Getting In the Game

Happy New Year, friends!

What did you do to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Did you go to one of those big expensive parties? Did you get dressed up and smooch someone at midnight? Or did you fall asleep before the ball dropped? We hosted our own party around here, full of food and drink and a really great playlist crafted by yours truly.

A particularly bright and blue morning in Milwaukee.

A particularly bright and blue morning in Milwaukee.

It’s 2015! Doesn’t that just sound weird? I wrote a few emails before the New Year and I included dates for this month, and the number just looks funny to me. If you asked me about my favorite or lucky numbers, I like 4, 8, and multiples thereof. Like, if I’m going to have a handful of M&M’s, I like to have an even number of candies. Odd numbers are not my thing. On a superstitious and superficial level, I was pumped for 2014, simply because it ended in 4.

But on a much deeper level- beyond pointless superstitions- 2014 was a really, really good year. I graduated from college. I wrote a thesis and won honors for it. I ran a half-marathon. I got a job! I moved to not one, but two cities. Highlights from those adventures include driving a pick-up truck for four beautiful weeks, as well as getting an apartment after just half a day of showings. New friends just recently entered the picture towards the end of the year, and my old friends continued to amaze me with their patience, love, and wisdom. And my family in general just rocked 2014. We killed it and ended on a crazy high note.

Celebrating! With bubbly and party nails.

Celebrating! With bubbly and party nails.

So as you can probably understand, I was a little sad to say goodbye to 2014. New Year’s Eve was bittersweet. 2014 was a blast. I didn’t want it to end!

But then, I started thinking about what is really the difference between years, or rather, what is so different between December 31st and January 1st? It’s all about a mindset. It’s all about viewing the year as a blank slate and giving yourself a fresh start. On January 1st, I finally took some steps towards fiscal responsibility. I opened up a 401(k), made my first student loan payment, and drafted a budget. This was something I really needed to be doing in, say, June, but something about the new year pushed me to get it done.

Besides that mindset, though, if you think about it, there isn’t a ton of difference between the last week of December 2014 and the first week of January 2015. I’m most excited about keeping up the momentum from the end of the year and letting that roll right into 2015. Big things have happened and big things will keep happening! The new year is just a great opportunity to take advantage of all that good energy and movement forward.

We always have a fire on New Year's Eve. I like to think of it as symbolic and festive.

We always have a fire on New Year’s Eve. I like to think of it as symbolic and festive. Mostly though it’s fun and for warmth.

Let’s talk resolutions, shall we?

In previous years, I’ve sat down and made a giant list of resolutions falling under a few different categories. Generally, this results in very little progress or change made. Think about it: what is effective or focused about 100 resolutions that you’re supposed to start all at once on January 1st?

This year, I just decided to start on a few things that, if done successfully, could motivate me to do more in the future. I decided I’d rather accomplish a small number of resolutions and do them well, than attack too many and end up not making an effort.

First up was managing my finances. The 401(k) is set up. Once it’s done, it’s done. I’m not going back and undoing what I did! The next was starting my student loan payments. Granted, that’s not something that’s an option, but it was a good move to pay ahead of time, rather than wait until the due date. Last was drafting a budget. This will be the biggest ongoing effort, because it requires entering my expenses into a spreadsheet- and thus, knowing exactly what I’m spending and where. While I haven’t been throwing my money away, I want to be more mindful of where everything is going, and where I can make adjustments.

Next up is always fitness. Last year I ran a half-marathon, which was a major athletic accomplishment for me. Since then, I’ve more or less stopped running. This year, I want to pick it back up, so I’m going to find a 10K to run in the first six months of the year. I also need to find a way to work on strength training, but without a specific goal, I know it will be difficult to stick to it. Any tips are welcome!

Another is wasting less food. This falls under both health and fitness. I need to find ways to cook what I have until it’s gone, without getting bored of what I’m eating. I will remind you of the time I ate nothing but burrito bowls and garlic shrimp in Amarillo for several weeks. Yeah. I’m not doing that again. Wasting food makes me feel guilty and annoyed- not just for the money lost, but also for throwing something away that I’m fortunate to have, and others are not.

My other major resolution is to get involved in the community. I just moved to a big city, and the time is right to learn more about it and meet more people. My university has a large and active alumni base in this area- I think that’s a good way to start. I’m also trying to settle on a parish, one that I’ll feel comfortable participating in however I can. All of that will get me out of my apartment, into the city, and building relationships.

