Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate in Pittsburgh

I’m sure you’ve already picked up that I’m a little bit of a foodie. Sometimes I truly do live to eat, like the time I devoured soup dumplings in New York’s Chinatown, or the time I spent hours on the bus just to eat a burrito in Seoul or maybe that other time I digested mass amounts of cake while in Germany. If you’ve ever even glanced at my Instagram account, you’re fully aware that good food is one of my favorite things. Ever. (And I may or may not have even made an Instagram account solely out of a desire to post pictures of food. May or may not.)

Sometimes I get a little restless living in Pittsburgh. But there’s one thing that hasn’t disappointed me yet about being here: the incredible variety and quality of food, everywhere. And much to my delight, that includes lots of ethnic food.

Can you spell “nom?” I believe it goes like this: P-I-T-T-S-B-U-R-G-H.

I’ve been in town for five months now and eaten a lot of great food, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to food found outside of my house. Even though I’ve become quite the capable cook, lately. Fasten your bibs, folks.

Let’s start with the obvious:

So #Pittsburgh.

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I’d be the worst kind of Pittsburgh-er if I didn’t flaunt our cultural pride and joy, the deli sammich with fries and ‘slaw in da sammich. (That’s “in the sandwich,” for those not fluent in Pittsburghese.)

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I’d also be the other worst kind of Pittsburgh-er if I didn’t include Pamela’s AMAZING crepe-like pancakes with bananas and walnuts inside.

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Also burgers. Pittsburgh has some great burger joints that really go all out. Pictured above is an Angus beef patty with brie cheese from BRGR. I’ve also had an incredible burger at Legume/Butterjoint, in Oakland. Fatheads, formerly THE Pittsburgh burger restaurant, officially has serious competition all over town.

Yes, I am blessed by burgers.

Now that I’ve got my bases covered there, we can move on to the ethnic food.

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The color balance on this picture is THE WORST but the taste of this sushi was literally THE BEST. Thank you, Little Tokyo, for making my sushi dreams come true.

A new French pastry shop opened up in my suburban town. And much to my surprise, an actual French lady runs the place. And not surprising at all, all of the above was incredible. Apparently also healthy, because “butter isn’t bad for you,” according to this French woman. Right.

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Are these Pittsburgh or ethnic food? Both, really. Pierogi Fest was a little like taking a trip to heaven, and then eating little pieces of it. Over. And over. These two types of pierogis: hot sausage and pesto ricotta. Let me know when you’ve finished drooling and we can move on.

Maybe Mulled Wine is more of a thing you drink, but I’m going to throw it into the “nom” category anyways. A German friend of mine went all out recently, and made the real deal, Bacardi-and-sugar-fire and all. Authentic German Glühwein? It looks like I don’t even have to leave town. (And then this was accompanied by authentic, catered German sausage. Boom.)

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Indian food is my biggest weakness. Nobody try to bribe me into doing terrible things, because spicy dishes from Mintt would probably do the trick.

Yes, you can find authentic, incredible and high-quality Sicilian cannoli in suburban Pittsburgh. It’s weird. (Actually in two places!)

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Something, something, Venezuela and the Conflict Kitchen. Also incredible.

I might have occasional (…or frequent) longings to see new countries and spend more time abroad, but I certainly can’t complain about my stomach not getting an international experience it craves. Pittsburgh, you’re doing something right.

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For a more in-depth look at Pittsburgh’s food scene, my blogger friend Julie’s stomach gets around. Check her out.

What makes your mouth water? Does your hometown kill it when it comes to food, like Pittsburgh does?

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A Whole30 Experience

I’m one of those people that dives more or less headfirst into things I don’t actually know how to do. So when my friend asked me if I would do a “diet” with her called the Whole30, I said yes with very little hesitation or actual background research on what I’d just committed to. I use the word “diet” very loosely, since I was (technically) allowed to eat unlimited amounts of bacon and avocados. I call it a “food thing”.

So what exactly was this food thing?

  • No added sugar (of any kind).
  • No dairy.
  • No grains (even gluten-free ones).
  • No legumes (or peanuts, because they act like legumes).
  • No alcohol.

Woof. People looked at me like I was crazy. “So you just eat vegetables?” Um, also meat, fruit, fish, some oils and nuts. But yes, lots of vegetables. I’ve been a vegetable-lover for years, though, so I was on-board with upping my intake of green (and red and yellow and orange) things. The goal of Whole30 is to eat only those good foods for 30 days, detox your body of all the inflammation and bad-news-bears (insulin spikes, unhealthy gut bacteria) those foods cause, and then slowly reintroduce them later to see how each one feels in your system.

