Eat. Play. Live.

How many times have I said I’m thankful for having my quarter-life crisis now, instead of a huge meltdown in my 30s or 40s? (Although, that’s ruling out the possibility of that actually happening… and I should know better.)

Anyway, I was thinking (as I was trying to pull on a pair of shorts that may now be a bit too small in the waist area) about how much happier I am in this place. Like the author of Eat, Pray, Love, I’ve put on some extra weight in this search for self-appreciation and purpose. While I looked really good about 10 pounds lighter, I was also about a hundred times unhappier. Since going to grad school, I’ve found time to socialize, eat in good company, and still try and stay healthy. I was hovering around my ideal weight when I hit a six-week period of illness–and seeing that I apparently gain weight like crazy when I’m sick, I got back up to my latter-college weight. While that’s not happy/fun, overall, I feel better. I’m working on establishing exercise routines that challenge me and will help me get back into shape, but I’m also being aware that I need to stay emotionally balanced.

One thing that I’m hoping to get out of this is the creation of a “work-out buddy” system for the CSSA cohorts. Right now, I’m envisioning either a matching system, like we do with mentors and mentees, or a simpler Google database of names, with goals and availability and contact information.

Another bright idea is the expansion of “family dinners.” A few of us have been getting together and cooking real meals with each other, although often, those meals consist of nachos. I’m not complaining, though.

And from there, perhaps the sharing of cultural dishes. We sort of touched on this with the CSSA Easter and “Midwest vs. Northwest Throwdown” potlucks. I cooked chicken adobo for Easter, and brought yummy Washington wine and Northwest cheese and smoked salmon for the latter event. I’ll also have some new favorites from Trinidad and Tobago to share, and maybe I’ll be motivated to pick up a Spanish cookbook to recreate my favorites from last year.

What I’m getting at isn’t really that complicated. I experience culture and life through food and activities. Activities that involve food are even better. However, I want to get healthier, and perhaps the best way to do that is to make working out social–much like I’ve done with meal times.

Doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, after all. Now, it’s time to dig around in the fridge for some leftover Trini treats.


Soul Food & Boxing Day

Dec. 26th

Prompt: Soul food. What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?* (An A-Z Guide to Healing Foods: A Shopper’s Reference @mysticflavor)

*don’t laugh, don’t laugh, don’t laugh

Finally, a post about one of my favorite things on this planet: eating. I experience a lot of my social life and different cultures by partaking in food. All I wanted for Christmas was tons and tons of Filipino food, for example– did I get that? Yes. Was I happy? Oh-so-happy.

One thing I won’t forget while I was abroad was the task to find comfort food. To be completely honest, one thing that stood out were McDonald’s cheeseburgers and fries. Sometimes, you crave something familiar while away from home! But other than that, I was really into croquetas. Delicious little fried balls of corn meal or flour and chopped jamon or chicken, they were simple yet so wonderful. Brandi and I ate croquetas together nearly every day we were together. They’re like the Spanish version of hush puppies– and a bit elusive Stateside. (However, Ocho in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, WA has a bomb take on croquetas– they put goat cheese in the mix, and it is simply delightful.) I just remember many afternoons spent with Brandi, looking at the menu, and she would look up and say, “Um, do you want croquetas??” The answer was always yes.

Little balls of Heaven.

As a grad student, finding comfort food is important, too. I think I’ve found my place: Cafe Yumm! Yumm Bowls are my go-to comfort food in Corvallis. They’re packed with beans and rice, primarily, topped with vegetables and a delicious sauce– additionally, it doesn’t take long to prep a Yumm Bowl, so I often pop in for lunch. I’m sure I could make something very similar, but it’s nice to not have to cook. I don’t have a particular moment in mind at Cafe Yumm, but I do know it’s been a good place to go and sit quietly while enjoying my quick lunch. An unconventional place of peace, I suppose.

We had my absolute favorite Filipino dish yesterday during Christmas: kare-kare. It’s a ox-tail stew made with peanut sauce, and other than that, I don’t know quite how to describe it. The meat is tender, the vegetables are a perfect consistency, and the peanut sauce (and bagoong) provide a nice sweetish, salty note to the entire dish. It’s not for everyone, but dang, is it ever for me. I’m pretty sure I mumbled, “This is my favorite EVER,” at least 3 or 4 times during dinner yesterday while taking a bite.

Kare-kare, you are too good to me.

A few days earlier, I got to share a nice sushi dinner with two friends. I love sushi, but this night stood out, just because of how fun it was. We had spent all day shopping downtown, and then we had decided we needed sushi. One of my friends said he knew where the best sushi was, so we went there and proceeded to order a whole bunch of different items just because. There was no special occasion, just several friends sharing good food and good laughs.

In conclusion, I love food. It’s my way of connecting with others, whether that is healthy or not (I know what you’re saying, diet experts– don’t make food a social thing, blah blah blah…). It’s a way of experiencing the world around me, and so far, it’s worked out fairly well.

Also, can I just say I’m really happy I don’t work retail anymore on Boxing Day?


