For Real, Guys, It’s October.

On the one hand, I’m panicking a little bit because holy crap this project flew by and there’s no way we can get everything done we need to get done in just four more weeks. (Actually, yes, we can, but we’re not cruising to the finish.) I’m also wondering where the heck I’m going next. My company is awesome, but one of the catches with the way we work is that we get assigned our projects last minute. If you have any extra patience you can send my way, I’d appreciate it.

On the other hand (four sentences later), I’m quite excited, because if things go as planned (emphasis on the “if”), I’m leaving Texas in less than a month.

Don’t get me wrong. This has been a great project. I’m learning a lot! Texans are quite friendly, polite, and hospitable. I’ve been living very comfortably, and I’m now a Platinum Elite rewards member at my hotel. (Those minimum 75 nights in a year rack up pretty quickly when you literally live in the hotel.)

Nevertheless, I don’t have people here. I have my wonderful coworkers and the great team at our client. If I ever needed something, I would feel comfortable reaching out to any one of them. I have never before appreciated the powers of technology to keep me connected with friends and family. Not even in Chile was I this deeply appreciative of Skype and FaceTime and instant messaging. But none of that replaces actually being able to get in the car with somebody you don’t work with and go somewhere. Anywhere. Heck, even just shopping or to the park.

So I guess I’ve learned my limit for how long I can go without being around my own “people” is about four months. That seems to be my maximum for how much I can stand spending my weekends running errands and watching TV. That’s also the amount of time I can live without an oven.

The food rut is real. I think it’s contributing to my overall boredom. Same foods, same scenery, same stuff going on all the time. I’m listless and restless and antsy and lazy all at the same time. Today I ate a frozen single-serving pizza that I heated up in the microwave to “mix it up.” Living on the edge, right?

Here are some of the things I do to bide my time and keep occupied (and get my butt off the couch).

I've been trying to sustain plant life. I failed with a succulent and with a bouquet of sunflowers. These hydrangeas were moderately successful.

I’ve been trying to sustain plant life. I failed with a succulent and with a bouquet of sunflowers. These hydrangeas were moderately successful.

On Sundays, I spend quite a lot of time watching football. If the Packer game isn't on regular TV (which it almost never is, because Texas has two football teams), I head out for wings and beer.

On Sundays, I spend quite a lot of time watching football. If the Packer game isn’t on regular TV (which it almost never is, because Texas has two football teams), I head out for wings and beer.

I take a lot of walks on the weekends. This is from my favorite park.

I take a lot of walks on the weekends. This is from my favorite park.

This is from the path behind my hotel. It gets a pretty decent view of the sun right before sunset.

This is from the path behind my hotel. It gets a pretty decent view of the sun right before sunset.

I've become quite a connoisseur of Blue Bell ice cream flavors. I've also decided I need to step up my workouts.

I’ve become quite a connoisseur of Blue Bell ice cream flavors. I’ve also decided I need to step up my workouts.

I write this blog. How meta.

I write this blog. How meta.

Oh, and I cook! Yes, I do have some new food to show you this week. Not much, but it’s something!

Last weekend, after indulging in hibachi and beer and wings and all kinds of goodies, I recognized that I needed to put a little good in. So I pan seared a tuna steak and sautéed some zucchini and summer squash.

To prepare the tuna steak: put about a tablespoon or two of olive oil into a pan and get the pan nice and hot. Pat the tuna steak dry and season with salt and pepper. Sear the tuna steak for three to four minutes per side. And that’s all!

Cooking up. The white stuff is just fats oozing out a little. Yeah, it's kind of gross.

Cooking up. The white stuff is just fats oozing out a little. Yeah, it’s kind of gross.

I’ve sautéed summer squash on the blog before. Treat as you would any other vegetable: wash it, chop it up, sauté in a pan with olive oil and butter and seasonings until just golden.

Healthy and quick!

Healthy and quick!

In case fish and vegetables aren’t your thing, I also made some really great French toast!

Honestly, there’s nothing special about my French toast recipe. But French toast is one of those indulgent breakfasts you can make for one person, and it doesn’t require any unusual ingredients or tools- or heck, even an oven.

For one person, take two slices of bread. If you don’t remember to dry it out ahead of time, toast it on a very light setting. Mix an egg with a couple splashes of milk. Add two healthy dashes of cinnamon and a good half-teaspoon of vanilla. Stir that together. Dunk the bread in the egg batter and fry on the stove until golden on each side.

That's just about the right shade of golden.

That’s just about the right shade of golden.

I had some packets of syrup from the downstairs breakfast bar, but I wanted to do something different. So I smeared on plenty of Nutella. And it felt as indulgent as eating cake for breakfast.

The eggs are just for protein. The French toast is really the highlight here.

The eggs are just for protein. The French toast is really the highlight here.

So there you go! Don’t think that just because you’re solo means you can only eat basic breakfasts. Joy the Baker has a recipe for a single serving of pancakes somewhere. You can also find all kinds of recipes online for coffee cakes and muffins made in a mug in a microwave. Fancy weekend breakfasts are not just for crowds!

