trying to be human with them, but they immediately looked me in the eyes – no humor – and said, deadpanned, “What kind of stuff ma’am? Is there anything suspicious in here?” Wait, no! I say “No no, nothing! Just, I was living in Ecuador so I packed the suitcase really tightly…But feel free to go through it, you just have to promise me you’ll help me close it up!” I was trying to be myself, but not the time and place I guess. Heh.

They proceed to remove every item, one at a time…. AGAIN. And I have to helplessly sit there and watch. Then, they start asking me if I am traveling alone, if I am single, asking me where I learned to speak Spanish, etc. When he goes in for the sniff, I am not surprised this time around. The dog comes over, starts sniffing around too, and I start wondering what the heck it smells like. I want to sniff it now (ok not really). I panic a little again. I have this fear of having someone plant something on me while I’m traveling and getting taken into custody in another country (I’ve watched too many of those ABC specials, “Locked Up Abroad,” I think). I promise myself I will never travel without a lock after this experience.

Winter sunset over the Hudson. NY, NY.

Just as I begin to let my worst fears take over, they told me everything was ok, and helped me put all my stuff back into the suitcase — the once pristine packing job was now a dumpster. It took three Colombian police to close it back up. Finally, I was free to go — but I had them secure every single zipper with these little plastic snappy things they had, just for peace of mind.

When I got back to the waiting area, I was so relieved. Then, I realized we were boarding in an hour, and I had to pee. SERIOUSLY?! I rushed out, and proceeded back through the security check — removing shoes, emptying my bag, etc. — for hopefully the last time. Total carry-on security checks: 5 (2 in Quito, 3 in Bogota). Total “additional” security checks: 2 (1 in Quito, 1 in Colombia). 1 for each suitcase. Finally, I was on the plane home for the last leg of the trip… and I could rest with ease.

At one point during the flight, about 45 minutes before landing, one of the pilots stepped out to use the restroom. While he was in there, the cockpit door swung open. Everyone on the plane was sleeping, and I was in row 9, staring straight into the cockpit, realizing there were no flight attendants in site. Hello!!?? (I mean HOLA?!) Does anybody see this?! I wasn’t sure what was going on, but this New Yorker does not like seeing a cockpit door fly open with no flight attendants anywhere near it. I stared into the cockpit, through the front window of the plane, and watched the little blinking lights in the distance as we approached NYC. I was honestly pretty nervous, and decided without hesitation that, if something were to go wrong, I am a fight not flight person (proven over and over, for better or worse), and I would be trying to tackle someone before I sat and watched something bad happen.

Relief came over me when the pilot left the bathroom, went back into the cockpit, and securely shut the door. And suddenly, I appreciated the unique and beautiful view I had just gotten. It was all going to be ok: I was almost home.

I made it through immigration just fine, although they asked me more questions than the usual “what were you doing in Ecuador?” and I was shocked and happy to find that my bags were among the first to tumble around the belt. I breezed through the final gates, holding my breath in anticipation of something stopping me from the freedom that awaited, but nothing got in my way.

After six months in Ecuador, and numerous intense security checks along the way, I was HOME.

Rose in Argentina. Palermo, Buenos Aires.

It’s been two and a half months since I returned from Quito, and it’s getting harder and harder to believe the whole experience ever happened. The memories are so vivid and real, but nothing in my day-to-day life connects me to the people and adventures I had when I was there. The whole experience feels like a shot of something strong and powerful was dropped into one big drink I’ve been sipping slowly for years. But the ripples continue to spill out from my adventure in Ecuador. I’ll just keep watching until the ripples are too far away to count.

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Filed under Ecuador, Life Stuff, New York City, Uncategorized, Winter