Christmas Day and a Photo Worth 261 Words

Dec. 25th – Christmas Day

Prompt: Photo – a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you. (Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting from the Heart @shuttersisters)

Paris, France – May 2010
Photographer: The Pirate King

Most ladies hope for a romantic kiss photo in front of the Eifel Tower. I hop for a picture in front of the Eifel Tower.

This photo is about me. It’s about the energy and passion I possess in life. It’s about being a little bit quirky and unconventional. It’s about having fun and being my own person. While I did have some romance in Europe, most of my trip was done to prove to myself that, “Hey, I can do this on my own.” I wanted most of my trip to be about adventure, not about how many kissing photos I could get in front of famous landmarks.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t love more of those photos in my life, but it’s good to establish memories that are about myself first. After all, I strive to believe that I’m awesome and complete as an individual.

I’d also like to point out that the photo was influential. After TPK and I took our own jumping photos, several other tourists starting doing the same thing. It was pretty darn fun.
Christmas Day was a success. Spent most of the morning with just Mom and Dad, opened a few presents, and then it was off to my godmother’s house for a Filipino-style fiesta. There was so much food there. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll just say it was a good thing I had a small breakfast because I was practically rolling myself out the door. Who can resist kare-kare, Filipino fruit salad, lumpia, “yellow rice,” fresh ceviche, and so forth and so on. Oh, and cheesecake– yum.

I didn’t really ask for anything this Christmas, just family and food. I see nothing wrong with this. I mean, I’m sure I’ll see something wrong with it after I find a bathroom scale, but in the meantime, I’d say it was wonderful.

Oh, and if you got a “Merry Christmas” message from me, you should know that none of them were mass messages. It’s way more fun that way.

What’s Up, Torino?

I’ve only been in Torino, Italy for a day and a half, and already, I’m putting it on my “FIND ME AN INTERNSHIP HERE” list. (Other candidates: Madrid, Spain; anywhere in Germany; possibly London, England)

Here’s the thing about Torino: the people here are incredibly helpful. The taxi drivers, the wait staff, the customer service agents– they have all put up with my terrible Italian and general neediness.

TPK and I made it to the center of the city today. My allergies acted up something fierce, but that led us to go to a farmacia, and that led us to bump into a couple of pilgrims. They were in town to see the Holy Shroud of Turin, which has been on display since early April and ending tomorrow. It hasn’t been on public display in quite awhile, and this is the last time it will be until the Pope says to put it back out. What luck! We did end up standing in line for a really long time (read: several hours), but it was gorgeous outside, and the Italians had the foresight to put out not only water stations, but gelato and panini stations.

The Shroud experience was something else. I have seen quite a few cathedrals on this trip through Europe, but I hadn’t seen any relics. Well, anything that required an elaborate winding que-up. I was happy with the way the city accommodated the crowds, and I was also pleased with the requirements for silence as we neared the Shroud. Once we were finally inside the church, we were ushered into a tiered viewing area, where we were given several minutes of silent contemplation.

Although I consider myself a C&E Catholic (Christmas & Easter), I still felt very blessed to have the opportunity to see the Shroud. It was a nice, peaceful moment in this trip I’ve been on. And whether you think the relic is a fake or not, it does make one think about that Christian baseline belief of Christ’s suffering.

After the Shroud viewing, we decided it was time to get gelato. There was a shop just off the plaza we were in, and it was all I had hoped real Italian gelato would be. I got chocolate and panna, just so I could test my tastebuds on flavors they should remember from Seattle and Bellingham. Well, no disrespect, but the Torino gelato blew my old memories of chocolate and panna out of the water. Delicious, and well-worth the extra calories.

There is a pizzeria down the road from the hotel I’m at, and they have already made The Pirate King and I feel like regulars. We went there last night, and apparently, they told us to come again tonight when TPK was out buying water at the market. We did, in fact, go to Ristorante Noe, and after our meal, our waitress, another waiter, several cooks, and a few of their friends chatted with us. They wanted to know who we were, where we were from, why we were in Torino, where we were going, and all that jazz. We even bantered about how France is not on any of our “Favorite Country” lists. There was a lot of laughter, and I could definitely see the similarities between northern Italy’s overall vibe and the family atmosphere in my household. My ancestors are, after all, from a city about an hour from Torino.

My overall experience in Torino, though limited, has been positive. I would love to come back and spend an extended amount of time in the city, just like I was able to in Madrid. Besides, I have to make it to Monastero di Lanzo sometime soon; who’s in on this leg of my future adventures?

From Barcelona to Paris

Where did I last leave you all?

Ah, yes. I was leaving for Barcelona.

Well, in a nutshell, Barcelona was fun, but the visit was too short to make sense of all the sights/sites. We took a 13-hour train trip from Cadiz to Barcelona, departing on Sunday evening and arriving early Monday morning. I discovered that couchette are not friendly to stomach/side sleepers such as myself; at one point, I curled up into a tiny ball, and shoved my head between the armrest and window. My spine hated me about twenty minutes later.