A few more will be coming once I start these others- maybe I’ll try not to look at my phone the second my alarm goes off in the morning, and unplug from it well before bedtime at night. Maybe I’ll recommit to learning Portuguese. Maybe I’ll start meditating once a day. Maybe I’ll try to read more news.

But let’s start small and mindfully, okay? Everything in its own time- not all at once.

Happy New Year, friends! May 2015 be your best year yet.

With love,

Gaby

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A Different Kind of Holiday

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Yes, I haven’t written since right around Thanksgiving. Yes, we are basically at the end of another year (I’m sorry, wait, WHAT?!).

Was this holiday season a blur for anyone else or just me?

A scene of quiet and breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. Pumpkin and blueberry muffins!

A scene of quiet and breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. Pumpkin and blueberry muffins!

That’s how it all started. I made pumpkin muffins to bring into the office two days before Thanksgiving. I then hopped on the train that night and served up the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. My mom was on the same page and had blueberry muffins on hand, too!

What else would you expect?

What else would you expect?

Of course it wasn’t long until I was throwing flour all over the place. That’s my unbaked apple pie. If you look closely, you can see that the pie crust was a little rough this time around. Lots of tears and holes. But you know what? It all works out. I would insert a picture of the baked pie, but then my phone broke before I could upload the rest of the pictures, and I lost all the photos between Thanksgiving and mid-December. Womp womp. Trust me. The pie looked nice.

I moved into an apartment right before Thanksgiving! A couple weeks later, my family was kind enough to rent a van and bring down my bedroom furniture. I went ahead and bought a couple of counter-height stools so I could actually sit at the counter and eat or do work. It’s a little nicer than sitting on the floor. Shocking, I know.

Mostly I just try to enjoy the view from my balcony. And dream about the glamorous sunset cocktail hours and bright Sunday breakfasts I can host on it.

Took this photo as I was running out of my apartment to a work event. But come on! How could I resist?

Took this photo as I was running out of my apartment to a work event. But come on! How could I resist?

Maybe I should get a couch or something first, though. So more than two people can actually sit down.

I started working with a new client at the beginning of December. They’re fantastic, and there’s nothing more I love than having a jam-packed to-do list. I’ve had multiple days where I leave my apartment before the sun is up and I’m not back until long after it has gone down. There’s a lot to get done, and I know I’ll love a vacation eventually. But for now, I know that I love to work, and I’m very lucky to have a job that challenges me and makes me excited for those long days.

Between the new client and the new apartment- all of the newness- the holidays arrived and started racing by until all of a sudden it was the weekend before Christmas. It didn’t feel like Christmas yet. I hustled around Michigan Ave. a bit to finish my shopping. I tried to listen to some Christmas music while I worked. I bought a poinsettia and set up my nativity set.

You know what really got me ready, though? Baking like a maniac that whole Saturday.

I decided to put together a box of cookies for my wonderful coworkers in another office. The key to a good cookie box (or tray) is variety. First up were apple cinnamon oatmeal cookies and sugar cookies. These photos have also gone missing. My apologies. The oatmeal cookies were to have a fruit-based flavor, and to get some hearty texture. The sugar cookies are just classic. I didn’t do cut-outs for this box, but I did cover them in lots of green and red crystals.

Next up were peanut butter blossoms. The recipe is on the back of a bag of Hershey’s kisses. For real! Get a bunch of peanut butter and those Kisses, and you’re probably good to go.

Glossy, sugary, crackly blossoms of joy.

Glossy, sugary, crackly blossoms of joy.

These are a no brainer. Putting peanut butter and chocolate together is always a crowd pleaser. Note: these are not the easiest to package. You’ll want to layer them on parchment paper in your container. Also, I would suggest having a glass of milk on hand. These are dense, rich, and a little sticky.

Third in line: double chocolate chip cookies with candy cane kisses. Can anybody please come up with another name for these? Basically, prep a double chocolate chip cookie. I used this recipe. Bake them all the way, let the cookies cool for a couple minutes, and then press the kiss in while the cookie is still soft. Let cool completely before you store or package them. Like the peanut butter blossoms, they need to be layered, not tossed around.

They are just the cutest and most festive cookies!

They are just the cutest and most festive cookies!

I love these for how Christmas-y they are: those stripes and that peppermint flavor make these appropriate only during this time of year.

Because I still miss Chile, and these never fail to impress, I also made alfajores with homemade manjar. Find the alfajores recipe in one of my Chile posts. For those new to the blog, alfajores are basically shortbread sandwich cookies filled with caramel (dulce de leche, or in Chile, MANJAR). Prep the manjar ahead of time: you’ll need to boil the can of sweetened condensed milk for at least two hours, and it needs to cool completely before you can spread it.

