Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Can acetone be considered food?

Ok readers: I need your help with this one because I am honest to goodness dumbfounded. I made Kasha tonight. I didn't know what it was, but it was in the international section and it looked like a grain. I like rice, couscous, buckwheat, and everything else I thought to compare it to. So I bought it.

In accordance with my way of cooking, I took a liberal approach to the instructions, and I used my artistic license to leave out some ingredients (namely the egg). The meal turned out to be a grainy version of paint thinner. It smelled, tasted and felt like something from a construction site. The smell was definitely the worst though and it tainted my Tupperware almost against further use.

Now, I am used to my creations not turning out exactly as I would want them, so I am also accustomed to "fixing" my dishes by adding various vegetables, sauces, spices, condiments or in truly bad scenarios, all of the above. Usually, I can turn into something that I can at least stand to eat. I hate wasting food. This scenario, however, was the latter, and despite olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley and carrots, it still reeked of a type of acetone.

I am convinced that I did something wrong. Wikipedia reassures me that it is, in fact, buckwheat (buckwheat groats to be exact), and that it is considered edible. It is apparently also a common food in Eastern European cuisine. For my Serbian friends, they suggest that it is called каша or kaša.

So my question to any of you out there who has cooked, tasted and/or loved this dish: is the egg that vital to its proper outcome? Or what do you fathom I did to it to change a grain into a chemical? ... I don't particularly care for this magic power.


It is kind of hard to write about the blossoming of flowers without being symbolic. I can certainly say that there is a newness to my life that befits the metaphor: a new job, a new apartment, a new city, probably even a new direction. However, I will leave it to another writer to go deeper into the comparison and discuss the hopefulness of spring and new beginnings. I don't do optimism very well.

If there is one thing I am though, it is observant. And I can see that we could all stand to learn from nature. Nature exists intrinsically knowing that there are different seasons in life. Everything has its place, purpose and time, and that one thing must end in order to make room for something else's beginning. These are the most obvious rules in nature, and yet these are the very things that human nature so strongly struggles against...

But as for these cherry blossoms, even though the temperature had dipped from 70 degrees farenheit to 45 in a matter of days, they were not thrown. It is Spring, and they know that it is their time to open. And we, the folks of the mid-Atlantic USA, flocked to see the newly pink painted skyline.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Unsettling and Resettling

So I mentioned with my last blog entry that I have just signed a twelve month lease and these past two weeks have been the familiar pattern of folding, wrapping, securing, packing and loading, only to lead to unloading, unpacking, un-securing, unwrapping and refolding items into new places.

That process is almost done. In the meantime, I have tried to maintain a semblance of a life, especially beginning this week because my commute has been officially reduced by 75%. It takes me about half an hour door to door, and I cherish the extra hour of sleep that comes as a byproduct to that fact.

However, in between the unsettling and resettling of my life (once again), my pocket projects have not been terribly fascinating. Here is the run down of last week since I am only now getting to it: I discovered and tried out the DC YMCA; I honored the Irish and made a green clover Guinness on St. Patrick’s day.

I desperately tried to keep my running habit afloat and go in the evening. This only led to me running around my neighborhood using my Ipod as a flashlight. I suppose it worked since I didn't fall flat on my face, but I can only assume that this was not the use that Apple intended when creating the sleek, high-tech Ipod.

I tried a wonderful new wine at a wonderful new restaurant in DC’s Dupont Circle. The wine- Chateauneuf du Pape. The restaurant- Café Du Pont. Both French, both stylish and both very good. The wine was the first one where I could legitimately say I tasted blackberries- yum!

On Saturday, I continued with a French theme and tried a French Martini made of Chambord, Vodka, Raspberry liquer and pineapple juice (however at an Asian restaurant). I don’t typically like Martinis, and this didn’t change my opinion.

Sunday was my next chance at a run, however, this time it was in DC. It was the first of many runs in this new city. I will also mention that it was in vibrams; this phenomenon is quite noticeable here. I have seen a decent number of fellow barefooters. I kind of feel like there should be a greeting when you pass other five fingered runners, similar to that of Jeep Wranglers who have an unspoken code of honking a hello as they pass a fellow driver. I don't know what the equivalent of that would be to a jogger. A salute?