In Barcelona, The Pirate King and I checked into our youth hostel. We stayed at Center Ramblas, which is in a fairly good location, right off the Ramblas, which is a stretch filled with shops, cafes, and street vendors. After a much-needed nap and some laundry, we went wandering with another person who was staying at the hostel. We saw some of Antoni Gaudi’s casas, as well as the Sagrada Familia, which is a Christian temple. The temple has been under construction since the 1800’s, and it is still not finished. From what I can tell, I am going to want to visit once it’s closer to completion; it’s already stunning.

The next day was full of more wandering, although we got a late start. We checked out the maritime museum. It was alright, but it was free, which made it all the better. I had an awful allergy attack in one of the boat rooms, probably due to all the dust– the museum is also under construction. Go figure. However, I was intrigued by the submersion exhibit, which chronicles the development of deep sea exploration. That’s where we spent most of our time.

Food-wise, we ate a lot of tapas, as well as some paella. I had spinach croquetas for the first time, and they were a nice departure from the ham or chicken croquetas I have been eating in the past several weeks. I did burn my mouth on them, though, so always use common sense when eating hot food. (Grr.) The paella we had the last night in Barcelona was good, although I have only had paella twice now, so I can’t tell you if it was amazing or not. I will tell you that I ate way too much and woke up full the next morning. Yuuuuuck.

After Barcelona, it was time to venture to Paris. Again, we took the train. Barcelona’s train station was easy to get to; we took the Metro into the station. We did also go the wrong way on the Metro right off the bat, which was embarrassing because that’s the first time I’ve done that in Spain. But, regardless, we made it, got on the train, and went on to Paris.

This train ride was a bit less enjoyable than my other Spanish train rides, as they stuck us on a vehicle that was probably from the 1980’s. Our seats actually came partially unhinged at some point, causing the seats to swivel awkwardly when the train went around a curve. Also, the W.C. (i.e., bathroom) left a lot to be desired. Instead of having a flush mechanism, the toilet bowl was inclined, causing any, uh, waste to drain backwards. It also caused said waste to splash all over the floor. Definite gross-out factor, especially when you’re a chick.

Paris did not impress me upon arrival. I found the train station to be dirty, with pigeons and their poop all over the place. Furthermore, their so-called wi-fi system screwed me out of 8 euros and some conversion fees when I was able to pay for access yet not complete the log-in process due to a “404 Error.” The information desk pointed my friend and I in the direction of an internet cafe, which we gladly trudged towards, since the person we were staying with would not be at the station for several hours.

When you are meeting someone at a train station in a foreign city, it is crucial to be as detailed as possible. You know where this is going.

We spent hours on pay phones, walking back and forth through the dirty station, wandering up and down side streets, and draining my UK phone of minutes. We finally made contact with our host, who got us on a bus into the Saint Michel area, where she had booked a hotel room for us. She was kind enough to get us a place at the Hotel Esmeralda, which is an old place, dating back to 1640. It is conveniently located across the road from Notre Dame, around the corner from an English-language bookstore called Shakespeare & Company, and near other touristy locations (and restaurants). Our first day came to a quick close because only had time for a quick meal and a few drinks before I needed to get to bed.

Thursday, we spent all day cruising Paris. There were the obligatory trips to Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eifel Tower. In-between, there was time for Indian food for lunch and ice cream.

Notre Dame was gorgeous, of course, but after visiting numerous cathedrals in Germany, I was not a fan of the huge crowds. The line to go up the tower was immense, and we stood in line for close to an hour. Also, word to the wise, there are a lot of steps up to the top. A LOT. Be aware of that. Otherwise, though, I enjoyed my venture into the famous church. There is a lot to see, and a lot of great photo opportunities.

The Louvre provided me with the same crowding problems, at least in the main painting rooms. I did, however, get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, so that was nice. There were other paintings that caught my eye long enough to warrant a photo, but my favorite areas were the wings showcasing art from civilizations in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and so on. In addition to that, I really enjoyed the Egyptian antiquities, as well as the Near Eastern antiquities.

After the Louvre closed for the day, we walked (yes, walked) all the way to the Eifel Tower, just to stand under it. No sense paying to go up to the top, especially since we had already seen Paris from above the Notre Dame. The Tower was impressive, but it made me miss the good ol’ Space Needle, I’ll be honest.

Dinner was an informal deal, but you will never guess where we ate. Any of you who are familiar with the show, How I Met Your Mother, should also be familiar with the episode where Marshall takes Robin to a “Minnesota pub.” Well, watch the episode and you’ll understand why Pirate King and I were thrilled to find The Great Canadian Pub. Hockey, poutine, and beers to round out a day of French culture? Yes, please.

Now, I would rather forget the French train station fiasco of this morning. I will just say it involved a cranky, sleepy, hungry ‘Dith, malfunctioning e-ticket kiosks, and French customer service. Nothing a friendly Italian cab driver couldn’t make me forget once we got to Torino, though.

That’s all I have for you today. We’ll see where the adventures take me next.