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

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under My Hotel Kitchen, Uncategorized

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

Leave a comment

Filed under My Hotel Kitchen

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Hotel Kitchen: Everyday People, Eating. Not Styling.

Right now I’m writing this post listening to my Earth, Wind and Fire station on Pandora and hoping that my hotel room stops smelling a little less smoky before I go to bed. Maybe that means I’ve really broken the room in?

Don’t worry. Nothing actually caught on fire. It’s those darn non-non-stick pans! But I digress. We’ll get back to that in a few.

So this week I had planned on making a bunch of things. Among these were shrimp stuffed avocados, pan-cooked salmon, mozzarella and provolone melts, a blueberry and feta salad, and I think some kind of pasta. Haaaaa. I’m a grownup with a job that involves evening meetings out of town. When am I going to sauté mushrooms for provolone melts? And while shrimp stuffed avocados are quite easy- mash an avocado. Add cooked shrimp. Toss to coat. Season to taste. Put back in avocado skin.- that involves more work than putting something on a plate and sticking in the microwave and then in my mouth.

I still made a few very yummy dishes, though! I made that blueberry, feta, and pecan salad. I also cooked salmon today (which is why my kitchen smells smoky) and threw together a panzanella. Photos will follow.

First, a disclaimer. I shoot with an iPhone in a room with limited lighting. I recently discovered that I get the best pictures on the desk in front of the window. The next best spot would be on the floor in front of the bedroom window. Limited lighting. I don’t have a fancy photo editing program. The most I use is Instagram. I don’t style or edit my food. Why? Because most real people, whose livelihoods do not depend on how their food looks, don’t worry about the placement of the berries on their salad. Or the composition of the plate. Or what paper straws or Mason jars or a ribbon-tied napkin will add to the visual experience of the food. 

Most people, who are not entertaining or looking to use their cooking to earn a living, cannot live up to the Pinterest aesthetic because Pinterest exists in a cloud, on a screen. Paper straws and Mason jars and ribbons don’t taste good. You know what tastes good and feeds me? The salad I threw together in less than five minutes, which I didn’t spend 20 minutes styling. shooting, and editing.

The women and men who run dedicated food blogs, who do style and edit their photos, are awesome. It is a lot of work, and they create some really lovely dishes. Their styling and photography makes me want to eat what they make! But there’s one catch: if it doesn’t arrive at the same level of visual aesthetics, I’m still eating it because it will still taste good. 

I enjoy Pinterest as much as the next girl. But there’s something to be said for the way that the Internet and the ability to share our food- and what it looks like- maybe be changing the way that we cook and expect to feed ourselves. I’m not going to stop sharing my food. But I’m just saying, I’m not putting an effort into making my blog Pinterest-able, because a) I don’t depend on it, and b) I just want to eat good food and prove that you, the average person and not a professional food blogger, can cook and eat good food too. Without the assistance of Nikon and Lightbox.

Now that I’ve finally written that, you deserve some food.

First up: salad. This salad is simple. Greens, blueberries, feta, and pecans. You can toast the pecans in an oven or on the stove for a few minutes, but it’s not necessary. I enjoyed the salad with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette: balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a little bit of sugar. 

Delish. Five minutes to throw together. You don't even have to make the dressing. Just drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. And then scarf it down.

Delish. Five minutes to throw together. You don’t even have to make the dressing. Just drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. And then scarf it down.

Yup. You’ll scarf it down. Probably standing directly in front of the television, getting bits of feta and salad greens on the floor (I might need to ask for a vacuum). The official recipe is here.

I didn’t cook anything new the whole rest of the week. I sautéed shrimp and bought another rotisserie chicken, so I was able to have burrito bowls and sandwiches for lunch. On Thursday morning I did boil some pasta because I was out of grains. Lesson learned: it takes water forever to boil in my kitchen. I think it has to do with the chlorine in the water. Anyways. That happened.

On Saturday I went to the farmers market and bought some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and a big, fresh loaf of French bread. 

This made my pickup smell like bread all morning. Goodness.

This made my pickup smell like bread all morning. Goodness.

At first I wondered what I would do with such a large loaf of bread. And then I remembered that my extensive experience with bread in Chile meant that I would have no problem whatsoever eating bread with ham and cheese as onces (supper), topped with avocado (pan con palta), maybe smeared with Nutella…the possibilities were endless. But I had the tomatoes. Tomatoes + bread = bruschetta? Maybe. But difficult to eat by yourself. Panzanella? Much better.

