Update

Alright, here’s the deal.

Since I last updated, a few things have happened. I would say I’m gonna keep this short and sweet, but we all know that’s not happening, so why pretend.

1. I turned 23. Not super exciting, actually was freakishly similar to turning 22 (spent the weekend alone with the dog, made my own cake, generally basked in the glow of quiet and frosting and wine).

bdaycake12

2. I have 2 part-time jobs at 2 non-profits. I think I mentioned that, so really I’m just saying…I still have them. They’re both kind of fake full-time jobs in that I pack about 40 hours worth of work into 20, which translates into a Saturday that is 90% sleep. And while they are both really great jobs, it gets a little difficult after a while to not feel like a part-time human being. I’ve also decided I consider my job too much a part of my identity. Not really sure how to fix that yet.

3. I applied to grad school for food studies.

4. I got into grad school.

5. I officially enrolled at Boston University and will begin my MLA in Gastronomy (Food Policy concentration) program this fall. I’ll be a part-time student, because I’m trying this new thing where I don’t get myself into 7 different jobs at one time. It’s a whole new world.

Preach.

Aside: Grad school applications were not hard and it was one of the most anticlimactic things ever. I got an email on a Friday afternoon on the train home telling me I got in, I said “oh good, so I can start planning my fall now,” signed some papers and that was it. I think this means I’m an adult. Or something like it.

6. I went back to Florence with my brother for Christmas. We ate all the gelato. I had a few panic attacks. Not necessarily in that order.

me & the bro in san gimfirenze IMG_0457

7. The Boston Marathon happened. And then the Friday lockdown happened. So that was deep-down-in-your-soul terrifying. But it also showed how wonderful, strong and generally badass the city of Boston is, and that was pretty great wicked awesome.

8. I just went to NYC for work and remembered why I so, so, so dislike it. But I ate amazing things like morel vinaigrette and roasted radishes and porgy (the fish), so that made up for it. Also spent most of it talking about the amazing organization I work for, so it was mostly a plus.

fresh mozz at EatalyIMG_0600

9. I’m going to South Africa in a week to visit one of my best friends who is there for Peace Corps. Because I don’t pay rent and I’m 23 and I can! Also so that I can start planting seeds about how awesome Boston is and all the reasons she should move there post-PC. True story.

Is this post a little disjointed? Probably. My brain doesn’t have much capacity left to fit in anything else. Thus the blogging hiatus. I’d like to say that’s going to change, but it’s not. I’m not shutting the blog down or anything, but I’m not going to be updating with any kind of frequency or regularity. Just FYI.

Here. Have some gratuitous pictures of Florence.

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Pains, Trains & Automobiles

Photo from this post on Grist.

When I told my parents that I didn’t want to bring my car with me to California, I was pretty relieved. Don’t get me wrong, Daphne & I are bffs – we went through a lot together over the year and a half that I had her, and she gets fan-freakin-tastic gas mileage to boot. But I hate driving. Like, hate. I don’t use that word lightly. It’s part of the whole sensitive personality thing – it completely overwhelms me. I totally get how it’s fun for some people, but the fact that I have to pay attention to all other 50 cars around me while maintaining the correct speed, checking all my mirrors ALL with a strap around my stomach and neck…nothing exhausts me quite like driving. The day after long road trips I would literally walk around with a limp because my hips hurt so bad from the stress I was under the day before in the car. And it is for this same reason that I refuse to ride a bike, which is what most people here do. Non-conformism all the way.

But public transportation and I…we get along.

When I was offered the grant writing internship with WiserEarth, I couldn’t take it fast enough. I was so.effing.excited. I knew Sausalito was not exactly the most accessible place in the Bay Area, but I can be quite stubborn when I need to be (thanks Mom), so I knew I’d just find a way to make it happen.

Map picture

The pushpin on the right is where I live. The pushpin on the left is where the WiserEarth offices are located.

What’s that you say? That there MUST be a ferry to zip me right across the Bay? Yeah, that would be logical, wouldn’t it? And therefore, it doesn’t exist. To go the ferry route, I would have to take Bart to Oakland, a bus to Alameda, a ferry from Alameda to San Francisco, and a ferry from there to Sausalito.

NEXT.

Basically, there are two options to get from East Bay to Marin county (which is where you are when you get to the other side of the Golden Gate):

  1. Go north and across the Richmond bridge (that 580 sign you see over the water).
  2. Go into San Francisco and then across the Golden Gate bridge.