It was kind of brutal, at first. I learned of something very, very unfortunate.

Yes, you can be hungover from not eating sugar and grains. It was horrible. It was several days of horrible. It was constant headaches and an upset stomach and… some other things I won’t describe for you. (You’re welcome.) And then came the angry days… I was mad at everyone and everything. Thankfully I was also happy, because I’d started a new, awesome job which balanced it out a little. But also really pissed off by everything for a solid 36 hours straight, and then some. Somewhere in there, I also became lethargic.

My runs got shorter, slower and more painful. I felt like a big old blob of nothing. If my neighbor had been offering me a delicious muffin, I wouldn’t have had the energy to walk across the street and get it. Just living life was a pretty tall order, for a few days. I had vivid dreams, or maybe they were nightmares, that I’d accidentally broken the rules and slurped down an entire Diet Pepsi before realizing it wasn’t Whole30-approved. Every time I walked past a cupcake, experienced a short bit of that rage coming back. I kept on walking.

But there was so much awesome yet to come.

Like so, so, so many sweet potatoes.

My energy levels began to level out and I didn’t have that mid-day slump that’s always been a killer. I slept like a rock, consistently. I became significantly less bloated and lost some love handles I didn’t realize I had. I was able to run again and tackle those longer miles, and my knees didn’t bother me as much. I obsessively read every food label and for the first time ever, realized just how much added sugar is tucked into the simplest of foods. (Like breakfast sausage. Rage!) I saved a ton of money because eating in restaurants was a special kind of hell.

But none of that really compared to the biggest benefit of all:

I learned how to cook so many things.

Spiced sweet potato "latkes" and bacon. I am in heaven.

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Together with my friend, we got together at least weekly in her fancy-schmancy kitchen (it’s beautiful) and planned meals for the week. We crock-potted. We sauteed. We baked. We chopped. We spiralized. We took recipes from the internet, altered them, and over and over again ended up with an incredible dish (or 6, we cooked in bulk). I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in a kitchen nor tried out so many new recipes in such a short amount of time. And I’ve definitely never had so much success doing it. By the end of the month, we could prepare and cook two separate family-style dishes in a matter of a few hours, plus a small dinner.

I learned how to cut butternut squash, sear different types of beef, that salt and baking soda react with each other, what thyme tastes like, that guacamole is delicious (refresher), how to poach an egg and how to cook the perfect sweet potato. I ate kale. I discovered cashew butter. I revoked my analysis of celery as a sub-par vegetable, because it’s actually the perfect vehicle for eating cashew butter, which redeems it entirely. I know just how much of a very tiny, very spicy red pepper will turn my face into fire and you might as well call me Queen Zucchini, because I can cook the shit out of that vegetable and you will like it.

You will.

Spoiler alert: it takes very little.
Spoiler alert: it takes very little.

It was a hard 30 days for me and an even tougher time for my friend, who dealt not just with a death in the family but a friend’s wedding. (Are you impressed? Because I’m impressed. I’d have stuffed my face with approximately 25 brownies if I were her.) But both of us pulled through the thirty days, successful, triumphant and seriously ready for some freaking pizza. (Which we both ate shortly thereafter and had horrible stomachaches from, but it was kind of worth it.)

The website says that a Whole30 will change your life. Did it?

Yeah, it kind of did.

I’ll never cook the same. I didn’t miss cheese, which shocked even myself, so I probably won’t eat cheese anymore. I’ve had my eyes opened to some incredible foods I didn’t even know existed, like cashew butter. (Mostly cashew butter.) And I’ll never pick up a package of food again without scoping out the ingredients and seeing if there’s any secretly-added sugar. That stuff is in literally everything, it’s absurd, and there’s no one you could ask who wouldn’t agree that excess sugar wreaks some havoc on your body.

I ain’t about that.

But will it change the way I eat when I travel? Doubtful. I’ll be in Germany over Christmas (travel plans!) and there’s no way I’ll be turning down delicious, German food because it’s not that good for me. Puh-lease. I ain’t about that, either.

So yeah, in the meantime, I’ll be perfecting my sauteed zucchini. And looking forward to that currywurst waiting for me across the ocean.

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Have you ever done a “food thing”? Did it change your life? How great are sweet potatoes? And how great is currywurst?

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Photoessay: New York, New York

Sorry for the radio silence on my end. I don’t have any good explanations for it, except to say that my heart’s not in it for some reason. And instead of writing something mediocre up, I’ve opted not to write. And it’s been some weeks now and that hasn’t changed.