Hey, I’ve got Nutella-smothered French toast, lots to read, plenty on TV, and lots of friends and family I can text/message/Skype at almost any time of day. I guess life on the road isn’t so bad. I think I can make it another four weeks. :)

With love,

Gaby

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My Hotel Kitchen: Food Ruts (and Other Notes)

Hello friends!

Greetings from still summery Texas. I am done with this warm weather, guys. D-O-N-E. Winter will spite me for this later, but seriously, I just want to wear jeans and sweaters and eat soups and stews and not feel like the front desk’s fall decorations are a farce.

On the bright side, I did wear pants the other day, and it was very comfortable except when getting into my warm car. So maybe we’re turning the corner? But the leaves haven’t started changing colors yet! Do they even do that here? What if I get back to the Midwest and I’ve already missed the fall colors? And the best of the apples? And the Halloween decorations- which means Christmas decorations will be up? Ahhhh!

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. In conclusion, I hope it’s fall-like where you are and that you’re enjoying it!

So. Food!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, cooking for one- and not eating the same thing all.the.time.- has been more challenging than I anticipated. I’m probably done with sautéed shrimp for a while. Ditto for burrito bowls. And despite the persistently warm weather, I have started to have cravings for fall foods. Soups, stews, roasts, baked pasta dishes- the whole nine yards of carbs and red sauce and slow-cooked meats and vegetables. However, I am one person who cannot eat an entire pot roast or beef stew or lasagna in the course of a week. And I’m not about to cook for my coworkers. *insert discussion about personal and professional boundaries here*

I had one particularly strong craving for ghoulash. Ghoulash is a kind of a soup/stew hybrid. Go ahead and Google it. This is a family recipe that was introduced through my grandmother and subsequently adapted by my dad. I made some adjustments based on what ingredients I had. Want to see how I did it?

First, brown some ground beef. I used ground sirloin because it was cheaper. P.S. Beef is expensive right now, people. If it was expensive here- less than an hour from the self-proclaimed Beef Capital of the World (Hereford, TX)- I can’t imagine how much it costs when you actually have to transport it.

Second, chop up yellow, red, and green bell pepper, and white onions. Add to the beef and sauté just until soft.

Look at the colors!

Look at the colors!

If you’re not already working in a big pot, dump this stuff in a big pot. Add canned diced tomatoes (yes, canned- you want the liquid), some beef broth, a little sugar, and spices. In this recipe, we use salt, pepper, paprika (Hungarian if you can get it), cayenne, and a little chili powder. Simmer for a bit.

This is when it starts getting good.

This is when it starts getting good.

You'll know it's been simmering for long enough when it starts to smell realllyyyyy good.

You’ll know it’s been simmering for long enough when it starts to smell realllyyyyy yummy.

Now, if you have flour, add a little flour to a little water. Cover the container and shake it up. Then, add that to the ghoulash. I skipped this step because I don’t need to buy a pound of flour for one little recipe. If you have flour, you probably want to do this to thicken the mixture.

Let the mixture simmer and thicken a little more. If you want your ghoulash to be more like a stew and less like a soup, let some of the liquid cook off. Also, the longer it simmers (simmer, NOT boil), the softer the vegetables will get and the more the flavors will develop.

In the meantime, cook some elbow macaroni. I had some kind of “healthy” penne already cooked, so I used that. Elbow macaroni is better, though, because it has nooks and crannies that grab a lot of the ghoulash, especially if you’ve thickened it up with flour. It’s also better because that’s the pasta my family uses for this recipe.

Add the macaroni to the ghoulash. Stir to combine. If you’re using pre-cooked pasta, let it heat through (cold pasta + hot ghoulash = yuuuuck). Finally, serve with shredded parmesan or “shaky cheese” (this is the powdered parmesan you shake out of the plastic container). I prefer shaky cheese, but since I had shredded mozzarella, I used shredded mozzarella.

Ta-da!

This is fresh ghoulash. You can see all the juices- this was not a thick ghoulash.

This is fresh ghoulash. You can see all the juices- this was not a thick ghoulash.

The really awesome thing about this recipe is that it gets better over time. I was talking on the phone with my dad, and I mentioned that I was going to heat up some leftover ghoulash. He said it’d be really good because the peppers will get sweeter. As always, my dad was right! The flavors really meld together and the peppers do indeed get sweeter.

Ways this version is different from my family’s: the consistency was a lot more liquid than usual. I do not yet possess the knife skills to chop those peppers and onions as finely as my dad does, and the veggies were pretty crunchy. I don’t like any raw vegetables except carrots (I know, what a child), so the way the peppers got better over time was a big plus of eating the leftovers. There was also a huge difference with the penne versus the elbow macaroni. Additionally, the melty mozzarella was pretty delicious (see below), but it’s just not the same as shaky cheese.

Also, FYI: this recipes makes a lot. Be prepared to eat a lot of it or share it.

This is the ghoulash on Day 6. It is bonkers good.

This is the ghoulash on Day 6. It is bonkers good. Did I eat this sitting on the couch in front of the TV? Yes, yes I did.

900 words on ghoulash, guys. I also made quesadillas with that precooked chicken, corn tortillas, leftover black beans, corn, cheese, and more sautéed peppers and onions. One trick is to heat that precooked chicken in a skillet with seasonings. It makes a big difference!