Option 1 involved taking Bart to a bus to another bus. Option 2 was just Bart to a bus. That decision pretty much made itself.

Most people hear about my commute and are all ,“WHOOOA, that must SUCK,” but  it’s really not as bad as it sounds. So, I made you a slideshow of my commute, and you can tell if it sounds AND looks that bad. Of course, it’s not sustainable and because I’m hopping from one sublet to the next, I am going to start looking for places in the city, but for now it’s perfectly doable. Really.

So without further ado, may I present…

http://app.sliderocket.com:80/app/fullplayer.aspx?id=339B78A3-A1AA-A272-5662-6BAE639A7468

(Not sure why the player isn’t working, but if you click the link you’ll see it!)

Go Global

Whew. It took 3 days and one panic attack to do, but my Study Abroad page is finally up! Please check it out. You don’t even have to read it. Just click on it and validate me. There are pretty pictures!

In keeping with the travelicious theme of the day, I’d like to share with you an email I got today. It is an article about the positively wonderful side effects of being a true global citizen – a label I wear with pride.

5terre-manarola

This was written by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyer (Veteran Journalist) about himself and published in The Times of India.


In 1992, I wrote a book titled Towards Globalisation. I did not realize at the time that this was going to be the history of my family.

Last week, we celebrated the wedding of my daughter, Pallavi. A brilliant student, she had won scholarships to Oxford University and the London School of Economics. In London, she met Julio, a young man from Spain. The two decided to take up jobs in Beijing, China. Last
week, they came over from Beijing to Delhi to get married. The wedding guests included 70 friends from North America, Europe and China.

That may sound totally global, but arguably my elder son Shekhar has gone further. He too won a scholarship to Oxford University, and then taught for a year at a school in Colombo. Next he went to Toronto, Canada, for higher studies. There he met a German girl, Franziska.

They both got jobs with the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, USA. This meant that they constantly travelled on IMF business to disparate countries. Shekhar advised and went on missions to Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Kyrgyzstan and Laos. Franziska went to Rwanda,Tajikistan, and Russia. They interrupted these perambulations to get married in late 2003.

My younger son, Rustam, is only 15. Presumably he will study in Australia, marry a Nigerian girl, and settle in Peru.

Readers might think that my family was born and bred in a jet plane. The truth is more prosaic. Our ancestral home is Kargudi, a humble, obscure village in Tanjore district, Tamil Nadu. My earliest memories of it are as a house with no toilets, running water, or pukka road.
When we visited, we disembarked from the train at Tanjore, and then travelled 45 minutes by bullock cart to reach the ancestral home. My father was one of six children, all of whom produced many children (I myself had three siblings). So, two generations later, the size of the Kargudi extended family (including spouses) is over 200. Of these, only three still live in the village. The rest have moved across India and across the whole world, from China to Arabia to Europe to America.

This one Kargudi house has already produced 50 American citizens. So, dismiss the mutterings of those who claim that globalisation means westernisation. It looks more like Aiyarisation, viewed from Kargudi.

What does this imply for our sense of identity? I cannot speak for the whole Kargudi clan, which ranges from rigid Tamil Brahmins to beef-eating, pizza-guzzling, hip-hop dancers. But for me, the Aiyarisation of the world does not mean Aiyar domination. Nor does it mean Aiyar submergence in a global sea. It means acquiring multiple identities, and moving closer to the ideal of a brotherhood of all humanity. I remain quite at home sitting on the floor of the Kargudi house on a mat of reeds, eating from a banana leaf with my hands. I feel just as much at home eating noodles in China, steak in Spain, teriyaki in Japan and cous-cous in Morocco. I am a Kargudi villager, a Tamilian, a Delhi-wallah, an Indian, a Washington Redskins fan, and a citizen of the world, all at the same time and with no sense of tension or contradiction.

When I see the Brihadeeswara Temple in Tanjore, my heart swells and I say to myself “This is mine.” I feel exactly the same way when I see theChurch of Bom Jesus in Goa, or the Jewish synagogue in Cochin, or the Siddi Sayed mosque in Ahmedabad: these too are mine. I have strolled so often through the Parks at Oxford University and along the canal inWashington, DC, that they feel part of me. As my family multiplies and intermarries, I hope one day to look at the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona and Rhine river in Germany and think, “These too are mine.”

We Aiyars have a taken a step toward the vision of John Lennon. Imagine there’s no country, It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too.

