Category Archives: Food

I am my mother

Minus the clear complexion and cooking capabilities.

Inspired by the infamous CSS paper-return let down (that ugly moment when you realize you didn’t quite pull it off last week), I baked a cake.  Or rather, I went to Wesshop for the 3rd time today, because I was craving chocolate and decided to bake a cake.

Now, you know this project was destined to fail when I bought the mix thinking to myself “I’ve never seen a cake baked in a pan like the one I have, but if you can cook an egg in the microwave, this has gotta work.”

Rest assured,  the young adult demographic is still out there to prove that, just maybe, we could learn something from Heloise’s hints.  (sorry, inside joke for my mother.)

Imagine my excitement when I came home to find that I actually do have cake pans.  This was a significant realization.  I have a couple casserole-like dishes, a spatula, a cooking spoon, and dishes for three.  Notice missing kitchen basics (pots, skillets, etc).

I had all the ingredients too.  I thought I was home free.

But, of course, the moment I put it in the oven, failure started creeping my way again.  I didn’t set the timer again, so, it burned (just a little).  I peeled off the black parts and figured it would be okay.

I felt like such a homemaker when I set the loaves on the edge of my counter by the open window, where the chocolate scent wifted by the students walking home in the street.

Let’s call that the height of my triumph.

After letting it sit for some time (geez at least 20 minutes), I got bored with 20th century family dynamics in Vietnam and put my reading down.  Given that the cake was sitting under a cold window, it had to be ready by now.

The edge of the plates were cold to the touch, but it was still radiating substantial heat in the middle under the plates.  Again, I thought to myself…”It’s cool enough that the frosting won’t melt.  Why else would you actually need to wait until to frost it?”

So, with Heloise scoffing at me in the background, I frosted it (with bad prepackaged frosting no less), and I learned why you wait.

The poor thing crumbles apart if it’s not cool.


So, in summary, what did I learn?

1) Mom baking when she’s angry is a good habit to mimic.

2) Mom’s patience when she’s baking is also a good habit to mimic.

3) Making chocolate-something, instead of just eating chocolate-something will give me time to cool off, which consequentely leads to a drastically lower calorie intake.  That’s a good thing too 😉


“Four Queso,” she said.

Despite receiving very good instruction in my language class here about the best way to order food in different types of settings (for example, sandwich place vs. nice sit-down), I often bail on complete phrases by smiling and just saying the name of the food I want.*

…but at least I always order it in Spanish.  Veronica made our waiter crack a visible smile with her “four queso” pizza tonight, but then again, we laughed too.      #OriginalSplanglish

The food was bad, oh so bad.

*Important clarification: This does not mean I do not push/challenge myself.  It just means I don’t have to say or do anything for people to figure I’m out American, and in some settings, I acknowledge that, and to prevent embarrassment, because a lot of people are listening or something, I don’t test one of the new phrases I’ve learned to order food.

The cow might be black and white

But finding the milk, not so easy.

My vocabulary and comfortability with certain grammar structures is limiting, but I think my own timidity is the more serious problem.  I feel like that’s an awkward description, because I can’t think of any other time when shy is an appropriate adjective to describe of me.

The milk here is different.  Somebody said it’s because it’s not pasteurized, and that seems like a reasonable explanation, although I really have no idea.  It tastes a little different, comes in little plastic boxes, and isn’t refrigerated at the grocery store.  On my first day, my host mom asked me if I liked hot or cold milk, and I involuntarily looked at her a little incredulously.  The only time I’ve ever even heard of drinking warm milk was in Bing Crosby’s sandwich serenade to Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas.

Anyways, this morning, the milk I usually drink wasn’t in the fridge, but there was a curiously looking bottle that resembled the packaging of American milk.  I quickly scanned the bottle, saw on the back it said “mix with cereal,” so drenched my big bowl of chocolate lovers cereal in it and figured it’d be fine.   Yeah…not so much.

It was thin like milk, and  white like milk.   But didn’t taste like any milk I’ve ever known.  Going off of the whole none-of-the-milk-here-tastes-the-same and they-drink-hot-milk-here thing, I figured it was just a sweetened variety.

My host parents joined me in the middle of breakfast, and I sat there with a straight face hoping they wouldn’t figure out what I had done, and I just about made it.  I had just finished my awful bowl of cereal and was getting up to leave, when my host mom was started digging through the fridge.  After a minute, her head shot up from behind the door and she looked at me with wide-eyed curiosity.    She held the “milk” in her hand, and asked what I had put on my cereal.