Panzanella is bread salad. Yes. Bread. Salad. This is also an easy recipe, adapted from this one but inspired by this one. Step 1: tear up some crusty bread into pieces. Let it sit out overnight in a bowl, until a little stale.

Step 2: mix up the lemon garlic vinaigrette in the first recipe. It’s basically the same lemon garlic stuff I’ve been putting together for shrimp for the past three weeks. Let it sit so the flavors develop. 

Step 3: Cut up the tomatoes into chunks and put in a bowl. You can decide how big or small.

Step 4: Rinse and tear up some fresh basil.

Step 5: Add half of the dressing to the bread. Toss to coat. Add the other half to the tomatoes. Yes, in a different bowl. Don’t mix them yet! Toss to coat. Let both bowls sit out for at least fifteen minutes.

Step 6: Add the tomatoes to the bread bowl. Mix. Add basil and fresh mozzarella cheese (optional, but really. Is it optional?). Let sit for at least another fifteen minutes before serving at room temperature.

Bread in a salad. What else can I say?

Bread in a salad. What else can I say?

It’s key that the bread sit out overnight. The harder and more stale it is, the better it will soak up the dressing and tomato juice without getting soggy and falling apart. Soft, garlicky bread. Creamy, salty cheese. Ripe, juicy tomatoes. Sharp basil. Just go make this now.

And then I made salmon. My favorite way to make salmon is in an oven. It cooks it slowly and evenly. But I wanted it, and I wanted to make it myself. I started off with this recipe (which looks amazing, right?) but mostly used tips from my dad, probably the best cook I know.

Frozen for a week and still fresh.

Frozen for a week and still fresh.

Tip: fresh fish should smell clean. Maybe a little like saltwater. If it smells strongly fishy, in a way that makes you crinkle your nose, it’s not so good.

Step 1: spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray. I like the olive oil kind. Heat the pan on high. If you have a non-stick pan, heat the pan and coat with olive oil. 

Step 2: Place skin side up. Sear- cook on high- for three to four minutes.

Step 3: Flip, placing the skin side down. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for another 6-10 minutes, depending on how hot your stove is. How do you know when it’s done? When the fish is opaque, and the thickest part of the fillet flakes easily. It doesn’t take long!

Case in point about the aesthetics/visual food thing: I didn’t upload a picture of the finished salmon. Whoops. Maybe I’ll update the post later. I was clearly too concerned with eating it and making sure it was good.

That’s my food for the week! I have that pasta already cooked. Maybe I’ll whip up some kind of a carbonara with it if I get bored of bread salad, salmon, and the other staples in my fridge. 

Comments and suggestions are always welcome! Have a great week, friends!

With love,

Gaby

1 Comment

Filed under My Hotel Kitchen, Uncategorized

There Are BuzzFeed Lists About This

Somewhere between Dallas and Amarillo.

Somewhere between Dallas and Amarillo.

Right? Hasn’t BuzzFeed already put together a bunch of lists of 27 Things You Learn While Living Alone, or 31 Things That Happen When You Move to a New Place, or something like that? I’m not going to repost any of them here- I’m sure they’ll pop up in my Facebook feed eventually- but I’m pretty sure they might approximate my life right now.

I’m relocated to Amarillo until November. I have never been to Texas before, let alone the Panhandle. This is the first time I’ve paid my own bills, pumped my own gas (I never drove often enough, okay?), and had a job that was not somehow connected with my education. If I want to take a weekend trip someplace, that’s my decision. I’m the one paying for it. If I want to spend the entire day on the couch watching TLC, I can do it. No one is telling me to go do my laundry or wash the dishes or eat (or not eat) or run errands. It is up to me.

Nothing is keeping me from spending hours in Target, browsing the amazingness there. Like this display of journals!

Nothing is keeping me from spending hours in Target, browsing the amazingness there. Like this display of journals!

You don’t transition into the freedom and the responsibility. I don’t know if there’s a way to ease into it. How would that work? Your parents come and live with you for a little while, until you’re in a routine at work? You pay part of your bills, and they pay the other part, until gradually you have enough to cover it all on your own? At some point, though, you have to strike out by yourself. At some point, it needs to be you.

I’m liking the independence so far. I am proud of being able to pay off my credit card balance in full, and I’m going to keep that up for as long as possible (ideally, forever and ever). I’m happy that I got a workout in before I went into the office, four out of five days last week. There are other things I need to do, though. For instance, my benefits kick in next month- meaning there will be less money coming in from my paycheck. I need to budget for that, as well as for my upcoming student loan payments, and for savings. You know, the money that you put aside for big expenses later on, or (God forbid) for emergencies.