My father’s generation was the first to leave the village, and loosen its regional shackles. My father became a chartered accountant in Lahore, an uncle became a hotel manager in Karachi, and we had an aunt in Rangoon.

My generation loosened the shackles of religion. My elder brother married a Sikh, my younger brother married a Christian, and I married a Parsi. The next generation has gone a step further, marrying across the globe.

Globalisation for me is not just the movement of goods and capital, or even of Aiyars. It is a step towards Lennon’s vision of no country.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope one day you’ll join us. And the world will be one………

D.C. Dreamin

dc baby 7-2011 (17)

Did I mention I found a new dream job?

 

Because I did. In June my former [Crying face] roommate told me about this exhibit that was on at the National Archives in our lovely capital city called What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?: The Government’s Effect on the American Diet. The title is pretty self-explanatory, but it basically shows (with pretty solid detail) how our food industry and policies have progressed since the early 19th century. For all my fellow foodies out there, Jose Andres (Spanish chef, James Beard award-winner, basically a big effin deal in the food world) was the Chief Culinary Advisor on the exhibit.

 

I wrote my senior English thesis on cookbooks of the WWII era and learned a TON about how American cuisine has become what it is today. If I ever get the chance to write a big fat thesis/book, I’d like to go back to the beginning and trace American food from the beginning, just because I think it’s so interesting to see what has (and hasn’t) affected how & what we as a country eat. See the exhibit? I wanted to work at this exhibit!

 

Naturally, after bouncing up and down in my chair, I began to plot. Never mind the fact that I hate driving, have no income and no one to go with – I would get to D.C. It was that important.

 

Lo and behold, I quit my job (for very specific reasons) and would drive home to Boston from Atlanta with my mom in early July. And whaddayaknow, but it looks as if a certain city is right smack in the middle of the route from Georgia to Mass!

Map picture

Ah, fate.

 

So off we went, in good ole Daphne (yes, my car has a name. Yours doesn’t?) with most of my life packed in boxes in the backseat. This is has been pretty common practice for the past 4 years.

 

We got to D.C. on a sunny [and sweaty] Thursday afternoon and after a relatively short wait in line, entered the fabulously air-conditioned National Archives. (The Declaration of Independence is housed there as well, so you can make a quick stop by that on your way out!) I thought the exhibit was very well done and was much more honest than I expected about the, um, interesting history of food in America. They really did some fantastic research. I saw newspapers from the 19th century with farmers discussing their opinions of the latest laws passed on agriculture, old commercials touting the benefits of enriched white flour, a letter written by Upton Sinclair about the effect of his book The Jungle. I saw propaganda posters encouraging the consumption of “vitamin doughnuts,” the coming about of stricter sanitation laws, and how the concept of nutrition was advertised and changed over a century. I saw Lady Bird Johnson’s chili recipe, the Kennedy family’s White House menus, and Queen Elizabeth’s scone recipe.

 

Yeah, I had a pretty good time. And I was pleasantly surprised by how much I knew because of my thesis research!

 

I really am a huge nerd. I should probably seek help. Or just go to grad school. I vote for the latter.

dc baby 7-2011

 

They didn’t allow pictures inside the building (that above is outside), so I don’t have much to show you, but the exhibit was really fun and worth a visit if it’s in your way (or you’re just a geek like me)!

 

dc baby 7-2011 (2)

 

dc baby 7-2011 (5)

 

dc baby 7-2011 (18)

 

Yep, working at this exhibit is definitely a dream job. And I mean that literally – the exhibit ends January 3rd, 2012, so all I can do is dream about it.

 

Oh well. I guess I’ll have to be content with a royal scone as consolation.

A Beautiful Blur

Have I mentioned that I was going on a trip to California?

Maybe once. Or twice.

Well, I did! From Thursday to Sunday, my roommate and I ran around northern California for real life/outside-the-college-bubble stuff and little bit of fun. Oh, and food. Always, always food.

15 minutes after our morning classes were out, we were on the road to the Charlotte airport. California adventure? Bring it on.

We stayed with my uncle and his family in the San Rafael area (thanks, family!!), and rented a car to get us around. After the 45 minutes from the airport to their house in which I bit my lips repeatedly, gripped the steering wheel like my life depended on it, and emitted the occasional profanity when someone 2 lanes over sped by at 90 mph, I got quite used to it.

PS, South Carolina drives way too slow.