One of my favorite things about moving is the chance to run in a new city. I use it as my way of touring different neighborhoods. I am excited that I have another 68.3 square miles of new city to discover. That should keep me busy for awhile.

And that leads me to this week and the food poisoning episode (which I prefer to forget). However, this weekend is Cherry Blossom weekend here, a much calmer, but almost as popular, D.C. equivalent of Mardi Gras. There is a festival, a 10 mile race, a lantern lighting and many thousands of people streaming into the city over a 2+ week span.

I am going to go experience that and report back. It should be more exciting that Ipod-lit runs and suspicious food.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


On the third night in my new apartment in D.C., I woke up at 1am with food poisoning. Regrettably, this is not my first experience with food poisoning nor was it the worst case I have had, and I therefore do not presume to call it my new thing. Aside from those two positives, in every other respect, it was horrid.

In the first 20 years of my life, I do not recall even one case of food poisoning. However in the last 10 years of my life, I feel as if it is a fairly frequent occurrence. Perhaps this indicates something about my diversified interest in restaurants and food. Who knows?

I am also not sure to what I owed that pleasure. My habits in the last few days have been no stranger or riskier than others. I would hope that my last two novelties were not tied to this incident:

I got free ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s yesterday- choosing the fairly exotic “pumpkin cheesecake” flavor to avoid the temptation of chocolate. I suppose free food is always suspicious…

The night before (and yesterday as leftovers for lunch), I tried a new restaurant in Woodley Park, a part of my neighborhood. It was an Indian restaurant, and I found the food quite delicious. However, I suppose Indian food is always a culprit for this kind of thing…

And the day before that, I tried yet another restaurant in the Adams Morgan part of my neighborhood. It had a beautiful little terrace to sit outside and enjoy the early spring evening. Since this experience was, by shear time passed, not tied to my unpleasant experience last night, I can say that Meze was a great little Turkish restaurant with good food.

So who knows what is to blame? Isn’t that like life though, you can go about your regular day, doing regular things and sometimes everything is fine and normal, but every so often, you do the exact same ordinary things, and it is like having eaten the poisoned apple.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Overlooking the significant

This is why sometimes writing a blog entry in retrospect is a good idea.

I had a particularly horrid commute yesterday. Because of Daylight's Savings (what a stupid idea), I was essentially getting up at 5:30 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. to get to work. On this morning, a Monday morning no less, I left my house, in the dark, beneath the pouring rain, and drove 2+ hours down to the office. It took me every bit of that 2.5 hours to finally walk into my building and sit at my desk at 9am.

After work, I had to go sign the lease for my new apartment, so I didn't leave D.C. until 8pm, which means I wasn't home until after 9 pm. I realized at this time that I hadn't done one bloody new thing that day, and at that hour, with stuff to organize for tomorrow's ridiculously long day, and with my bed time at 10pm so that I had the energy to do anything, the situation ruled out almost everything "new" to do except, I reasoned, to ingest something.

I went searching through the food pantry, fridge, freezer and liquor cabinet to see if there was anything that would be novel to me. I thought about eating frozen pumpkin, sprinkling cranberry powder on sparking water or even making my own ginger ale with said sparking water, ginger powder and sugar (I don't know how one makes real ginger ale). The idiotic idea of drinking oil even occurred to me to see if it really does make you throw up... I was getting desperate. Finally, I found "brandy butter," a curious product from Ireland that my sister had brought back and I spread a little on bread and tried it. I don't like butter, but as it goes, it was ok- just spicy and sugary enough to not make it taste like butter.

Now here is the funny part, in all that frantic searching and oil-drinking contemplation, I somehow disregarded a significant new thing in my life that happened that day: for the first time ever, I signed a twelve month lease. (If you haven't read about my gypsy lifestyle, refer back to this post). Somehow at the age of 31, I have never been able, willing or forced to sign a 12 month lease. College years: no more than 9 months. Period in Rome: “what's a lease?” Time in Chicago: 3 months then month-to-month... I never tied myself down to living in one place for 12 months.

This (or the 4 hour commute) could perhaps explain why I was feeling quite troubled and anxious when going to bed. I suppose this made me confront my potential commitment issues. Why did one year seem like such a huge amount of time to be in one place?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm so American

Being the overwhelmingly stereotypical American that I am, I suppose it won't come as a great shock to many people that I had never been to big chain, burger joint, Fuddruckers.

