Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Coffee Gelatin?

Vietnamese spicy steak sandwich and coffee gelatin.
I tiptoed past the pencil marks on the door frame marking years of ages and handfuls of kids into the mysterious pantry. I always thought it resembled one of those "Home Alone"-type closets-- when the lights and TV were on, I was in the clear, but when the lights were off and nobody was around, I flashed past that door for fear something might come alive inside. This was from the age of four to probably too old to be scared of a pantry.

As the seventh child of seven, growing up I developed a horribly obsessive, food hoarding, hiding, and stuffing habit. Strawberry pops shivered in the bottom and the back of the garage freezer where nobody would look. Little Debbie Zebra cakes slid back and forth with the misplaced socks in the "lost sock drawer" because nobody needed lost socks. And Tony the Tiger hid all day, every day at the tip top of the cereal cabinet where nobody could see him. The worst of the food problems has a name though. . . .

Whenever we went to a Mexican restaurant, I, first, overate the chips and dip. Next, I proceeded to, as if a middle-aged OCD woman, mathematically figure out the perfect ratio of shrimp to tortillas, always pre-planning to take most of the food home. Now, in my family, we've titled this my "Shrimp Counting" stage, because once I had counted how many shrimp there were, I would ask for a to-go box. Almost before the box left the waiter's fingertips, I had intently etched my name in cursive, turning with a smile as Claire shivered with the noise the box made under my fingernail. This was the easy part. The real struggle didn't come until the box was in the fridge. I began to come up with elaborate schemes to hide the box only because so many times before, I would come home from school excited to eat one tortilla with two scoops of vegetables and exactly three shrimp only to open the box and realize I now only had one shrimp remaining. DAAAADDDD!!!!

When my dad drove up the hill to our garage around the back, my hands were already on my hips, foot tapping the pine floor as if I had some extraordinary nagging power at such a young age. As soon as I heard the intercom echo, "Hall door open" I began the frustrated lecture: "Dad! Did you eat two of my shrimp?! How could you? I had the perfect amount of shrimp for how many tortillas I had, and you ruined it!" I know, I know. . . . it was a little bit much for a twelve year old to be doing, but this is what happens when siblings and fathers steal your food without asking. I had had too many hands cross in front of my face to my personal plate of food to steal one piece after the other. "Hilary's small. She won't eat that. She won't mind." Whatever they were thinking, it was officially my goal to let them know I was NOT okay with them taking my food before first asking if they could have it.

As part of these food problems, I quickly became surprisingly good at sneaking food, and I knew where every last snack, bottle of BBQ, and can of creamed corn hid in that giant red-brick house on the hill. I remember multiple times cooking for myself by the age of ten. Once I made it past the doorway of the pantry and reached for the light, I lost the fear of the ominously dark closet. I'd found the ultimate fun kid dessert--  boxes of instant jello and pudding.

Last Friday, Chelsea, Lauren and I returned to the International Coffee Hour here at UGA. It's an amazing program offering students an opportunity to meet while also trying international foods. Every week it's sponsored by a different group or club, and last Friday it was sponsored by the Vietnamese and Philippine clubs. They had spicy sandwiches, purple tapioca pudding-type stuff, strange candies, and more. But what excited me most was the coffee jello. Of all my years sneaking into the pantry to open anther box of instant jello, never before had I tasted coffee jello. I mean it makes sense considering we grew up Mormon.

The three of us sat with our filled Styrofoam plates ready to try everything new and I was saving the best for last. Finally, I finished everything, and stabbed my fork in the gelatin. It didn't move. Hmmmm. . . .that's weird. I slowly pulled the fork out and watched as the fork marks disappeared. Chelsea had been watching me and I suppose she saw the confused look I had on my face. She laughed and said, "I know! It's not good! Personally, I don't trust food that heals itself!" Still, I had to try it for myself. I returned the fork to the gelatin and pushed it through the flesh pulling off a hard, unmoving Tootsie Roll-colored bite. I brought it to my mouth and it was instant disgust. Nothing about that gelatin tasted or resembled coffee. I'm not sure what Pacific island or country created that hard, self-healing gelatin, but it's for sure a false claim that it's coffee flavored!