Living on your own is not just about finances, of course. What do you do in a new place, with no friends or family around? Technically, you can just stay in your hotel room or your apartment all the time. I mean, there’s enough on TV and Netflix and the Internet in general to keep you occupied for your entire life.

That sounds like a really easy way to drive me absolutely crazy. And also burn my eyes out- I already spend all day on the computer at work, so why rely on that at home?

So, I’ve gone shopping. I live five minutes from the mall, Target, and Barnes and Noble. That worked at the beginning of my stay, when I really needed a bunch of things, but now it’s just to wander around and get to know the area. I went to the farmers’ market on Saturday, which is a great way to chat with locals. I arrived a little late- I think I’ll really have to get there closer to its 7 AM opening- but the few people I talked with were very friendly. They also informed me that the occasional strong smell of cattle comes from the stockyards, where they auction and sell cattle. Sometimes, the wind picks it up and blows it all over town. Good to know.

I’ve also taken up more reading. I especially hope to take advantage of this once I have longer work days, and I need time to unwind. For now, it’s an excellent way to occupy myself. I love the Barnes and Noble- there’s a Starbucks cafe in there, and it’s a lovely place to get a sandwich and a coffee and read on Sunday afternoons.

Here's what I picked up my first week: TIME, Hyperbole and a Half, Half Broke Horses, No One Belongs Here More than You (short stories), and my uncle's lifestyle book, Strength + Simplicity. Plus the Notre Dame prayer book.

Here’s what I picked up my first week: TIME, Hyperbole and a Half, Half Broke Horses, No One Belongs Here More than You (short stories), and my uncle’s lifestyle book, Strength + Simplicity. Plus the Notre Dame prayer book.

That reading list up there helped me get through my first “rough” night. A big thunderstorm moved through town last week. It wasn’t technically severe, but there was strong winds, pouring rain, and constant thunder and lightning. One lightning strike somehow hit the hotel and threw off the alarm system. Suddenly my smoke alarm was chirping, the fire horn was going off intermittently, and the alarm lights in the hallway were flashing. And of course that was the night that I was settled into bed early, ready to get a good night’s sleep before an early morning workout. I don’t like thunderstorms, and I hate the sound of alarms. I got both in the same night, at the same time.

That’s another living-on-your-own life skill: self-soothing. Which is actually something we learn when we are babies, but it something we call upon and hone the whole rest of our lives. You can’t sit and whine and cry every time you encounter a stressful or uncomfortable situation. You also can’t totally internalize your stress and anxiety and bottle it up. Not healthy. So what do you do to manage it? That night, I read and I watched the Tonight Show. The next morning, I ate Nutella on toast. Self = soothed. It was a thunderstorm. It was an alarm. Life goes on. I’m a grown up.

Yup. That’s been my first two weeks here. If any of you hear that I’ve made friends with the Target or Barnes and Noble staff, that’s a sign that I need to find something else to do.

What do you love to do, all by yourself? How do you cure boredom? How do you like to get to know a new place?

With love,

Gaby

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Hotel Kitchen: Taking It for a Spin

Hello good people!

I write this as I listen to the dogs in the room across from mine bark up a storm, and I’m reaching for a sip of wine (that I opened with my keys and a shoe after the screw part of the corkscrew broke off in the cork. Resourceful.). “The Blind Side,” one of my favorites, is on TV. My plans for the rest of the night include a home manicure and a face mask. I hope that your night is as chill or as wild as you’d like it to be.

Last week I wrote about my new cooking adventures. I got off to a solid, if basic, start after a very fun grocery trip. It was fun because I could spend as much time as I wanted wandering the aisles and browsing all of the delicious offerings- quiche! cupcakes! tarts! wine! quinoa! crab legs! Gah. The freedom was thrilling. 

My very own grocery cart. Plenty of essentials, and a few treats.

My very own grocery cart. Plenty of essentials, and a few treats.

I had done a little cooking before my big grocery trip. Over the course of cooking eggs and grilled sandwiches, I realized that I will have to load up my pans with nonstick spray and keep the heat low in order to avoid burning. The smell of burning eggs is one of my least favorite smells, and burnt eggs are not fun to clean off a pan. I do not like burnt food, period, so knowing that it will take some time for me to learn how to use my cooking tools has influenced the recipes I’m starting out with.

In preparation for the work week, I cooked:

A Southwestern quinoa blend: it came in a pouch, and I simmered it for a while on the stove. Easy. What wasn’t easy was controlling the heat (remember, it’s an electric stove) and keeping it from boiling over or dying down completely. But it worked out.