I also made tacos with the same ingredients. Gotta use up those leftovers!

I also made tacos with the same ingredients. Gotta use up those leftovers!

Did you see the burn marks on that pan? Real talk: I need an oven and nonstick cookware this instant. Part of the reason I’m in a food rut is because my tools are limited. Also, I need more people to cook for! The recipes that catch my eye are the ones that feed four or more people and are prepared in a Dutch oven or a big casserole dish and go into the oven.

The plan right now is to leave Texas in just about a month. This hotel thing has been convenient and comfortable (daily maid service, my company pays for it, etc.), but I think I want to live in a real apartment next. I think.

So, if you have any recipe suggestions or anything you’d like to see me attempt in a hotel kitchen, you have approximately four weeks left! Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

With love (and ghoulash),

Gaby

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Ready for Fall, and College vs. Employment: A Pro and Con List

Has anyone else started to freak out that it’s already the middle of September and the season of all pumpkin everything and leggings and boots is upon us? I mean, the stores are already filled with fall and Halloween decor. And you know what that means.

The second that Halloween is over, they’ll start playing Christmas music. So it’s practically the holidays already. I mean, it sure seemed like it at Kohl’s yesterday.

STOP THE MADNESS!!!

STOP THE MADNESS!!!

I LOVE this time of the year. I love it when the weather gets cooler and I can bundle up a little more. It means I get to wear jeans and sweaters, which means I don’t have to shave as often (ladies, don’t deny it! That’s a HUGE perk of this season!). I can drink hot tea or coffee in the middle of the day and not sweat. I’m already really excited to start adding fall/winter colors to my wardrobe. I’m thinking I’m going to build a palette of dark grey, camel, aubergine/eggplant, and burgundy/wine. Maybe some forest green and cream if I can find the right pieces.

The (maybe) two men reading this post just totally checked out. Moving on.

As excited I am for the change in seasons, however, this fall is also a really big life moment. It’s the first fall in 18 or 19 years that I haven’t gone to school. This has brought up a lot of conversations between me and my friends about what we miss and don’t miss about college- even for the friends who are in grad school.

This week, I made a pros and cons list for College vs. Employment. School vs. “Real Life.” Pre-Adulthood vs. Trying to be an Adult-hood.

Let’s get started, shall we?

COLLEGE/KAWLEDGE

Pro: being able to spell “college” like that and people might maybe think it’s funny or witty. This does not happen after college.

Con: Being surrounded by people who spell words like that all the time in an effort to be funny. We need more creative wordplay.

Pro: dining halls and meal plans. Access to nearly unlimited amounts of food, two or three times a day. Then, on top of that, you have a magical ID card which allows you to purchase more food outside of meal times- and, more importantly, gives you access to significant quantities of Starbucks.

Con: eventually, the food gets boring. Also, the ID card is not actually magic and all of that Starbucks makes the magic run out more quickly than you thought.

Pro: Dorms! All of your friends, all people your age, all of the time. In many cases, you never want for company.

Con: Sometimes, it’s nice for it to be quiet and solitary. Also, totally done with the whole sharing a bathroom thing. I’ve taken more than my fair share of other people’s hair out of the shower drain.

Pro: Sleeping in late, or, as late as possible, because you don’t really need to dress up for your 8 AM class.

Con: You’re sleeping in so late because you didn’t go to sleep until 2 AM, for no reason other than homework.

Pro: Free workout areas and cheap fitness classes.

Pro: It’s still acceptable for your parents to take care of your finances.

Con: Even if you’re working, you’re probably not earning very much money. And much of that goes to cover your regular spending- partying, shopping, and so on.

Con: HOMEWORK. Because it was just a blast coming home from evening activities after 10 o’ clock, having to start reading 40 pages of political theory, due at 11 AM the next morning.

Con: Ruuuuuuules. Parietals? Alcohol? But we’re all 18 or older. Which makes us legally adults. Which means we totally don’t need those rules to keep us from making poor decisions…right?

Pro: Football weekends! Two solid days of school spirit and zero expectation of getting any work done.

Con: It’d be nice to be able to go into the bookstore after 12 PM on a Friday without having to weave through packs of alumni. I just need some folders…not a $50 sweatshirt.

Pro: you get to do a million things and have a bunch of different identities. You can be an actress and a researcher and an educator. You don’t have to choose!

Who else misses this? *sob*

Who else misses this? *sob*

EMPLOYMENT

Pro: FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE. Nothing feels better than buying something for yourself and knowing that you yourself earned it.

Con: Life is expensive. I mean, have you actually looked at what a box of cereal costs?? What happened to my free Cracklin’ Oat Bran?! Oh, and you actually do have to pay that credit card bill. That’s NOT a magical ID card. (See above, though. Paying it off feels GOOD.)

Pro: NO RULES! You can drink whatever you want every single night and have friends (or more than friends) (or even strangers) of the opposite sex over past 2 AM- heck, as late as you want!

Con: If you took that pro to the extreme, you may make some poor decisions and they will have consequences. Just saying. You do you…but maybe think about it first?