*I would like to clarify that I no longer have these food issues. After being roommates with Lana Pewitt, who has no boundaries to sharing, I had to get over my problems. Lana without knowing it was my own personal food therapist! 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Barcelona: A Vacation within a Vacation

It's somehow already been almost two weeks since my friends and I flew off to Barcelona for the weekend. I don't understand how the time goes by so quickly here, except that we never have a dull moment. Amongst all of our crazy adventures here in Paris, ten of us got together and decided to take a bit of a between-terms vacation to Barcelona. It was a wonderful city and I'm pretty sure it was one of the best weekends of my life.

The first day we left Paris bright and early just as the sun poked above the horizon. This allowed us to have as much time on Thursday as possible, but we were all pretty tired by the time we arrived in Barcelona that we decided to just sit on one of those big red tourist buses. It scurried us around to many of the most famous buildings and parks and gave us a general feel of the city. Then we headed off for the hostel, which was a little ways out of the center of the city but it was nontheless a pretty great hostel with free breakfast, wi-fi, a ping pong table, and hammocks. On top of that, it was only about a five minute walk to the beach, which we took full advantage of considering how chilly and rainy it's been here in Paris in the middle of June!

Friday morning we hurried off toward the beach to beat any possible crowds and layed out our hostel-towels to lie on. After a good two hours in the sun, we took a little break for calamari from the cutest little shack that wasn't sketch at all ; ). Surprisingly, the calamari was incredible, although I suppose it shouldn't be surprising considering we were right on the beach and it was probably still squirming just before the little Spanish man brought it out to us! After enjoying our little lunch, Chelsea, Ryan, Madison, and I all fell asleep under the warmth of the sun and woke up an hour later scorched. It was worth every peel of skin the next week though, because the sun felt so amazing.

The next day was, if possible, even better. Chelsea and I broke off from the group because we really wanted to take the sky lift up to this park that overlooks the entire city. It was gorgeous up there. And everything from the beginning of Saturday seemed movie-esque. We meandered down the hill and discovered a grassy, half-shaded area to plop down on. As we layed under the lush Spanish trees tossed around by the ocean breeze, a family of about 20 people came over just next to us to celebrate one member's birthday. We didn't mind the interruption because they brought accoustic guitars and serenaded us with their folk music. (Plus, I swear, anything I do with Chelsea is more fun than I've ever had because we get along so well and have yet to run out of excited conversation.)

Next, the two of us made it down to Las Ramblas, Barcelona's main and probably most touristy area, but we knew we wanted to find a vibrant food market that we had seen the night before. Hidden behind the four and five-story buildings, we found the entrance and rather excitedly paced in. Unrealistic candy, mouth-watering chocolate, brilliant fruits, sweet meats, stinky cheeses, and potent seafood spilled out into the aisles along with the hundreds of child-like, sparkly-eyed spectators. Chelsea and I weaved in and out looking for the best combination of food because we, like many times before, had forgotten to eat lunch and it was already 6:00. I'd have to admit that besides helping my wallet, hanging out with Chelsea has made my jeans quite baggy! After exploring and scoping out what looked best, we fixated on a Spanish cheese with herbs and prosciutto on top, wild boar jerky, a variety of cut fruits, and a portion of chocolate proving our eyes are much larger than our stomachs.

We carried the odd mix of foods down to the docks only a fourth of a mile away and sat with our feet hanging over the side of the wall with the sun setting behind us. It was absolutely one of the most amazing days ever and it wasn't even over yet. We still had a good amount of Spanish sangria to try! (Although, we'd already had a sangria with every meal.) Because we ate late, we met up with everyone from the group to eat at 9:00 and rather than eating more, we stuck with a pitcher of sangria and a glass of Spanish beer, which was surprisingly good. Sadly, our flight was leaving from a town an hour and a half away at 7:00 in the morning, so we had to take a bus from Barcelona that morning at 3:30 in the morning. We didn't even try to sleep. I mean, that's totally normal for the Spaniards, who don't even eat dinner until about 9:30 or 10:00 every night and then party until 6:00!