Warning: they might stick to paper towels. Not that that happened here...

Warning: they might stick to paper towels. Not that that happened here…

These actually didn’t make it into the cookie box. My friend C. came over, taste-tested the cookies, and then kept me from crushing too many cookies into that one Tupperware.

And then, it was Christmas.

First, there was a train ride.

First, there was a train ride, and an unexpectedly sunny view of the skyline.

And an unexpectedly sunny view of the skyline.

Then, there were even more cookies. It’s not Christmas without these cut-outs!

My brothers get all the credit for frosting these, as I was trying to finish up some other baking. Didn't they do a lovely job?

My brothers get all the credit for frosting these, as I was trying to finish up some other baking. Didn’t they do a lovely job?

Then there was some pizza bread. And so much cheese and crackers.

This recipe needed a little rescue after I didn't take care of the dough. Thank you, Daddy!

This recipe needed a little rescue after I didn’t take care of the dough. Thank you, Daddy!

And then, there was just a really pretty tree, and a very beautiful, blessed family.

Couldn't ask for anything more.

Couldn’t ask for anything more.

And that, my friends, was Christmas. Just a few days before, I mentioned to a friend that it didn’t feel like it was time yet. My apartment wasn’t decorated, I hadn’t made much time to celebrate in the midst of work and learning the city, and everything was just so new that I didn’t know where my usual traditions fit in. But even though it maybe didn’t feel like the typical holiday season, and even though I maybe didn’t create enough time to reflect and just “be,” it was still a beautiful, meaningful holiday, with lots of time to appreciate and be grateful for what has been an incredible year.

That’s probably the best way I can describe what Christmas felt like this year: grateful. Appreciative. Just so unbelievably thankful for everything that has happened in 2014. Rather than buy extravagant gifts and plan out an elaborate party, in the moments I did think about Christmas, I kept returning to all of the things I’m thankful for. New friends, opportunities, adventures in other states, moving again closer to home, the closeness of old friends, college graduation- the list goes on and on.

Maybe that will be another post. But for now, I hope you have had a very merry Christmas, and that whatever holidays you celebrate have overflowed with blessings big and small.

With love,

Gaby

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Martha, Mary, and Making Pies

gmtnunez:

Excellent post on being in the moment and enjoying the present, rather than stressing the presentation, during the holidays!

Originally posted on God In All Things:

This is a guest post by Lizzie McQuillan.


pecan pie For the past three years I’ve hosted a “Pie Party” at my apartment. It’s my way of getting warmed up for Thanksgiving and bringing friends together over festive food without having to roast a turkey or rent folding chairs. Who doesn’t love pie? No one I know.

This year, being the third annual, I decided to mix up my pie offerings a bit: pear, apple and cranberry dutch pie instead of just plain apple, a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust instead of regular pumpkin, caramel walnut in the place of pecan, etc. I sprawled out the Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living magazines before me and got to work.

It was all well and good until I embarked upon the caramel walnut. It was 7:15 on Sunday morning, the day of the party. The sky was gray and yellow, and my kitchen…

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Goodbye, Texas. Hello, Chicago!

This has been a long time coming.

When I got hired and learned that I’d be heading to Amarillo for my first project, I knew that moving to Texas- even temporarily- would be a big shift. It’s not easy to get back and forth between Amarillo and Milwaukee. It’s at least two expensive flights, with limited departure and arrival times to choose from. It was clear that, except for a few well-selected trips, I’d be settling into Texas for a little while.

My first glimpse of the Panhandle.

My first glimpse of the Panhandle.

I’ve already written about how it was different adjusting to life after college. There weren’t many people my age around. I mostly just saw the people I worked with. I lived in a hotel room- which had a kitchen, but eventually I got lazy and stopped working on how to cook interesting things for one person. When I finished work for the week, I tried to disconnect and just veg out.

So, maybe life wasn’t as interesting or exciting as I thought it was going to be. But I still learned a few things along the way- about Texans, about traveling, and about being by myself.

I drove this beautiful white Ford F-150 for four glorious weeks. I still miss it.

I drove this beautiful white Ford F-150 for four glorious weeks. I still miss it.

About Texans:

Texans are incredibly friendly and hospitable. I would argue that at least in the Panhandle, they rank with Upper Midwesterners in politeness, smiles, and courtesy. Strangers say hello to each other, which is always my benchmark for openness and hospitality. I had lots of offers from coworkers at the client and volunteers who invited me to eat with them, go to Mass with them, spend time at their homes, and so on. They do a lot to make you feel welcome!