Pro: NO HOMEWORK!!! Well, this isn’t true for everybody. Some people do have to bring work home with them. Including commuting, I work until 8:30 or 9 PM most nights Monday through Thursday, but when I get home, I don’t check my email, I don’t open up Excel, and I veg out. It’s the greatest thing to know that you’re done for the day.

This was a long day, but it was worth it to get it all done!

This was a long day, but it was worth it to get it all done!

Con: What happened to all of my friends? Where are all the people my age? I can’t order and eat an entire pizza by myself…and I don’t have any place to just leave it out where I know it will get eaten.

Con: No more monthlong vacations.

Pro: PAID vacation.

Con: You might not be walking everywhere all the time (to class, running errands, etc.) so you’re getting less exercise. Also, gym memberships are expensive.

Con: If you got a job (that you like) straight out of college, a) congratulations! This is an awesome club to be in, right?, and b) you’re probably still really young in most people’s eyes. I’m finding that the years between 21 and 27 are a total vacuum. It’s before the time that people start talking to you about your biological clock and getting married, which is a plus. But it’s also before the time that people will trust that your age equals some level of experience. I get a lot of comments that I look 18. Glad to know that I’m not aging prematurely…but it requires a lot of work to gain professional credibility.

Con: Dressing the right way as a young professional woman. Too frumpy, dowdy, and matronly, and people think you don’t care about your appearance. Appearances do matter, friends. However, if you dress too young, skimpily, or fashionably, you may not be taken seriously. There’s a very fine line. For me, it means a lot of plain blouses and finding the correct length pencil skirt.

Pro: Proving that you can do something with your education that earns actual money and does not require more school (for the time being, anyway). All of those classes and papers and discussions and exams really and truly resulted in skills that I use every day, and I’m getting a salary and benefits for it!

Pro: You’re not alone in this. Everybody is just figuring it out as they go along. That goes for grads who are working, grads who went back to school, grads who are looking for work, and grads who are doing service. Unless your whole group of friends has magically stayed together in the same area, doing the same things, everyone has to learn how to make new friends as an adult and how to maintain the relationships we worked so hard to cultivate in college.

This sky looks like hope. And freedom.

This sky looks like hope. And freedom.

Now, all of the choices are yours. Not your parents’, not your professors’ or advisors’, not your college’s. They’re yours.

And that’s probably the biggest pro of them all.

With love,

Gaby

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A Love Letter to Chile

Querido Chilito,

Tu eres como uno de estos chicos que yo sé que no debería mandarle un mensaje, pero igual lo hago sólo para recordar una época en que yo creía que esto podría haber sido para siempre. Y mandarle un mensaje es una mala idea, y después siempre recuerdo que es mejor para mi salud emocional que no hablemos, pero igual lo hago. Porque perderte completamente sería un tipo de sufrimiento demasiado duro para el corazón. Porque lo que queda es mejor que nada.

You’re like one of those boys that I know I’m not supposed to message every again, but I do it anyways just to remember a time in which I thought all of that could have grown and lasted forever. And sending that message is always a stupid idea, and I always remember afterwards that it’s better for my emotional health that we don’t keep in touch, but I still do it. Because losing you completely would be a kind of suffering too hard for my heart to handle. Because whatever we have left is better than nothing.

Bueno, eso era demasiado dramático. Pero igual es buena la analogía, ¿no? ¿Por qué tenemos recuerdos? ¿Por qué los revisitamos una vez y otra y otra y otra? Siempre hay razón, ¿no?

All right, that was a little dramatic. But it’s still a good analogy, right? Why do we even have memories? Why do we revisit them time and again? There’s always a reason, right?

Me cuesta nada para recordarte. El barrio donde mi oficina me acuerda de Linares. Aun hay tiendas y restaurantes con señales escritos en español. Compro palta cada semana. Todavía creo en los beneficios de una aguita después de una gran comida. Escucho el ruido de las motocicletas y recuerdo que esto era el señal que mi papá chileno llegó después de trabajo. El otro día estaba en el supermercado y estaban dando muestras (¿pruebas?) de vino de Concha y Toro, y yo podía decirle a la mujer que yo actualmente fue al Casillero del Diablo. (No le impresioné tanto, pero ¿quién más en Amarillo, Texas puede decir esto?)

It doesn’t take much to remember you. The neighborhood by my office reminds me of Linares. There are even stores and restaurants with signs in Spanish. I buy avocados every single week. I still believe in the benefits of herbal tea after a big meal. I hear the sound of motorcycles and I remember that that was the sign that host dad had come home from work. The other day I was in the supermarket and they were giving out samples of Concha y Toro wine, and I told the lady that I actually went into the Devil’s Cellar. (It didn’t really impress her that much, but who else in Amarillo, Texas can say that??)

Tengo los antojitos peores para comida que sólo existe ahí. Chandelle, Ramitas, Watts nectar de durazno, empanadas chilenas (NO mexicanas), manjar. Sopaipillas de la calle. Completos (y ni me gusta la mayonesa). Un lomito de la Fuente Alemana. Pizza de Pizza Nostra (y no es como no tenemos buena pizza aquí, LA TENEMOS).