I'm only writing the main details of what we did on the trip, but I wish everyone could experience what I experienced in Barcelona. Spanish culture is completely different from French culture: a little more relaxed and way more lively! It's a new favorite city of mine, Barcelona.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bones, Graves, and Heaven

I've been so busy running around Paris trying to see everything I can that I haven't even had time to blog, email, or communicate with anyone in the U.S., but I've finally set aside a little time. Here's what has happened in my first week here in Paris. . . .

The first night in town, after a less than delicate nap, a group of us walked from St. John's (our school here) to the Eiffle tower. We moseied around for a good while just chatting and making friends with our noses pointed up toward the sparkling steel structure. I'll admit, that sufficed as the perfect welcome to Paris.

Because this is my fifth time to Paris, I really want to know the city as if it were another home to come back to one day. In order to do that, I've had to explore the streets like a leopard to its prey, stalking, pacing, and learning exactly what its enemy can do. I, unlike the leopard, don't find the French people to be my enemies, but I do not want them to think the oposite. So, I'm trying to blend in by wearing "European" clothes, mumbling in French, and appearing to have nothing to do but sit in a park all day. Ok, that last one isn't quite true, but I swear that's what most of the Parisians do here all day. Do they have jobs? I momentarily thought they might all work at night or something, but no....everything closes at the convenient hour of 9:00! I suppose I can understand why my mom has always loved the French and their culture so much, because they hate to work and love to sit around in nature while eating the freshest baguettes.

And oh! those baguettes are worth every bit of simple sugar, because, when they're fresh from the boulangerie, the crisp break of the exterior and warm pull of the interior bread, immediately invokes those persistant glands under my tongue to produce saliva. It's actually happening right now with me just thinking about the breads and pasteries here. Despite their seemingly perfect composition, I've been holding back on the intake so as not to over-do it. However, after the crepes I had last night at the Sacre Coeur, which overlooks all of Paris, I may have to ease my self-discipline as well as my belt!
I've climbed the stairs to Sacre Coeur three or four times now, and three or four times I've also had crepes from the exact same vendor. He's my favorite because he makes the crepes fresh before my eyes and he also knows minimal amounts of English, which makes me hope he's a little bit more ligitimate. This time around, I couldn't even wait for my friends to get their crepes before my fingers fixed and tugged on the pancake. But what made this crepe even better was that we had just finished walking ten miles around Paris, from the Catacombs to Cimetiere Pere Lachaise (where lies the tombs of many famous Frenchmen/women). It was almost as if the newly-formed calluses on the bottom of my feet even thronged for the warmth of a French crepe. To top it all off, we were able to watch the sun set behind the city-skewed horizon while slowly savoring the combination of flavors.

Sacre Coeur, of all the wonderful places in Paris, might just be my favorite. It is a very quaint little area with cobbled streets, street painters, and busy restaurants, but all of the people seem so calm and so content as if the world below didn't exist anymore. I don't know about you, but I've only found that feeling a few times and it usually involves a forest, a pond, and some songbirds!

It has been a short, yet action-packed, week already and I'm not about to give up on my adventures. Since the first night, I've been to Le Louvre, Le Rodin, Champs-Elysee, Luxembourg Gardens, the Catacombs, Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, several cafes, and many more exciting places. I'll try to post at least every week, if not more, but for now, I have to go pack for a trip to the Loire Valley.