Day 1: Getting down to business

My roommate is a music therapy major, and as part of her degree she has to do an internship after graduation. Her top choice was (yes, was) in Sacramento and when she started planning the trip so she could audition for them live, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the CIA Greystone campus. Plus – adventure tiiiime! [When you call a trip to the grocery store an adventure, a good reason to go to California in January looks like an epic journey. You understand.]

We dutifully bounded out of bed at 6 in the morning on Friday (is that sarcasm I hear?) to beat rush hour traffic into Sacramento. At least we got to see a pretty sunrise!

A big thank you to my navigator, who sleepily obliged my request to take these pictures 😉

After dropping her off, I zoomed to Napa Valley! The CIA is located in St. Helena, just down the road from Napa and across the street from a vineyard.

 

Culinary school….or castle??

mmmm, grapes 🙂

Turquoise lamp posts! If you are unfamiliar with my turquoise obsession…consider yourself warned.

The herb garden!

I have to admit, part of the pull of this school is its location. Not just wine country – M.F.K. Fisher lived in St. Helena with her 2 daughters at one point in her life. I’ve walked the same ground as M.F.K. Fisher. Whoa.

The town of St. Helena is as cute as it can be! Love at first drive-though.

 

Love the grapes on the street signs!

Note the G on the clock!! Omen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I waited for my 3 o’clock appointment with admissions, I spent the afternoon in – where else? – a bakery. A really cute, local organic bakery with incredible coffee.

I haven’t had coffee that wonderfully strong in a while!

I had to stay for lunch, of course. It’s just polite.

Well, that, and I found this sandwich of hummus, goat cheese, lots of veggies and balsamic on focaccia – all my favorite things on bread? Yes please.

After the tour of campus, during which I asked tons of questions and all my mother’s hopes of my liking the New York campus better flew out the proverbial window, I headed back to Sacramento to pick up my kid roommate. Not without about an hour and a half of rush hour traffic. But I did manage to get something out of it…

Tuscany? Is that you??

 

 

 

If anyone asks, I most certainly did not take these while driving/sitting in traffic. That would be dangerous.

Out of hunger and desperation, we chose a brewery on the same street as the internship location for dinner. It actually turned out to be a pretty good choice!

Spinach salad with feta, artichokes, crispy onions and little baby bay shrimp that I subbed for chicken. I’m on the west coast, people – seafood all the way! It was in a really delicious garlic-basil dressing that I am going to try to recreate – both flavors balanced so nicely! Paired with a glass of wine, I was a very happy – and exhausted – girl.

We slept in a bit til about 9 and I made us breakfast – oatmeal, of course!

2/3 c oats, 1 c. of water and 1/3 c. of low fat milk. Topped with a barely ripe banana (when they are not quite ripe, they are better on top – if you mix them in the pot, they are just to starchy and lose all the sweet flavor), peanut butter, and whipped cream. Because it was there. I recommend it heartily 🙂

We decided to have a low-key day because, well, we are pretty low-key people. We headed to Sausalito, a really cute little town (that was apparently the theme of the weekend!) on the other side of the bridge from San Francisco. We wandered, drank more amazing coffee while sitting on a bench and gazing at the water, and of course, we ate.

 

It was a blissful 60 degrees. I’m ready to go back now, please.

[twss?]

Loved the funky hydrant!

sooooo good.

 

 

 

Cheers!

We didn’t plan that…we swear.

 

The bus stop. Obviously.

We made a friend.

For lunch, we decided on the bakery where we found the wonderful coffee. I’ve decided that local bakeries are generally the best choice for dining when traveling. How can you go wrong with bread?

 

Cibo = ‘food’ in Italian. Good sign!

We ordered 2 panini for lunch and split them.

This was the veggie filled with beets, chard, pepper, other veggies and either mozzarella or fontina cheese – the bread was great and the veggies had a lovely sweet flavor that went well with the melty cheese.

We also ordered the prosciutto panini, which had spring greens, peppers and fontina – it was like a crispy, crunchy rainbow! It reminded me how much I love prosciutto. It just has such a wonderful smokey flavor, but it’s so thin. That’s saying a lot coming from an almost-vegetarian!

Dessert is, of course, a necessary thing.

Kona Coffee Fudge yogurt from the apparently famous Lappert’s. Such a good flavor combo!

We spent the late afternoon crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve been to San Fran a couple times, but I was way too young to remember if I’d even done this before, and this time I had a camera!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night night, sun!