I further proved how well I fit into my culture by ordering a veggie burger, burying it under about half a head of lettuce and 3 tomato slices from the "Fixings" bar, putting some honey mustard dressing on the side (to dip the tomatoes in), separating it from the bun and eating this whole burger concoction with a fork and knife, while using the top piece of the bun as an accompaniment to what was essentially now, a salad. Uncle Sam would have been proud. (photo = pre-Karen)

On Sunday, perhaps to balance out my "American-ness," I donned a Swedish persona and tried out three different goodies that I had bought from Little Sweden, i.e. IKEA.

[N.B. To my Swedish friends out there, I hope that this statement does not offend. I don't presume to boil your country down to one furniture shop. However, the food store within IKEA is probably as close to your culture as I have found in American suburbs.]

I made swedish pancakes (that I botched), drank Elderflower drink (good, but I don't know what it is), and ate toffee-flavored candy laces. I have no idea if any of this is authentic, but it was all new to me, and I enjoyed pretending that perhaps these were items I would have picked up at my grocery store across the way from my little apartment in Stockholm.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A commuter's complaint

Ugh. Well not all new things are going to be good things, and this is an experience I don't care to repeat.

In addition to the five modes of transport that I already take to get me from tiny town, suburban Baltimore to heart of nearby big city D.C., I added on one more leg this Friday night. Mind you this was out of necessity, but it was still not a good idea.

In my commute, I usually take (1) the car to Baltimore's train station, (2) train to Washington's Union station, (3) red line metro to the (4) orange line metro, and then (5) the short walk to the building. On a good day, this take me 1 hour 50 minutes. This Friday, I added (6) light rail to this combination, which made my total commuting time 2 hours 40 minutes. And the light rail on a Friday night was not the nicest of experiences.

As much as I hate driving in traffic (and I DETEST driving in traffic), I will concede that on this particular occasion, the two experiences might have been on par.

So, I am particularly happy to report that I can now count the number of hideously long commutes I have left on one hand. The week after, I will officially reside in the capital of the U.S.A. and commute in a sane manner.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to become a Mayor

I actually got my idea for this new thing of the day by reading an article for work. I had never heard of Foursquare, but apparently it has made the list of influential social media sites.

Foursquare was intriguing to me because it seemed pertitent to my touristic lifestyle and to this pocket project in particular because it claims: "We're all about helping you find new ways to explore the city." Well, I can always use some suggestions.

Foursquare is based on the idea of cataloging all the new (and old) places you go. When you are at a new location, the foursquare application on your phone detects where you are and you can "check-in." You earn points for each check in, more points for each new place you go to, and even more points for going some place that has not yet been logged by other users. You can also earn badges (I have only earned the newbie badge so I don't know how you earn these.)

However, what is most amusing to me is that you can become the "Mayor" of some place if you go there more often than anyone else. When you check in somewhere, Foursquare will tell you who is the makeshift mayor of that place. Some establishments will even give you a free drink etc. if you can prove that you are its mayor.

This entertains me. I think I would enjoyed being crowned the imaginary mayor of some place ... of course, it goes without saying that this place would have to be Italian. Perhaps Gelatissimo!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Revealing my inner snob

So as someone who is not a natural morning person but who is now in the situation of waking up at 6am every morning, espresso is my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Being in an entirely new building, in a fairly new city, I made my way to the food court downstairs (yes, an entire food court), and I was THRILLED to discover that, directly in my line of sight, right before my very eyes was GELATISSIMO, a gelato and espresso stand.

As per my Lenten promise, I am not allowed to have chocolate, so gelato was not as tempting as it normally is, but espresso... oh espresso was more tempting than ever.

So I did something that I have never done before: I ordered an espresso in the United States of America. I know. I know. I am a coffee snob. I apologize; I do. However, Italy has ruined me, and there is nothing I can do about it. Instead, I tend to just see coffee here as an entirely different product, drunk in entirely different quantities, with an entirely different taste and consistency. And in this way, I can like American drip coffee. However, I don't dare ever order an espresso in the U.S. because I know that my snobbish airs will stir and that my nose will involuntarily lift up probably at the very sight of an American espresso. (Again, I apologize.)