Brown rice: I cooked rice in a pot, not a rice cooker! Rice is easy, guys. Add a little oil or butter to the pot, and it will help reduce the stickiness. Just keep an eye on it. When most of the water has steamed off, it’s close to done. As you learn how to cook it, add or reduce water depending on how fluffy or dry you like it. 

Sautéed shrimp: I bought a package of peeled, tail-off, frozen shrimp. I wanted the tails and peels off because I didn’t feel like dealing with that, but I still wanted them raw so I could control how done they were. To me, a lot of precooked shrimp is chewy and kind of dry. It was a gamble cooking the shrimp in those sticky pans, but I figured if I didn’t want to eat everything cooked in the microwave, I had to give it a shot.

First, you thaw the shrimp. Get it completely thawed, but don’t let it sit out and get warm. That’s just not good policy with seafood (or anything you don’t usually eat raw). Rinse the shrimp and drain it in a colander. I then tossed it in some lemon garlic vinaigrette, which I got from this recipe. I intended to make that salad, and maybe eventually I will if I can find a small quantity of plain quinoa at a reasonable price. But it turns out the vinaigrette is a perfect “marinade” for sautéed shrimp! 

After that, I sprayed the pan with olive oil non-stick spray, and in went the shrimp on medium heat. Do not leave shrimp alone when you sauté them! In a hot enough pan, shrimp cook up really quickly. Cook them on each side, just until opaque. They’ll be pink, but if they’re solid white and look very shriveled up, they’re probably over done. How do you know if they’re done? Once they look opaque, you’re probably safe tasting one, even if it’s a little underdone.

These shrimp were super tasty. If you keep an eye on the pan, shrimp are a cinch to cook and are an easy way to get more seafood into your diet.

This week, I ate them with brown rice and avocado. Simple and satisfying.

It's not the prettiest. But if you've been around this blog long enough, you know I'm not the queen of aesthetics.

It’s not the prettiest. But if you’ve been around this blog long enough, you know I’m not the queen of aesthetics.

That was the extent of my real cooking this week. The other meal that I made was a quinoa burrito bowl. I put that together with the quinoa I made, rotisserie chicken from the store, shredded cheese, and more avocado.

Okay, I ate the burrito bowl on a plate. Same idea.

Okay, I ate the burrito bowl on a plate. Same idea.

People love Chipotle’s burrito bowls, but really, you can make them at home with very basic combinations of simple ingredients. I’m picturing future versions with more vegetables, black beans, maybe some Greek yogurt in lieu of sour cream- you get the idea.

We went out for lunch twice this week. One lunch was a nice Italian place, and the other was a chicken-fried steak at the Amarillo stockyards. The stockyards are where they auction off cattle, and the cafe there is where the ranchers eat lunch and breakfast. That chicken-fried steak was hearty and delicious, but man oh man, was my appetite shot for a while. My dinner that night? Avocado toast.

This was all I needed. Simple can be satisfying!

This was all I needed. Simple can be satisfying!

Other meals included a few prepared items I picked up at the store. It’s tempting just to buy six or seven dinners from the deli and just make sandwiches for lunch. I have to cook, though, so I know exactly what I’m eating, and so I learn how to make food that I enjoy- all the time. Nevertheless, I like having a few meals on hand that I can just stick in the microwave and chow down.

One of the challenges of shopping for myself is figuring out just how much to buy. If I’m going to buy a rotisserie chicken, then I need to put that chicken in my lunches in order to use it up by the end of the week. I don’t need to cook an entire cup of rice- that yields three cups, and you know what? That’s a LOT of rice for one person. 

I think I did a little better this week. There was still ice cream left over, so I resisted the temptation to buy a new flavor…or to pick up some cupcakes or cookies from the bakery. I didn’t buy more salad greens, even though I might need more by the middle of the week. It’s about balance, and learning how much I really need, and what I can allow for wants.

Next week, I’ll be cooking:

Shrimp-stuffed avocado

Pan-seared salmon (just because I don’t have an oven doesn’t mean I won’t eat my fish!)

Blueberry feta pecan salad

Again, if you have any recipe suggestions, or if there’s something you’d like to see, please let me know in the comments!

Let’s get cooking!

With love,

Gaby

Leave a comment

Filed under My Hotel Kitchen

Riding Solo and My Hotel Kitchen

So yesterday I talked about the few weeks of summer break I had before starting my job. And then I realized that I haven’t talked about my job on the blog yet!