I have the worst cravings for foods that only exist there. Chandelle, Ramitas, Watts peach juice, Chilean empanadas (NOT Mexican), manjar. Sopaipillas from the street. Completos (and I don’t even LIKE mayonnaise). A huge lomito sandwich from Fuente Alemana. Pizza from Pizza Nostra (and it’s not like we don’t have good pizza here, we totally do).

Yo trabajo con personas que hablan español, pero no es mi idioma. Esto no es el español que tengo en mi alma. No entienden cumbia. No conocen la muchedumbre de Baquedano durante la hora pic, ni recuerdan el olor de las medialunas como el olor de las mañanas. No conocen el frío de pasar a la cocina en la mañana, antes de que aprendamos la estufa, o muy tarde por la noche después de una locura en Bellavista. No cachan qué es compartir papas fritas en el centro después del carrete. O pasar por las calles, completamente acurrucados en un auto, a las 6 de la madrugada, todavía media curada por unas piscolas bien chilenas, pero totalmente, sumamente viva. 

I work with people who speak Spanish, but it’s not my language. It’s not the Spanish I have in my soul. They don’t get cumbia. They don’t know the crowd in Baquedano during rush hour, nor do they remember the smell of medialunas as the smell of the morning. They don’t know that kind of cold you feel when you go down to your kitchen on a winter morning, before the space heater is turned on, or that chill you feel when you’re looking for a snack in that kitchen after you return home from a crazy night in Bellavista. They don’t know what it’s like to share French fries in the city after a party. Or cross the city streets, completely snuggled up in a car, at six in the morning, still half drunk from those strong Chilean piscolas, but feeling totally, absolutely alive.

A Ustedes gringos que están ahí ahora: que lo disfruten lo más que puedan. Esta experiencia les va a cambiar por siempre. Les va a inculcar con un deseo interminable para viajar, para experimentar nuevas culturas e idiomas, para conocer a nuevas personas con historias completamente distintas que las suyas. Bueno, esto podría decir sobre cualquier persona que estudia en el extranjero, pero veo a mis compañeros del programa de Chile, y realmente, nosotros crecimos mucho más que los estudiantes que fueron a España, o a Londres, o a Dublin. América del Sur- y Chile, por supuesto- tiene algo especial. Algo distinto. Y mejor.

To all of you gringos who are there right now: I hope you enjoy it as much as you can. This experience is going to change you forever. It’s going to instill in you an interminable desire to travel, to experience new cultures and languages, to meet new people with stories completely different from yours. All right, I guess you could say that about anyone who studies abroad, but I look at my classmates from the Chile program, and really, we grew a lot more than our friends who went to Spain, or London, or Dublin. South America- and Chile, of course- has something special. Something different. And better.

Hace más que un año que estaba ahí. Espero que no pase otro año hasta mi vuelta. Ya estoy tratando de guardar plata por un viaje el próximo julio. Invierno, otra vez, pero el próximo momento cuando voy a tener vacaciones suficientes y cuando mi familia chilena va a tener vacaciones también. Acepto todo tipo de donaciones- plata, pasajes, oraciones, buenas vibras. (Es broma. Bueno, media broma.)

It’s been more than a year since I was there. I hope it’s not another year before I get back. I’m already trying to save money for a trip there next July. Winter, once more, but it’s the next time I could get enough time off to make the trip, and the next time my Chilean family will also be on break. I am accepting all kinds of donations- money, plane tickets, prayers, good vibes. (I’m kidding. Well, only half-kidding.)

Me han dicho que esta pasa a todas las personas que estudian en el extranjero, y que nunca termina. Bueno, Ustedes ya lo saben porque esto es como el décimo post que escribo sobre Chilesickness. Pero en eso estamos, no más. 

I’ve been told that this happens to everyone who studies abroad, and it never goes away. Well, all of you already know that because this is like the tenth post I’ve written about Chilesickness. But that’s just where it’s at right now.

Feliz septiembre, Chilito. Amigos ahí- por favor tomen un vasito de chicha o comen una empanada por mí.

Happy September, Chile. To my friends over there- please have an extra glass of chicha or an empanada for me.

Besotes y abrazotes,

Gaby 

 

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My Hotel Kitchen: Quick and Tasty

Alternate titles: Accidentally Meatless, or Food You Want to Make Out With. 

Yup, the following three recipes are meatless. I didn’t intend for this to happen. But as much as I love a good steak, it’s not something I’m cooking for myself every week. The same goes for pork. And chicken…eh, I could probably do plenty of good things with chicken, but man, is anyone else bored with chicken? I certainly am.

So this week, we’ve got a little fish, and a little egg. All three recipes are a cinch and came together in less than half an hour. I promise.

First up: el pescado (fish).

I picked up frozen (surprise surprise) tilapia fillets last week. These fillets thawed pretty quickly, which means that I didn’t need to plan out this dinner too far in advance. 

Pat them dry with a paper towel. Season with a little bit of salt, pepper, and your choice of seasoning- I went with paprika and Mrs. Dash lemon pepper, as per usual.

Seasoned and ready to go.

Spray up that sticky pan with lots of nonstick spray or a few tablespoons of olive oil. Even if your pan is nonstick, get some olive oil up in there. Heat it up. Stick the fish in there and cook for about two minutes. Flip over and cook for another two minutes. You should be pretty much done. Cook until opaque. (See this recipe if you’re the kind of person who prefers actual steps and measurements.)