*A note about the pictures: The first one is in the Catacombs (which are the tunnels under Paris filled with bones). The second picture is me with my roommate Peggy and our friend Ryan in Luxembourg Gardens. 3 is of me eating my crepe at Sacre Coeur. 4 is the Sacre Coeur. 5 is of Peggy, Ryan, and me on the stairs of Sacre Coeur. 6 is in the gardens under the Eiffle tower just today. After yesterday's crazy walking, we were pretty tired, so we all fell asleep after climbing the steps of the Eiffle. Ryan was the only one still asleep, so I tried to put a little flower behind his ear. He for some reason thinks I'm a hippy because I like to pick flowers and put them behind my ear! And 7 is of me with my friend Chelsea (who is basically a personality clone of me, seriously) overlooking Paris at the Sacre Coeur.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bienvenue a Paris!

Well, I'm finally in Paris and have actually had a few adventurous days already. I would estimate that I've probably walked about eight miles a day....which is wonderful. I surely missed that about London. So, I've been to the Louvre for the fourth time, the Rodin for the second time, and of course, had a few croissants. But of the few things I've done, my favorite so far was just sitting in Le Jardin de Luxembourg. My friends and I found a hang-out tree where we plan on spending a lot of park lunches. Well, I'm about to make some more memories with a visit to the Paris Flea Market, and I will definitely write a more in depth blog later. For now, I just wanted everyone to know that I was here and safe and making my way around.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

NPR Tote in a Wicker Basket

Recently, I have been thinking about all of the things I wish I could do. For example, I want to knit myself a mustard-colored toboggan, play Iron and Wine songs on guitar, make tea from herbs in my garden, start a bee hive to collect honey, and pick flowers to create a fresh bouquet every single day. I'll admit, my list seems a little far-reaching, but I'm not putting a time limit to it. Hopefully, I can eventually do all of these things, but in the meantime, this is what I'm doing...

This weekend was fantastic-- in fact, ideal-- for me. After an adrenaline-filled high ropes course with my roommate Dana, my R.A. Aniekan, and a few other kids from my hall, hunger came beckoning. Satisfied with a good ole Jimmy Johns tuna sandwich and some Sunchips, Dana and I sat in front of our seemingly little television fully prepared for a Harry Potter movie marathon. (For those who know me even slightly, this isn't uncommon with either the movies or the books). A popcorn bag, an entire bag of Sunchips, a few creamy hot and cold drinks, and several not-so-sober visitors later, we had watched a measly three of the six movies. Still, just hanging out with Dana (oh and I can't leave out the biggest Harry Potter fan I've ever met, Stephen) kept me quite entertained and exceptionally happy.

The next morning brought the sound of the few remaining songbirds in the U.S. The warm spring sun chased away any clouds in sight, leaving only the azure tint of the sky. Despite my inclinations to despise running, my legs hankered for a some quick movement. I jumped out of my bunk bed as if I were four again, jumping from my Lion King-themed bunk bed. Stuffing an earbud into each ear, I ran for the Athens Greenway only slightly self-conscious of my awkward leg movements. The perfumes of Spring dominated the pungent, sewage smell of blooming Dogwoods like someone finally smeared all of the Coco Channel-drenched old women with a bit of honeysuckle. 

Once back from my hour long run/walk, I remained in my bedroom only long enough to prepare a picnic and collect some homework. I organized everything obsessive-compulsively in my new NPR food bag and swung it into the wicker basket attached at the front of my hunter green bike. I, somewhat cautiously due to the increasingly flat front tire of my bike, rode to a park by the Oconee River. I rested my bike up against a tree and set up the brown, wool blanket normally fashioned at the end of my bed right under the tree's bare branches. The small aromatic field I found was covered in the tiniest of purple flowers which made me feel like calling all of the animals like a Disney princess.
Now, the best part of this little excursion was my packed picnic. I peeked into my NPR bag and pulled out a container filled with my organic romaine and baby spinach salad dressed with toasted almonds, feta cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. And to compliment the salad I brewed a thermos of looseleaf Jasmine iced tea with British-styled cream and sugar. Once I finished, I started into a book and read for almost two hours just giving the sun a little opportunity to find my skin.

These insignificant details offer me the types of days I enjoy most: days when I actually have time to just read out in the sun with homemade, organic foods and the birds singing amongst spring blossoms. These are the days that I feel closest to nature, which has become one of my deepest desires.