Yes. I am employed! I have a salary and benefits and I mostly wear some kind of suit. I am a consultant with a fundraising consulting firm, working exclusively with nonprofits. I spent a week in Chicago in training and orientation. My friend E. gets HUGE thanks for housing me for the week in her apartment. We cooked and both got dressed up and went to work every morning like grownups. I took a bus and train to work each day. It was a fun little flashback to my commutes in Santiago (especially when I took the wrong bus route, but don’t worry, it was fine!).

This was a bonkers avocado pizza E. and I made my first night there. We demolished the whole thing ourselves.

This was a bonkers avocado pizza E. and I made my first night there. We demolished the whole thing ourselves.

The view from my window on the second day of training. To be clear: they just moved me to a different office because the computer in the first room wasn't cooperating. But I lucked out!

The view from my window on the second day of training. To be clear: they just moved me to a different office because the computer in the first room wasn’t cooperating. So I lucked out!

E. made delicious popsicles, which were the perfect way to cool down at the end of the night.

E. made delicious popsicles, which were the perfect way to cool down at the end of the night.

A view of the Sears Tower and other buildings from the walk into work from the train.

A view of the Sears Tower and other buildings from the walk into work from the train.

I really loved being in Chicago. I saw a few friends, I got to know my new coworkers, and I was pumped to be back in a big city among all of the noise and people and public transportation. But after just a week, I took a quick day at home, and then headed down to Tulsa, Oklahoma to shadow one of my firm’s projects. I don’t have any pictures from Tulsa. We worked and went out to eat, and I didn’t think to pull my phone out. Things I would have taken pictures of include: the Oral Roberts University campus (it is gold and shiny and 1980’s futuristic), the Arkansas River, the Brookside neighborhood, and the Art Deco downtown.

Then it was the 4th of July. I once again returned home for the weekend, and then I flew down to Amarillo, Texas, for my first assignment.

Yup. I am writing you from my hotel room in the Texas Panhandle. I’ll be here until November. Right now it is hot and dry, but they’re forecasting rain and cooler temps later this week, which gets the locals really excited and happy. Our client has very generously loaned me a pickup truck for my stay. It has provided much entertainment for family, friends, and acquaintances.

Last year, if you’d asked me where I thought I’d be right now, I never would have said in Texas, with a pickup. I would have guessed Chicago or DC or maybe even New York or Santiago. But here I am!

The next four months will be a whirlwind. Work will keep me more than busy Monday through Thursday. So I’m trying to enjoy these next couple of weeks while I try to establish some routines and learn my way around. I live within 10 minutes of a Catholic church, Target, Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, an excellent grocery store, and the mall. I pretty much have everything I need.

And even if I’m here without friends or family, if the past six days are any indication, they’re never far away with text messages, phone calls, and Facebook.

Blah blah blah, now I’m getting sappy. My temporary relocation does mean that I’ll be doing something new on the blog. And so, I introduce: My Hotel Kitchen.

I have a two-burner electric stove top, a microwave, one large and one small saucepan, and one large and one small sauté pan. I also have a very basic assortment of kitchen utensils. Take note: no oven. No cookie sheets. No non-stick pans. I can’t eat out every single day. I just can’t. We did in Tulsa and although every meal was delicious and not fast food, I felt a little gross at the end of the week. Grocery shopping this week was quite exciting, to say the least.

Every week, I’ll be prepping meals and sides for me to take for lunch and heat up for dinner. This week, for example, I made brown rice, a prepackaged quinoa mix, shrimp, and lemon garlic vinaigrette (for an adaptation of this recipe). I also have pasta, jarred tomato sauce, mixed greens, fruit, avocados (porque si hay pan y palta, hay comida), a whole rotisserie chicken, and chicken alfredo from the prepared food section of the grocery store (which is expansive and amazing). 

Why am I doing this? It’s healthier. I enjoy it. I’m learning to be resourceful- I can’t cook whatever I want because I don’t have all the tools, and I’m not going to buy them for a four-month stay. I also need to remember that I’m cooking and eating for one person, not an entire family. Cooking is just one of those things that young adults, on their own, have to learn how to do- like pay bills, save money, make new friends, and not stay up too late watching TV or surfing the Internet. You know, grown-up stuff.

If you’d like to follow along on Instagram (@gmtnunez), I’ll be using the hashtag #myhotelkitchen for my meals and meal prep. And you’ll find me back here each week, writing about my cooking adventures (like learning how to use PAM in the absence of Teflon pans) and exploring the Texas Panhandle. 

Should you have any great recipe or solo living suggestions, please let me know in the comments! 

See you soon! With love,

Gaby

 

1 Comment

Filed under My Hotel Kitchen