Nice and light. Perfect when your snack was a soft pretzel and crackers with hummus and spinach and artichoke dip.

Nice and light. Perfect when your snack was a soft pretzel and crackers with hummus and spinach and artichoke dip.

Ta-da! Tilapia is not a crazy fancy fish, but it’s mild and delicate. You can probably up this with a little melted butter and lemon juice. Yeahhh.

Next up: fried rice.

My grandma has an excellent fried rice recipe that is one of our family’s ultimate comfort foods. This is not the same recipe, but dang if I didn’t try to mimic hers.

Gramma’s fried rice is pretty much just white rice and an egg fried up in Crisco, if I remember correctly. She also adds a little garlic powder- or onion powder?- and parsley, and that’s basically it. 

I cooked up a bunch of brown rice ahead of time. I think it’s better with “old” rice than with rice straight out of the pot, since it’s a little drier and will probably fry up better. 

Oh, if you like eggs- and you should with fried rice. Trust me.- scrambled them up ahead of time. Or toss a fried egg on top when you’re done. You’ll want that creamy little hit of protein. 

INSERT PHOTO

If you remember, add some minced garlic and sauté that for a few minutes until golden. If you don’t, toss it in with the rice. It all works out the same.

Add a couple of cups of rice to the pan and sauté until just a little toasted. This only takes a couple of minutes. Then, add veggies. If they’re frozen, cook until thawed and hot. Be careful not to burn the rice. If they’re already cooked, awesome. Just heat through.

Mixed frozen veggies do just fine.

Mixed frozen veggies do just fine.

Add the eggs. Stir it all together, and there you are!

This fills you up. Trust me.

This fills you up. Trust me.

You can follow the recipe here.

The eggs are essential. There’s a reason everyone is all #putaneggonit right now. It’s a cheap protein, they take forever to expire (two weeks after the expiration date if refrigerated properly), and they add a whole bunch of creaminess and weight without loading up on cheese and butter. Although you can do that too. I do that all the time.

The next dish is my FAVORITE of the week. I saw the recipe in the same BuzzFeed list where I found the other two recipes for this week, and I thought, “that looks fancy. I wonder if I can do it cheaply and with stuff I already have.”

Do you have vegetables? Do you have pasta? Do you have an egg? You can make this dish.

Heat up some olive oil and butter in a pan. Yes, more olive oil and butter. Listen, there’s a reason the Mediterraneans live for such a long time, and it’s not I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

While the magic fats heat up, beat an egg or two with a little bit of salt.

Toss some minced garlic in there. Sauté until golden. Be careful- burnt garlic is not the same as roasted garlic and it’s not pleasant to eat.

If you’re following the actual recipe, you’ll see that at this point you add vegetables to the pan, in order of how long they take to cook, from longest to shortest cook time. I was using mostly leftover and precooked vegetables, so the only veggies I threw in at this point were some greens. Just plain old salad greens.

They wilt and get all soft and garlicky and then you realize that that’s one more way you can eat greens without covering them in cheese and and calling it a salad.

Now you add the pasta. Toss it around and make sure it’s not sticking.

Okay. Now for the magic. Remember how we beat that egg a couple minutes ago? Dump that in there and stir the pasta around. Take it off the heat. Cover the pan for a minute.

The pan should still be hot enough at this point that the egg is indeed cooking, and hopefully without scrambling like crazy. Take the lid off the pan, and it should look like there’s this magical little sauce on it. If you’ve ever had spaghetti carbonara, this is the same thing. Carbonara and a bunch of other Italian dishes involve putting pasta in a pan and adding a beaten egg. It cooks up like the brilliant ingredient it is, and there you go!

Almost done!

Almost done!

Toss in your other vegetables and heat through. Onto the plate. Add some avocado and cheese if that’s your thing (that’s totally my thing). 

It's missing my favorite green vegetable. Avocado.

It’s missing my favorite green vegetable. Avocado.

Take a bunch of photos because it's just so pretty and green! And you don't even like a lot of green things!

Better. Now take a bunch of photos because it’s just so pretty and green! And you don’t even like a lot of green things!

Face plant. It’s creamy and warm and there are actually quite a lot of vegetables and there’s not even any meat or heavy cream!

Omnomnomnomnom.

Omnomnomnomnom.

It doesn’t matter if you’re living on a budget or you can buy out Whole Foods every week. It doesn’t matter if you can spend two hours cooking every night or if you have thirty minutes or less to get a meal on the table and in your belly. You should eat things that make you want to make out with your plate a little bit. Things that make you go, “This is so good. SO. GOOD.” in texts to your friends. Things that you enjoy so much, you have to remind yourself to slow down so you don’t inhale all of it at once.

Chow down, friends. 