Texans also have a powerful sense of identity and independence. There’s a reason they say Don’t Mess with Texas, and I can totally see how this state was once its own country. Amarillo is real Texas. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are big, American metropolises. Austin is a funky liberal hippie enclave. Amarillo is cattle ranches, and farms, and oil fields. These Texans love a good steak…or a chicken-fried steak…or a Tex-Mex plate of enchiladas with beans and rice. Forget the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the other cities. This is the heart of Big Sky Texas, the Yellow Rose of Texas. And they don’t want anybody changing that.

This is what I mean by Big Sky.

This is what I mean by Big Sky.

About traveling and living on the road:

When you don’t have the luxury of an apartment to make your own space, do whatever else you can to make your living arrangements your own. In a hotel room, maybe that means buying a cheap vase and filling it with flowers every week. Maybe you bring or buy one of your own blankets. There’s nothing wrong with getting some kind of air freshener to make the room smell less like a hotel and more like a real home. Candles would be ideal…but I’m pretty sure that would set off the smoke alarms, so I never tried it.

These flowers lasted the longest of any I bought.

These flowers lasted the longest of any I bought.

This looks like a crisp fall day, but it was actually 85 when I took this.

This looks like a crisp fall day, but it was actually 85 when I took this.

Get into a routine, and make sure that routine includes ways to work your body and your mind outside of your job. I started exercising almost every day, either in the fitness room, or by walking in a nearby park or the neighboring bike path. I also recently began studying Portuguese with Duolingo. Find ways to unwind that don’t just involve sitting in the room watching TV.

But there's nothing wrong with a donut and a good book, either.

But there’s nothing wrong with a donut and a good book, either.

About being by yourself:

All of that said, maybe you’ve spent so much time around people that all you really want to do is watch TV and read and veg out. I get that. I did plenty of that. The most important thing is to do what you need to do to be happy. If that means you’re going to travel every other weekend, and you can afford it, go do it! If that means you go see a new movie each week, or try a new restaurant, there you go! If that means you just need to be by yourself, or you need to be around a whole bunch of people to recharge, then there’s your ticket.

You have to learn how to listen to yourself and be content with making your own decisions just for you, not based on what other people think you should be doing. Your experiences are entirely your own. Ultimately, only you can decide what you want to get out of your travels and your time in a place that is not your home. Do you want to make it your home? Is it just where you are during the week, but you jet out on the weekend? Or is it something in between, a way station of sorts?

This was a great way for me to start this job. I worked on a team, so I was never really completely alone. But, I wasn’t close to home, so there were some things that I just had to learn by myself. I had to learn just how to be by myself, for long periods of time. There is a lot of value in that. Especially in a world where we have put such a premium on constant connectedness, it’s becoming more and more rare that we have to be by ourselves and fill our time on our own. In that sense, I was very glad for this experience.

Wild sky on one of my last nights in Texas.

Wild sky on one of my last nights in Texas.

That said, I’m in Chicago and already loving it. If Texas taught me anything besides the lessons above, it’s that I am a city girl through and through. I felt instantly reenergized just by walking down the street and being surrounded by all the people and buildings and lights. This is my kind of environment- everything within reach, within walking distance, within a train ride.

On top of that, I’m much closer to home- heck, I could commute here for a short time if I had to. I’m also close to various friends living in and around the Windy City. Almost everything I felt like I was missing before, I think I’m getting it back again.

I have an apartment. I have a gas stove and a granite island and ample cabinet space for all kinds of baking goodies. I have an incredible balcony which is going to provide endless sparkly pictures. And I’m surrounded by a giant city, a city of fantastically diverse neighborhoods.

Let’s keep exploring, shall we?

With love,

Gaby

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Things I Did This Fall

Hello there! Long time, no write.

Work got busy. I basically stopped cooking. My project started to wind down, and I’ve traveled three times since October. And as I’ve expressed before, I spend enough time on the computer at work that I wasn’t always excited to get back on and write at the end of the day.

The weather cooled down- a little bit. The leaves started to turn color. And I got out of Amarillo for a weekend and headed up to Denver to see my friend J.

Obligatory photo of the airplane wing.

Obligatory photo of the airplane wing. On approach into Denver.

It was a whirlwind, but it was still a much needed break from the same old routine I’d fallen into in Amarillo. First, we went to Steuben’s and had some delicious comfort food and great cocktails. It’s also hipster central, and you sit in pretty close proximity to other tables. It’s awesome people watching!

Moscow Mules. Vodka, ginger beer, and lime. So refreshing!