It took 16 hours, 2 cars, 3 planes, 4 states and time zones, and a grande sub-par latte from Starbucks  to get us home. But it was worth it.

Well worth it.

What I’m Loving Right Now

1. dried apricots, for the way my teeth sink softly into the mellow, sweet flesh inside

2. organic pink lady apples, for their unapologetically tart but sweet flavor

3. the glorious 50 degree weather today. because it’s about damn time.

4. the big bang theory, for rescuing me from the black hole of academic research. and for sheldon.

5. the fact that I will be in California in 24 hours!!!

 

Unexpected Austin

Wednesday, August 11th 2010: Wake up far too early for a sunny day in August. Eat some melon. Head to airport. 
Destination: Austin, Texas.
Purpose: Training as a Peer Mentor for Academic Programs International.
[Just wanted to set the scene for y’all. Why the James Bond writing style?…If I told you, I’d have to kill you.]
Once I passed through security – always a barrel of laughs, that process – I proclaimed it breakfast time. And whaddya know, but there was a UFood Grill in the American terminal. I have heard of this particular restaurant and have always wanted to go, but all its Massachusetts locations are in downtown Boston, and it’s not easy to just hop down there. (Mostly because I refuse to drive in Boston. I value the lives of myself and my car far too much.) It’s a super casual dining place that features all health-focused fresh foods – AND tart frozen yogurt. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have a frozen yogurt, erm, problem. The problem being that I love it and will get it at pretty much anytime of the day or night, irregardless of actual hunger. It’s usually worth it.
But, I also saw they offered smoothies, and that sounded perfect so early on in the day. I grabbed a yogurt and the Mango Madness smoothie – mango, banana, and orange juice.
It was a little heavy on the OJ flavor, but it was pretty tasty. And it made me happy to see a substantial healthy breakfast option in the airport. It made me smile.
I had a layover at OHare in Chicago, and was equally as successful in finding a healthy lunch option!
It was lacking in the protein department, and was seriously screaming for some avocado, but it was really fresh and tasty. The cilantro made ALL the difference, and I was really impressed that it was even there! When I think of airports and herbs together, I see a flight attendant asking me if salt counts. Go OHare and cilantro!
Got to Austin and eventually found the other 3 Peer Mentors who were with me – we were on the same flight the whole time!
I’m just going to say it now: I have never, EVER in my life experiences humidity like I did in Texas. It was what I think rain forests and green houses are like. It was intense and inescapable. But I actually kind of liked it – the air conditioning never felt too cold! 
Despite all the heat, we still saw plenty of runners and bikers and strollers out and about, sweaty and smiling. It was impressive. Insane, but impressive.
After getting to the hotel, my roommate Gab and I chilled in the room and literally talked for 2.5 hours straight. She had studied with the API Toscania program, and it was absolutely incredible to share our mutual Italy experience/adventures. In fact, the entire time in Austin was like the best therapy I could have asked for in the transition back to home life. I loved hearing about everyone else’s experiences and even though we all went to different places, we all had the common ground of loving every minute of it and it was amazing to connect with that. It was just the coolest group of people. I kinda wish we got to work together more as Peer Mentors. But before I get too wish-washy…
On to the FOOD. We definitely ate well in Austin. The first night, we went to a Tex-Mex place. As we should have.
 