With love,

Gaby

 

 

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My Hotel Kitchen: Waste Not

Want to feel fancy and grown-up while you’re cooking or eating dinner? Go find a bossa nova playlist. You’ll feel all chic and mature. You’ll want to learn Portuguese. You’ll sip your $5 wine a little bit slower, and maybe you’ll take a taste of your canned pasta sauce as you heat it up on your two-burner electric stove. It doesn’t matter that you’re in yoga pants and a ratty t-shirt and you have Queen Helene’s Mint Julep mask smeared all over your face. It doesn’t matter that you’re trying to finish up pasta that you cooked almost two weeks ago (pasta doesn’t spoil, right?). Bossa nova. It instantly elevates whatever you’re doing. 

(That was all entirely irrelevant to this post. I just wanted to share that with you.)

So here’s the deal guys. I had huge and elaborate dreams of turning My Hotel Kitchen into a regular feature on the blog. Every week I’d be coming to you with one or two brand new recipes. And that…has not been the case. Yeah, it’s only been about a month. This could still get off the ground, right? Maybe. But I’ve eaten mostly burrito bowls and garlic shrimp with peas and feta for the past two weeks, on the nights that I haven’t eaten with coworkers before a meeting, or decided to celebrate the weekend with sushi or quiche from the grocery store. 

When I make a batch of brown rice, or a pound of pasta, it lasts me more than a week. So I’m always looking for ways to use that up, using what I already have prepared. Hence, burrito bowls and shrimp. I’ve said for about three weeks now that I was going to make shrimp-stuffed avocado. You know what that is? Shrimp mixed in with avocado and then put back into the avocado rind. You can’t even eat the rind! So what’s the point of that? It looks pretty. Eh. I have better things to do. Like eat. 

All of this is to say: I don’t have tons of new content for you. I’m trying to work on it. A big reason for that is because I do not want to waste food. The first two weeks here, I bought a whole rotisserie chicken, thinking that I could finish it off before it went bad or before I went to get more groceries. I would be able to eat it all- if I ate nothing but chicken for five days. Meh. So I switched to precooked, frozen grilled chicken strips. That might sound icky to some of you who don’t enjoy frozen food, but it’s less icky than the feeling I get when I throw most of a whole chicken into the garbage. 

The past week has consisted of trying to get rid of what I have. I’ve done a pretty good job of it. I think I can eat one more burrito bowl, to finish off my black beans, before I get totally sick of the dish. The rest of the brown rice will be going towards my first attempt at fried rice- something you can throw together really easily with an egg, precooked rice, frozen veggies, and your choice of protein. 

And you’ll get two new dishes next week! One of these is this pasta dish- modified to account for the fact that the vegetables will probably be already cooked or from frozen. The next is tilapia. I bought frozen fillets (frozen seems to be the word of the week, doesn’t it?), and I’m anxious to see how they hold up to the same pan-searing method I used with the salmon. Tilapia is one of my favorite fish. My dad makes a super delicate (super delicate? Really?) baked version, and I’ll see if maybe I can replicate that in my beloved stainless steel pans, on the electric stove.

For now, I leave you with a few food photos. The first is of some great summer squash I bought at the farmers market and sautéed with some olive oil, butter, and seasonings (I used the lemon pepper Mrs. Dash blend, with salt and pepper).

Pick a squash that isn't too soft; otherwise it won't hold up to sautéing or to grilling,

Pick a squash that isn’t too soft; otherwise it won’t hold up to sautéing or to grilling,

Sauté until golden brown on the edges. Nice and easy!

Sauté until golden brown on the edges. Nice and easy!

Summer squash is one of the few vegetables I will eat without being helped by cheese or carbs. So this was a win.

The next dish I have for you is…pasta. With jarred sauce. Listen, poor students and young professionals have been sustained by pasta and jarred tomato sauce for generations. It is one of the few meals that you can make that approximates the taste of home without all of the work. 

The key to getting a really good pasta meal out of jarred sauce is to zhuzh it up. I was going to attempt to spell “zhuzh” phonetically, so you would know how to pronounce it, and then I realized that that’s basically the phonetic spelling. Zhuzh. You know, like when you zhuzh gel into your hair? Pronounced like that.

I could also choose another word but I don’t feel like redoing that whole paragraph. 

Anyways. Zhuzhing up (we’re sticking with it now!) your jarred tomato sauce. Get some fresh herbs. Basil is particularly good with tomato sauce. Maybe you like a little extra garlic- get some chopped or minced garlic and throw it in there. You probably won’t need more salt. It came out of a jar, after all. Prepackaged foods usually have a lot of sodium already, so beware!

Nothing says Sunday dinner quite like red sauce.

Nothing says Sunday dinner quite like red sauce.

You can probably tell that I chose to zhuzh up my sauce with cheese. Fresh mozzarella, to be specific. I had it left over from the panzanella I made a couple of weeks ago, and it added that gooey, melty awesomeness that I just love. It also helped bulk up the dish, since I only had a handful of pasta left. Cheese + chicken + a little pasta was more than enough.

Another tip here? Get the sauce good and hot. Please don’t settle for lukewarm or tepid foods. Part of the secret of recreating a solid homemade meal, even if you’re on your own or on a budget, is to eat it like you would at home. For me, that means it needs to be nice and hot, and I have to be sitting down at a real table. 

We gain nothing from eating in a rush, standing up or in our cars. We also don’t get anything from eating on the couch in front of the TV, mindlessly inhaling a fast food burger (although I totally did that just last week). Sit down. Maybe put on some bossa nova (see? I brought it back around!), turn the TV down, or pull out a book. But most importantly: take. your. time. 