Moscow Mules. Vodka, ginger beer, and lime. So refreshing!

These are gravy fries. You better come really hungry if you're gonna start a meal with these!

These are gravy fries. You better come really hungry if you’re gonna start a meal with these!

The next day, we went up to Idaho Springs, a gorgeous little mountain town less than an hour out of Denver. The weather was perfect, and it actually felt like fall. Also, it has been more than a year since I was up in actual mountains (ahem, Chile), so the altitude and terrain were wonderful.

¡Montañaaaaas!

¡Montañaaaaas!

We also got pizza at the original Beau Jo’s. This pizza is not a joke! Do as the locals do and cover that leftover crust in honey. It’s delicious!

Pizza for 1-2 people. Any bigger and we would have been taking back leftovers.

Pizza for 1-2 people. Any bigger and we would have been taking back leftovers.

Idaho Springs 1

Beautiful surprise waterfall in Idaho Springs.

On the way down from the mountains. Take a look at my Cajón de Maipo photos and tell me they're not alike.

On the way down from the mountains. Take a look at my Cajón de Maipo photos and tell me they’re not alike.

 

Later that night, we headed towards downtown for a classic Mexican dinner of tamales, and then over to the Punch Bowl for a drink and some games. The Punch Bowl is like Dave and Buster’s…but nothing like it because it’s really classy and sleek. No photos, because I was enjoying the company and didn’t think of it!

That Sunday, we went to brunch at Snooze. This is breakfast paradise. It’s all they do! You can find all kinds of eggs Benedict, French toast, and some of the most bonkers pancakes I’ve ever had.

J.'s breakfast.

J.’s breakfast. Some kind of delicious sausage gravy and puff pastry and egg situation.

Two words: pancake. flight. You can get a flight of three different pancakes. I had spiced pear, pineapple upside down (!!!), and sweet potato. I mean, come on.

Two words: pancake. flight. You can get a flight of three different pancakes. I had spiced pear, pineapple upside down (!!!), and sweet potato. I mean, come on.

I spent the rest of the day exploring downtown Denver, near the capital and along the 16th Street Mall. Denver is so eclectic. You can find all kinds of shops along the Mall, not far from the seat of government. It reminded me a lot of Madison, WI, but on a slightly bigger scale.

The Colorado State Capitol Building. It has a golden dome. Just like my alma mater!

The Colorado State Capitol Building. It has a golden dome. Just like my alma mater!

Steps of the Capitol Building, proving that the city is indeed one mile above sea level.

Steps of the Capitol Building, proving that the city is indeed one mile above sea level.

Buffalo figures on the 16th St. Mall.

Buffalo figures on the 16th St. Mall.

View of the skyline...from not very high up.

View of the skyline…from not very high up.

If I’d really gone to Denver to see the sights and get to know the city, I would have given myself more time and certainly done a lot more planning. I basically bought a plane ticket and told my friend I was coming. So really, I was there for the company. It had been a long four months in Amarillo without anyone besides the people I worked with, TV, Internet, and books. Simply getting to see some different scenery- i.e., MOUNTAINS and CITY- and be with someone who knows me was enough.

Thank you for an excellent weekend, J.! I hope I can get back to Denver and see more of it soon.

That was the middle of October. Suddenly it was Halloween, my project was quickly winding down, and I was headed home for a quick weekend.

Isn't this one cute?

Isn’t this one cute? It also kind of looks like the emoji.

I got back on Halloween, just in time to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters and remember that fall can actually be cold- it had been in the 80’s in Amarillo that week.

It was also around this time that I got news that I’m going to Chicago for my next project. True story: I’m actually writing this from my hotel on the Magnificent Mile. That’s a whole other blog post, though.

So, the Hotel Kitchen thing didn’t really work out as planned. I also didn’t do nearly as much sightseeing or getting around in Amarillo as I thought I would.

Here’s the deal- when I felt like laying around and doing nothing, I didn’t want to go do something just for the sake of blogging or Instagramming it. The rise of social media have changed how we perceive and approach experiences. Can we photograph it? Can we write about it and say something sexy or attractive or thought-provoking? Is it hypocritical or paradoxical to be writing this right now?

All of that is to say, if you were maybe expecting a little more life out of this blog while I was on my Texan adventure, I’m sorry if you were somehow disappointed.

But now I’m in Chicago. And I’m going to have a real apartment with a REAL KITCHEN. People. This is HUGE. I hope you’re as excited as I am! You’re going to see a whole new level of cooking and activity and just stuff on the blog soon, as I get to a place I can settle into for a while.

More about Texas to come.

With love,

Gaby

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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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