It was yogurt.

My host parents felt really bad, but it wasn’t their fault.  I saw the normal milk on the counter shelf, but I didn’t want to open a new container.  I figured that since they drink cold milk in my house, somebody would have replaced the milk in the fridge when it was empty.  Hence, the “sweet milk” must be what we were suppose to use.  It seemed quite logical at the time.

In retrospect, I should have just told them I had poured something funky and sweet on my cereal.  I am used to eating food that I mess up (crunchy spaghetti, freezer burned hamburger, etc), but I suppose there is a line.  And yogurt with a milky consistency on chocolate cereal probably crosses that line.

Speaking in Spanish when I’m nervous is hard, but it will get better in time.  I left after breakfast for church.  I was really excited because I am always very comfortable in churches in the US, even ones I’ve never been to before.  This was going to be my opportunity to plug into something very normal for me, and do it in Spanish.  Best of all, I found what looks like a great church about 10 minutes from my house.

It might be close, but I still spent an hour walking around trying to find Calle de Víctor de la Serna.  I never did end up making it to church, but I had to guts to ask a woman on the street for directions.  Speaking to strangers always makes me nervous, because they often talk fast.   But with the milk incident at the forefront of my mind, I did it anyways.

I later got chewed out at home for not calling my family and asking for directions, so I guess I’m only taking one step at a time.  But at least my mistakes are making me bolder.  I’ll get there soon enough.

Path on fort in Portugal

Not a blind spot, a sunspot

I have a real knack for putting myself in uncomfortable situations.  I’m not quite sure you’d call it a skill or not, but I possess it nonetheless.  On one hand, life is rarely normal (whatever that is), but I am constantly forced to grow.  On the other hand , I usually have a very high stress level.

Today, was expedition #2 to Toledo.  It was quite the whirlwind trip, but still nice.  There is something mesmerizing about visiting places that have layered histories.  I love Alexandria, Virginia because it was important early America, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War.  Toledo is like Alexandra, except thousands of years older.  We visited the mammoth Cathedral, the Mosque, and the Synagogue.  It was like a visual religious history of the country.

Lunch was at another super classy restaurant.  This time, I actually liked most of the dishes.  The blood sausage was a little strong for my stomach, but the rest of nice.  Ate the best fish I’ve had in my life.

I realized something very important during lunch though that might actually relate to my whole knack for putting myself in uncomfortable places thing.  I (can) enjoy the food and I (always) enjoy good company, but I hate having to drink water with my fancy meal because I don’t like wine.  I want a coke.  I hate having to reach for that obnoxious water glass with my right hand (I’m left handed) because my bread plate is on the top left my place at the title.  I want to put my elbows on the table.  But I smile politely at white linens and funky fish knifes, because I never want to face a people barrier I can’t break.

I feel like this is the ultimate application of my type-A, extrovert personality.  By forcing myself through that which isn’t exactly 100% my style and by pushing through the awkward, uncomfortable moments I get one step closer to understanding people for who they are.  And perhaps more importantly, I enter other people’s worlds rather than waiting for them to enter mine.  I think that’s how I make it at Wesleyan.

It’s not like my midwestern style is too unrefined for crystal glass, it’s just that crystal glass lacks that homey touch.  For example, yesterday I went to McDonald’s because I was feeling quite sick and wanted familiarity.  My hamburger was drenched in mayonnaise, but had no ketchup.  It was just fine, I mean, I like mayonnaise, but it just wasn’t what I was craving/expecting.  That’s what fancy lunches and new situations feel like.

Tonight, as we were getting off the bus in Madrid I became acutely aware of reality.  Orientation is over.  Classes start Monday.  I still am unsure of how many CEH and grado classes to take.  I’ll still see people from the program often enough, but now stuff’s not scheduled so much.  The free schedule really is great, but I’m always nervous when I’m forming a routine.  After a very lonely summer, I just want to make sure I don’t end up any kind of social situation that vaguely resembles my experience New York.

Today was an English-speaking day, so I got on the subway home trying to switch my thinking to Spanish.  But the only thing that was running through my mind was English songs.  When I walked in the door, my host mom had to translate a couple of embarrassingly simple questions.  However, I do think she understands that it takes me a little time to boot up, because we had extended/deep conversation about American politics at dinner.

I like to think of mildly uncomfortable situations as sunspots.  You can’t see in a blind spot either, but a blind spot is dark.  I might not quite know where I am going when I’m in a sunspot, but at least I know I’m headed someplace bright…



I could actually breathe today, and I barely coughed!  Someone helped me buy allergy meds at the pharmacy.  I feel much better.