Coming soon: reminiscing about Chile (yet again, I know I know okay?) and a bilingual post! 

With love,

Gaby

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Cattle and Wind and Sky, Oh My

During my job search, I was focusing on just a few specific regions. I was primarily looking at Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. Any other Eastern city- like Boston or Philadelphia- were also options. I was open to staying in Milwaukee for the right opportunity, and I knew that I could be happy in other Midwestern cities, like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Miami ended up on the list, not because I love the idea of Miami (I don’t), but because it’s a major gateway city to Latin America, and therefore it had to be considered. 

I did not want to go to the West Coast. I did not look at jobs in California or Seattle. I also avoided the South. In the back of my mind, I knew I should be taking Texas a little more seriously, but my family had had various chances to relocate to Texas while I was growing up. We never did. I figured that was for a reason.

And now here I am, in Amarillo, the heart of the Texas Panhandle.

Amarillo sunsets are legendary. This isn't the best shot, but it's a start.

Amarillo sunsets are legendary. This isn’t the best shot, but it’s a start.

Texas happens to be in my office’s territory. Texas also has a lot of Spanish speakers- which is why I am here on this project and not somewhere else in the Central US. The way things are going…I could end up spending quite a bit of time in the Lone Star State.

Things I’ve observed so far:

People are friendly. SO friendly! In Wisconsin, I’m accustomed to greeting other runners/walkers/bikers/passersby with at least a smile and a nod, if not a full, “Hi! How are you?” We rival Minnesota in niceness. I had heard good things about Texans, but when I go to a new place, I typically don’t greet strangers. That’s something that would get me branded as crazy in Chicago or Boston or, God forbid, New York. 

Not here! I was sitting in a park yesterday reading, and everyone who passed by at least smiled. A couple people even said hello. One guy saw me twice and greeted me both times. The folks at the grocery store are exceptionally cheerful and chatty. It’s nice to be around nice people. I’m sure I’ll encounter a sour face now and again, but overall, it’s been much closer to my Wisconsin experience than I expected.

(Note: I’m not saying that people from the East Coast or other regions are not kind. You’re just not as open and warm with people you encounter on the street. That’s okay.)

I found green space! This park had plenty of grass and trees. It also looks into the Botanical Gardens.

I found green space! This park had plenty of grass and trees. It also looks into the Botanical Gardens.

Everyone and their mother has a pickup truck. That is a true stereotype. Sad news: they had to take my pickup truck away because someone else needed it. I now have another car. One advantage (well, besides fuel efficiency, which is no small thing) is that it is now much easier to find: a small maroon car stands out better than a white pickup truck. Except when it’s dwarfed in the sea of pickups and SUVs. 

The SKY. It is huge! Texas is indeed big sky country. None of my pictures really do it justice. One of these days I’ll take a good drive out towards one of the canyons and take some shots at a lookout point. It must be because of the flatness- there is almost nothing on the horizon. It is all sky.

An attempt to take pictures from the road.

An attempt to take pictures from the road.

The Texas Panhandle is one of the most important cattle and beef regions in the entire country. This means that it’s not unusual for the smell of cattle (aka, manure) to waft all over town. Amarillo doesn’t have any cattle ranches within the city limits, of course, but there are stockyards, where they auction and sell cattle. If the wind is right, well, you can smell the stockyards from just about anywhere.

I’ve also driven through Hereford a couple of times. Hereford is the self-proclaimed Beef Capital of the World. Who knows? It could be true. There was nothing but ranches and meatpacking plants for miles.

For real. They even have a sign.

For real. They even have a sign.

All of this beef of course means that I had my share of red meat during my first week or so. This is not a vegetarian or vegan-friendly town. If that’s you, go to Austin. Skip Amarillo.

This was my first real meal here. A green chile cheeseburger, with chili fries. So good. So impossible to eat all the time.

This was my first real meal here. A green chile cheeseburger, with chili fries. So good. So impossible to eat all the time.

When in Texas...

When in Texas…

The Panhandle is hot, but there’s usually a good breeze moving through. It’s so windy here that outside of town, wind turbines are going up all over the place. There’s oil in the Panhandle too, but it’s good to see an investment in renewable energy. Side note: a cotton dress with a full skirt is probably not what you want to wear while you’re pumping gas on a breezy day, you know?

This is beautiful country. It’s not quite as flat as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong- it’s FLAT, and there are no substantial bodies of water to speak of, but if you head east a little ways, all of a sudden it’s canyons and caprocks. The scenery isn’t half bad.

An attempt to capture Caprocks Canyon from the road. I'll try to get a better shot some other time.

An attempt to capture Caprocks Canyon from the road. I’ll try to get a better shot some other time.

So, what have we learned about the Panhandle so far?

People are friendly. Pickup trucks are for real. The scenery is actually gorgeous. Eat your steak. You’ll get used to the smell of cattle. 

Also, yes, people here actually do wear cowboy hats, as a real, functional, hat- not as part of a costume.

Have a beautiful week! Get out and see what’s special in your part of the world!

With love,

Gaby

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