I don't know then if it was desperation or the spirit of adventure that lured me to ordering an espresso, but I am truly glad that I did. It was fantastic! Again, perhaps it was desperation that invigorated my taste buds or perhaps it was convincingly enough "Italian" for my snootiness to be appeased... or perhaps it really was just a very well made illy espresso, which is the answer I am going with.

Regardless, it made me happy to know that, even though new building is not situated in Rome, I have gelato and illy right downstairs.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Running (almost) Barefoot

This morning I decided to drive down to D.C. and because my very understanding boss was ok with me shifting my hours, I had time for a short run this morning.

It was the perfect morning for a jog. The sky was sunny and blue and the temperature was cool, but not bitter; it was essentially the warm up period for a 60 degree F day. There were just enough patches of snow on the lawns to make it reflective and beautiful, but with none on the cement to hinder the run.

I decided to try out my Vibrams. I have had these secret weapons in my possession for about a month now, but because you cannot wear socks with them, I have consistently ruled it too cold. Today my verdict changed.

Like most other recent purchasers of these "five-fingers," I, not long ago, finished the book Born to Run. This book is far too interesting and compelling to sufficiently detail it here. (And I recommend it to any runner, wannabe runner, former runner or "I will never be a runner"-latent runner). In one sentence, the book convincingly claims that humans evolved to run long distances, and they ran those long distances, obviously, barefoot. Our foot was designed for that.

As the bearer of many a running injury, I was quite intrigued by these theories and tentatively jumped on the barefoot running bandwagon, at least in terms of buying the "shoe."

Running in these five-fingered "shoes" was a whole other experience. It was disconcerting and fascinating all at once to feel pebbles underneath your feet, and to realize that 99.9% of them didn't hurt.

And your stride magically changes. Just as the book insists, the shoes allow your feet to run and land in its natural way. Humans instinctively run leaning forward on the balls of the feet. You virtually never land on your heel. Running heal-to-toe is just a convention your foots adapts when wearing sneakers. And it's true! I couldn't believe it.

It was utterly fascinating to me, that after 10+ years of running, I had no idea what was natural for my foot... It just makes me revel at how good we have become at covering up what is natural, of complicating that which could have been simple.

I don't know, and don't think, I will give up my running shoes entirely. (We have gone through a lot together). And, like all things, you have to practice barefoot running to strengthen your foot for long distances. Even if it is natural, it takes work. But I will definitely incorporate it into my routine, if nothing else than to make my toes feel special. Toes never get their own personal space.

Monday, March 8, 2010

First Day

As much as I would like to write a brilliant review of this new chapter in my life, I am kind of brain dead at the moment. After almost of a year of being able to avoid regularly getting up before 8 am, today I woke up at 6 am, had a 1.75 hour commute, a full day's work, a stop off to sign my lease (I have an apartment!) and then another 2 hour commute home. By 9pm, I still had not had a proper dinner or really a minute of down time. However, it is a good feeling of exhaustion, one that is the fruit of being productive.

As for the day itself, it was kind of the usual combination of swimming in new passwords, legal papers and tax forms, badge and security applications, mail box (voice and mail) set-ups and searching for relevant things like past emails, old project files, working pens and coffee.

I got lost in the maze that is the Ronald Reagan building, but enjoyed a nice lunch with my supervisor and new co-worker.

All in all, I am excited to be on this path.

photo borrowed from: http://www.presidentsrus.com

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pop and Lock

Now I have already mentioned my groupon purchase, and I have even mentioned my first groupon use on the tap class. This was Take 2, and we tried a Hip Hop class. Little did we know that what actually awaited us was an introduction to Pop and Lock. We learned to dime stop, pimp walk, strut and even to free style.

Our class was at newborn pace, so our rendition of the moves was probably not recognizable to the rest of the dancing world. I am not sure that they were even recognizable to us. For instance, our upper body pop was an extended arm and a clenching and unclenching of the tricep, which essentially didn't look any different than a regular outstretched arm.

Let's just say we are not going to be on America's Best Dance Crew anytime in the near future.

I think most of us should have taken Will Smith's advice in "Hitch": "This is where you live. This is home" and stuck with swaying side to side. (By the way, we kind of had a Kevin James in the class too.)