Best onions of my life

They said in orientation that man cannot live by bocadillo (basically a sub) alone.  They lie.  Man could totally live by bocadillo alone.  One sandwich is large and cheap enough to save an entire third world country.  My bocadillo makes your $5 footlong look like dog food.  Seriously.

Imagine– thinly sliced deli chicken, layers of brie cheese, a thick coat of fresh avocado, wheat bread (everybody here serves white), and the tastiest onions of my life.  And trust me, it looks better in person.  Plus, there were probably 100 or so options, so you would never get tired of eating the same thing.  

The 30 minute wait was more than worth it, and the two ladies working were nicer than I’ve ever known any employee who suddenly had their empty restaurant overtaken by 40 college students with various levels of proficiency in the local tongue.  

Best part of all this, this excellent restaurant is right off campus.  My 5 Euro sandwich eternally triumphs that ridiculous 40 Euro gourmet meal they fed us on Sunday night.  

On another note, scariest moment here happened tonight.  I had no problem getting downtown, to campus, and back from campus today, but in all of that, I neglected to write down the bus station I live at.  (genius, I know.)  I got on the right bus at Puerta del Sol, but once I got on, it dawned on me that I had no idea where I needed to get off.  

I figured it would be fine, because I thought I would recognize the area.  But on my 30 minute bus ride, it got really dark.  From the bus window, I looked for the metro stop I thought I lived by, which is how I managed to get off at the right place.  However, I had no idea which way to turn to get home from the stop.  I only wandered around for about 5 minutes, but 5 minutes of fighting panic.  I was about to call my family when I found my building.  Once I came inside and they found out what had happened, I got chewed out for not calling right away, so it’s all good.  I really like my family.

No foodie here.

Never in my life have I felt like I had to throw up twice in one meal before tonight.  The program pays for occasional fancy dinners (legit 4 star fancy).  Now, I’m not really the steak and lobster type, but, hey, if I have 6 forks in front of me I know which one to use.   Unfortunately,  I didn’t get to show off my utensils selection skills tonight.  Instead, I showed my wild inaptitude and dis-appreciation for the so-called “finer” foods in life.

It started as an unassuming meal.  The table was set with your typical white linens, wine and water glasses, and artsy appetizer and bread plates.  I was impressed by the hot, crispy wheat bread, but unfortunately, I do believe that might have been the best food I ate all night.

The first appetizer was some kind of vegetable toast with something that looked like shiny, flat bacon.  Think of what bacon would look like if it were made of liquorice.   It was probably ham.   The bread it was on had a flavor I couldn’t identify.  As a whole, the dish tasted a little bit like Thanksgiving.  It really wasn’t that bad, just new.

I had no idea what to make of the next dish.  In all of my years of rubber chicken dinners and the like, I’ve never been served a palate cleansing dish before.  I did have the sense to turn to my friend who was a bit more familiar with gourmet food and asked how to eat it.  Apparently it was basil leaves, some kind of cheese, other items I couldn’t identify, and mint ice cream.  I put a small bit on my plate like everybody else, (who by the way thoroughly enjoyed it.)  I took a petite bite, and involuntarily crinkled my nose.  After the second bite, I started crying from the taste and rolling stomach pain.  I traded plates with a friend so I wouldn’t have to smell it, because the scent started making me nauseous.

Appetizer two was some kind of orange potato dish with cheese, paprika, bread crumbs, and a scallop.  It was thoroughly edible, although after commenting that I liked it, I got to thinking.  If I was eating it anyplace else at any other time, I wouldn’t finish it.  It was just good in comparison.

The main dish started with promise, but ended in failure.  It was pork, although it looked a lot like steak. Other than being way too salty, the meat was good.  I was excited when I saw potatoes that looked like potatoes, but they didn’t taste good.  I asked my friend what the flavor on them was and he said it was probably made with duck fat, like all good potatoes.  There was also an applesauce with the meat.

Dessert looked like mashed up chocolate cake with dulce de leche in the shape of seashells.  It tasted fine, but it was quite rich, and by dessert my stomach couldn’t quite take anymore.

The worst part of all of this, everyone else was calling it the best/one of the best meals they’d ever eaten.  I know I don’t have particularly refined taste buds (this is obvious if you know me), but I do appreciate a savory, elegant meal and the many forms it can come in.  This one just didn’t do it for me.  My evening at the restaurant concluded with a stomach clutching, not-so-elegant sprint to the ladies room.