[Insert here bowls of some seriously delicious salsa, guacamole, and queso. I always thought queso was just glorified melted Veleveeta cheese….I was wrong. It’s amazing.]
I went with the fish tacos for my entree. It was a tough choice, but I’ve always wanted to try them, and I do love me some grilled tilapia. It was a good choice 🙂
The corn tortillas were soft (my fave!) and tasted homemade, and I never thought I would say this, but the best part of the dish was the Chipotle Ranch dressing drizzled on top. I usually opt for no dressing, because the plate typically arrives drowning under a cloying, bland, cheap-tasting white goo. But this was unlike no other ranch I’ve ever tasted. It was light but wonderfully creamy, well-spiced but not too hot, and accented the dish without taking any other flavor away. Basically, exactly what a sauce should be. One of the best tex-mex experiences I’ve ever had. (The only one that was better was a seafood enchilada in downtown Boston when I was around 9. It remains in my head as one of the tastiest seafood dishes yet to reach my mouth. I could eat one right now.)
After dinner, the group of us wandered around downtown Austin (ha! that rhymes with Boston!…maybe I need to get out more.). Austin is such a cool city! It reminded me a lot of Charlotte, North Carolina which I was totally not expecting. Most of our group ended up doing a bit of bar-hopping on the [in]famous 6th street, but my 20-year-old status and very tired self prevented me from doing the same. Luckily, my roommate and one other girl were also still 20, so I wasn’t alone. Yay for the youngin’s!
After a none-too-restful night, I awoke groggy but excited to get started. It was so great to actually meet the people I had emailed obsessively and see the building where that rather hefty check was sent to. The API Staff is just awesome. And a lot of them are Gillianasana readers, which just makes me grin like an idiot to know. [Hi everyone!!!] And the office decor is SO cool. The creative director Mark is, well, creative. It’s really colorful and fun, and I have plans to decorate my future apartment a la API. You’re all invited to my housewarming party. Bring chocolate.
We went out to lunch & I had my first one of these:
A fried pickle! And the consensus was that it tastes like…um, a fried pickle. Yep.
Dinner was really exciting. Like, really really exciting.
Italian! What else would get me so excited?
[That was some delicious focaccia. Nothing like the focaccia I had in Italy…but delicious nevertheless. Crispy, cheesy, chewy. God I love bread.]
Remember my first garganelli experience? I loved the shape, and when I saw it on the menu simply done with a tomato & basil sauce, my mind was made up quite quickly.
Simple is always a good way to go.
The dining experience in Austin was really fun. Great food + great conversation. It was, well, great!
And lo and behold, what was across the street from this Italian restaurant but a frozen yogurt shop. I was all over that like white on rice.
This was my first experience with pay-per-ounce fro yo, and I must say, I am jealous of those of you who have one nearby. Although my wallet sure is happy without them.
But who can say no to this??
Not I. 
I went the next night too.
The next and final day, we all gave our presentations about our personal study abroad experiences. It was so much fun to hear everyone’s, and made me want to go back. And then go everywhere they went. Global tour, anyone?
Earlier, we met with our program managers, aka the person I stalked via email for 3 months when I was dealing with the massive amount of paperwork involved. [Note to all those study-abroad hopefuls I just scared: most of it is now done online. I am jealous.]. Mine was absolutely awesome, despite the fact that I emailed her 3 times in a row in a period of 10 minutes, and it was so cool to meet her (and see a pic of her adorable son!). 
Another highlight was lunch.
Turkey+sprouts+lettuce+tomato+mustard+”avocado”. Apparently in Texas, when you see avocado on a menu, it means guacamole. Only one more reason I love Austin. More places should adopt that principle.
But dessert basically eclipsed everything else. There is a “cookie delivery service” nearby that the office orders from often, understandably. But the kicker? The cookes are delivered fresh from the oven.
In one word? GENIUS.
That was hands-down the best M&M cookie I’ve ever had. It was all gooey and melty and warm and if I didn’t have enough reasons to up and move to Austin, this would do it. I want to open a fresh-from-the-oven cookie delivery service. Seriously. Possibly one of the best business strategies I’ve ever heard of.
After our training was all over (*tear*), a small group of us decided to check out Barton Springs Pool, which is a public outdoor swimming area with natural water. (I don’t know how else to describe it; by “natural,” I mean not chlorinated. So before you start giggling about the concept of “unnatural water”…shutup.)
[I love that there is an award for “Best Swimming Hole.”]
We ran back to the hotel and I fought with the hotel printer, and before I knew it, it was dinner time! We met at a tapas bar (we were going for barbecue, but the was an hour-long wait, and it was already 8 o’clock. Not happening.).One of the group studied in Barcelona, so needless to say, we asked him for recommendations. I
went vegetarian.
It was some fresh bread with some of the best grilled veggies I’ve had – and I have had a lot! It was leeks, artichokes, and asparagus in smoked olive oil + sea salt. The leeks literally melted in my mouth. That romesco sauce on the side was none too shabby, either. I wanted to partake in the bottle of wine, but that pesky age limit and my conscience stopped me. Oh, to be in Italy again.

It was really a great trip. Even better than I expected, and I was pretty excited to begin with! The job will be a lot of work, but studying abroad is something I’m pretty passionate about & I think it will really be fun. 
That wasn’t the only surprise; the trip seemed to trigger a bit if reverse culture shock. Perhaps it was all the talking about living in our respective countries and how much we loved and grew from it, but either way, I came home happy but a little hurtin’. But what it really did was remind me of what a crazy, confusing, beautiful experience studying abroad is and, for me, was. And I’d do it all over again.
Thanks, Austin!
I think I’ll be back 😉
~Namaste~
[P.S. – if anyone read this earlier, my mouse clicked the “Publish” button of its own volition when I was halfway through writing it. Hate it when that happens.]