Anyway to reward ourselves for the exhausting tricep clenching, I made a very rare suggestion of going to McDonald's. However, this is only because, in honor of St.Patrick's Day, McDonald's adds mint to their menu in the form of a Shamrock Shake, and I needed to try it. Mint lovers take note, the Shamrock Shake disappears in 10 days. (Fyi, I am only promoting mint incorporation into foodstuffs, not necessarily patronizing McDonald's.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Yuca, Yuca, Yuca!

Don't you think some words are just meant to be chanted? I think Yuca is one of those words.

Anyway, if you saw my pictures from Nicaragua, you also saw a picture of a creamy white, twice baked potato-looking side dish. (Yuca con Corvina to name the exact picture). This was no potato. It was actually yuca, or cassava, root in disguise. And it was delicious.

So when I found Yuca at the grocery store, I thought, why not try to recreate this Nicaraguan experience?

However, I think that without Nicaragua and any real cooking skills, this was an unattainable goal. My version turned out chunky, garlicky, relatively bland and all wrong... even though I did follow the recipe more strictly than I normally do.

I think the yuca described in the recipe was not the one in my head. I think I also need a lesson in cooking roots... or cooking in general.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Quantum Entanglement

Having finished "Physics of the Impossible," a very theoretical and lofty science, over-my-head type of book, I still came away being fascinated that (though the book makes no allusions to this whatsoever and might actually resent this type of thinking), the more theoretical and complicated science gets, the more it seems to resemble religion.

Quantum entanglement for example, a by-product of Albert Einstein's quantum theory, is "the concept that particles vibrating in coherence have some kind of deep connection linking them together."

The author, Michio Kaku, phrases it this way:

"This means, in some sense, that what happens to us automatically affects things instanteously in distant corners of the universe, since our wave functions were probably entangled at the beginning of time. In some sense there is a wave of entanglement that connects distant corners of the universe, including us." (p.60-61)

In essence, we are all entangled in one another, and in that way we are one in the same, because, in this theory, we have the same wave functions. So really this is the scientific backing for "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or even the Buddhist idea of sentience, that all things should be respected. If everything is interconnected, wouldn't it make sense to treat everything: people, nature, animals with respect because we are all part of the same essence?

If I were scientifically and/or mathematically minded, I think this would have been my area of focus. Sadly, I am not smart enough to understand more than what I wrote here on this blog post... But contemplating quantum entanglement and our inter-connectedness is my new thing of the day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Washingtonian-to-be!

Well, I have big news: I am newly employed, and I am moving to D.C.!

This has by far been the longest and hardest search for me, no doubt due in great part to the state of the economy. Though I have been consulting in the interim, I have been searching for a full-time position for 11 months. This has meant countless internet searches, a lot of subscriptions to job newsletters, a ton of cover letters, an ever updating reference list, quite a few interviews, even more follow up emails, many suit ironing sessions, and I have to admit a lot of self doubt.

It is hard to go through this type of process, or any long process without a clear end in sight, and not wonder if you are doing something wrong. I second guessed my choice of city, country, type of organization, field of work, the way I portrayed my experience and even my own motivations. Everything that I had decided up until now was under scrutiny, and it was very hard to sort through what to keep and what to throw out.

I got very frustrated at the automated rejection emails that would show up in your email box minutes after you sent off an application that you had spent 2 hours on, a form that usually just required rewriting your resume. I lost a lot of hope when I would find a job description that seemed so tailored to my skills that it could have had my name on it, yet still got a reply saying, “Your experience did not quite match our needs.” I commiserated with many people in the same situation, all having similar stories, and wondered how long it would take when the market was so flooded with talent. But in the end, the moans, disappointments and frustration aside, there was nothing to do but persist.

Just a week back in Baltimore, in my first day back to job hunting after the interruptions of trips and moving, I found a four line description for a job in D.C. It was the first place I applied to that day. I got an email the following day requesting an interview. Not even two weeks after hitting send on Monster, I got a call with the offer.

It amazes me that, in the end, after all the complications, life still comes up with a simple answer: you can bang on doors all you want but if they are the wrong ones, they won’t budge; but tap on the right door, and it will swing open. Apparently, I finally found the right one.


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