Tag Archives: travel

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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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: 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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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

 

 

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