ThoughtFULL

So.many.thoughts. It’s like they laced up their Nikes and are running super-marathons through my brain like a Kenyan in the Boston Marathon. 
[For the record, yes, I am aware that the past 2 Mondays have not been Spiced Up, for which I do apologize. Blame the Kenyan thoughts.]
Where to begin. Austin is the COOLEST city. API is the COOLEST company. I love study-abroad. I miss Florence. More on this later.
While I am waiting for the race to finish and for my thoughts to round themselves up in a nice, neat list (or Excel spreadsheet), I’ve decided to focus on one such thought for now: body-image.
After reading the lovely Angela‘s post about “happy weights” during Change-The-Way-You-See, Not-The-Way-You-Look Week, the concept has been on my mind. It’s an interesting one, because the definition of happy weight is completely subjective to the definer. So I was faced with the question, what is my happy weight? Is it a number, or a feeling? I think I’ve been at it before, although it didn’t last long.
My personal happy weight has nothing to do with a scale. In fact, I haven’t weighed myself since I don’t know when and do not intend to. When I did weight myself, the number I saw dictated my mood for the rest of the day, and that was not just healthy for me. I just don’t feel like a silly little 3-digit combination should have such control over me. So, in thinking about my happy weight, I thought about when I have been, well, happy
Before Italy, the only time I could think of was my trip to India. I didn’t give a second thought (even if I gave a first) to calories, exercise, or “fat” when I was there; I was so determined to live in every single moment, and I did. The result? I was simply happy. No little voice in my head telling me I’m fat or I shouldn’t eat that. But, I came home and those old habits started creeping back subtly but surely.
Fast forward to this spring in Florence. Apparently, there is something about me in a different country that puts me on top of the world. Even on my bad days – and I did have them – I would take a walk, grab a cappuccino or gelato, and always found myself smiling again. A big part of it I know was gratitude. I was and am still so unspeakably grateful to the forces of the universe that allowed me to live in the best city in the world – my parents, API, even myself. When I think of my “happy place”, I go back to the bench in Piazza Santa Croce or a table inside Sergio’s for lunch and I get the most complex mix of emotions – nostalgia, bliss, longing. I was happier than I had been in a long time, and that happiness translated over to my body image. I was beginning to feel very comfortable in my skin. It was…new, to say the least.
Austin has this awesome public swimming area, Barton Springs. It’s a natural pool, like a lake or…um, a spring. Sssh, I’m tired. I’m not big on swimming and didn’t plan on going, but a group of others were going and my new Italian self was not about to miss out on a fun experience, so off I went. And as I was sitting there, clicking pictures and thoughtfully munching on a granola bar, I thought about my ever-present self-consciousness about wearing a bikini. Now, when I lost my first 30, I remember the feeling of buying & wearing my first bikini ever – it was pretty sweet. But since then, with who knows how many pounds lost and gained, I’ve kinda lost that confidence. And these were probably the main reason why.
Those are my stretch-marks. Mine. And I’ve had them since middle school. I hated them. I thought pregnant women were the only ones who had them. Then, I learned that models often get them as well because of binge dieting and stretching skin back and forth. It was a little comforting…but they have airbrushing. Us mortals, not so much.
Why, you may ask, am I showing off one of my so-called flaws on the world wide web? To oppose the idea that they are flaws. I only have love, and lots of it, for every inch of me, stretch marks included. It is beyond frustrating to me that 10-year-old me was already hating my body because it wasn’t rivaling what I saw in movies & magazines. I don’t really care how many times I’ve talked about this already or how cliche it may be; it hasn’t ended yet, so there’s still a need to discuss it. 
It may be a struggle, but I am determined to find my happy weight again – even if I can’t go back to Italy right now (unless anyone has a free ticket lying around….anyone?????), I will bring what I learned and what I gained there back with me. I will return to my happy weight. 
How do you define your “happy weight”? Do you have a part of your body you would like to stop feeling insecure about?
~~~
Well, there’s one big ole thought down….a gajillion more to go. Sweet dreams!
~Namaste~

When In _______, Eat Like the _______-ans.

Due to my impending trip to my study abroad program’s offices to be trained in all things Peer Mentor-y, I’ve had my time in Florence on the brain quite a bit lately.
Ok, that’s a lie, I think about my 3.5 months on the greatest city on earth on a hourly daily basis. But roll with me on this one.
I thought I would compile a definitive list – according to me, at least – of the absolute must-dos while abroad…and the other stuff that if you somehow fail to fit in to your packed, globe-trekking schedule, you won’t be in tears about once you’re home. And then I started typing the first item on my list….and it became a post in and of itself. If you haven’t guessed already, it’s about food.
You had to have seen that one coming. Yes, number one for me is *drum roll*…food. I know you’re sitting there saying “well duh, this coming from the food writer wannabe/culinary-school-student-to-be.” But hear me out.
Well, wipe that drool off the keyboard and then hear me out.
Food is a pretty important part of experiencing a culture. And by pretty important, I’m talking in the Top 3.
It usually goes by unnoticed, and perhaps that’s as it should be, but the way one goes about eating has a lot to do with his/her culture. Why, for example, are there millions of take-out & delivery services available from restaurants in the U.S.? Because we the people keep up a go-go-go lifestyle, and convenience is often a top priority. We may enjoy a PB&J sandwich, but it’s probably while also replying to 50 emails, holding a conference call, and/or making plans with friends concerning what to play during recess in a couple minutes. Further more, the ubiquitous PB&J – arguably a truly ‘American’ recipe – is ideal because it’s cheap & quick to prepare.
On the other hand, we have bella Italia, where places to dine specifically and exclusively for lunch abound. Their hours are usually somewhere between 11 & 2, give or take, but this is not to cater to a wide variety of schedules – it is so for people to enjoy a 2 hour lunch. Unlike the U.S.of A., where food accompanies conversation – and the quicker, the better –  the conversation accompanies the food in Italy, which is afforded several reverent hours. The pace of life is slower, the meal times truly appreciated. Yes, sandwich shops exist where you can drop in and get a quick bite to go – but you will usually find such establishments double as a wine bar, where as early as 11 AM little old men are enjoying a deep red glass of Chianti and chatting with the owner behind the counter. Merely by stepping into such a place, you are observing – and partaking in! – the culture. And I haven’t even started on the food itself yet. 
This part is somewhat obvious – what people eat is, of course, part of who they are. And their culture is also [duh] an important part of who they are, so it’s a double dose of cultural immersion. But, let’s face it, the real fun is on the menu. While back home, your younger brother is chowing down on turkey & swiss on rye, you are about to dig your fork in to a hearty plate of fresh pasta, doused artfully with homemade tomato sauce and crowned with real parmeggiano-reggiano
And don’t forget the bread on the side! Or maybe it’s a big steaming bowl of my very favorite ribollita (the presence of bread goes without saying). 
Either way, a far cry from that little Wonderbread-clad sandwich on the other side of the Atlantic.
Call it a bunch of rambling, but all of this is to prove a point. Yes, eating in a new place can be scary. (Cacciucco, anyone?) But it’s an important part of getting to know that new place so everything else in it can be, well, less new & scary! I learned a lot more than just what the best kind of cheese is when I ate in Italy. (It’s fresh pecorino, by the way. At least I think so.) So please, before you throw up your hands and spend whatever precious little time you have abroad consuming a steady diet of ham & cheese sandwiches (don’t get me wrong, they have their place – just not 24/7!) – try something new. Even if you have no idea what you just ordered. Even if the waiter tries to translate and you think it might be something with a a beak, 3 legs and a dorsal fin. You might discover a new favorite I-must-eat-this-every-day food! You might also discover a new I-will-never-touch-that-foodlike-thing-ever-again food, but that’s okay too. What I can guarantee is that you won’t regret your choice of going out on a limb and trying something brand new. I do recommend bringing a friend – for fun photo ops and, if that second scenario turns out to be the case, to share her inevitably delicious plate of whatever-it-is. 
Now, I’ve given a great deal of time to explaining all this. And yes, it is because I love nothing more than talking about food and Florence, but it is also because I’ve been there, too afraid of new food to enjoy the whole cultural experience of dining. The regret I had about my first trip to Italy – spent hungry – was tangibly painful, and this time around, I was not depriving myself of that again. I learned a lot the second time around, but I’m lucky I got a second time! Heed these words, and you won’t regret a single minute of your trip. You’ll just live each and every one.

Buon Appetito.

~Namaste~

P.S. – See you in Austin!!!