So if my words aren’t going to work, then I’m going to let my photographs do the talking, instead. These were taken during a long weekend in “the city”, a place I’ve loved and love and maybe will always love. Maybe it’s the bagels. Who can say?

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iPhone Photoessay: Giovanni’s Mother’s Cooking

Somehow, someway, I ended up on the fourth floor of an old European apartment, walls clad with twenty-year-old wallpaper and the living room desk covered in small, framed family photographs. An older Italian lady stood in the kitchen, preparing pasta for me and my Couchsurfing host. I was at Giovanni’s mother’s home, in Rome, Italy, and she was cooking us lunch.

I guess I’m the kind of girl you can bring home to your momma. Even if your momma doesn’t speak English and we’ve known each other for two days, and we’re just friends. Now that I think about it, this isn’t the first time I’ve been invited along with the parents.

I’m not complaining… certainly not on a full stomach.

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Om nom nom?

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Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate in Spain

Spain, Spain, Spain. I had a really hard time narrowing down what photos to put into the post for two reasons: there was a LOT of delicious food to choose between and I also abuse my camera and take way too many photos of my meals. (This second issue has recently been given an outlet; I finally caved and made an Instagram account so I can bombard everyone with pictures of my food, woohoo!) But after much deliberation, I’ve narrowed the list down to the best of the best, the most delicious of the delicious; I’ve carved it down to eleven photos. I could go no lower! Don’t ask such a thing of me. This edition of yummy noms from Spain is a little special, since it features two things that are totally not Spanish. But they were drool-licious, so they qualify in my book, which happens to be the book that counts on my blog. Muahaha.

Tapas Platter

Let’s start with the real Spanish stuff: this platter of mixed tapas. Going clockwise and starting at 1 o’clock, we’ve got sliced sausage, mixed olives, cheese, thinly sliced ham, toast with tomato smeared on top (how Spanish!) and lastly Spanish tortilla with a fork stuck in for good measure. These are the classic tapas that come with your drink, though usually just a small plate with one of the below.

These are several tapas. All on one plate.
Perfect in its simplicity. (Barcelona)

Something kind of crazy happened the day I ordered this platter. For the first time in my life, I kind of liked an olive. But only the green ones, sicko, not the disgusting black ones!

Rabbit (Conejo)

I ordered something random off of the menu of the day, and I was pleasantly surprised with a kind of meat that I’d never eaten before! The taste was great, but the effort required to find all of the meat on the bone was even greater. Maybe someone else can de-bone my rabbit next time and just feed it to me?

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The only hopping this guy did after landing on my plate was through different parts of my intestines. (Barcelona)

Crème Catalane

My sweet tooth is a little bit, sometimes quite a bit, out of control. So when this dish came out, created likely by piling different states of sugar together and making it hot, I was especially pleased. Om nom, nothing like creamy sugary-ness covered in a hard crust of more sugar! This is apparently also a regional dish, which means maybe I need to live in this region forever.

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To my dentist: I’M SORRY. (Barcelona)

Migas

The second best part of these Spanish migas was getting to watch the chef put this together, the best part was devouring it. I don’t know if any dish could get more unhealthy, seeing as this is basically just starch fried in the leftover fat and grease of different kinds of meat, but that didn’t stop me from embracing the incredible meal with a mouth wide open. The variety of foods that you could pair with your grease-soaked starch just made it even better.

Best. Meal. Ever. Maybe. (Almer'ia)
Best. Meal. Ever. Maybe. (Almería)

From the left, oranges covered in sugar (dessert), an olive oil and green onion liquid (for pairing with migas), fried chorizo/sausage, in the middle are actual pieces of pure fat grilled in grease, far right is grilled pork and the bowl in front is the migas themselves, or starch fried in grease, to perfection.

Razor Clams (Navajas a la Plancha)

Sally sells seashells on the seashore. JUST KIDDING, I eat seafood, and everywhere, not just on the seashore. Like these incredible razor clams, lathered in butter, and eaten in a bar in Granada. (Grandma, close your ears!) They were incredibly phallic. The clam part looks like a penis. But don’t let that freak you out, because the taste is, I assure you, not like a penis. On the contrary, it’s pure seafood-y gold. And that’s all I can say, because how am I supposed to describe the taste of clam? In the warped words of Michael Jackson, just eat it.

Don't look too closely, now. (Granada)
Don’t look too closely, now. (Granada)

Sea Urchin Roe (Gónadas de los Erizos)

Not only am I already a baby killer, but I’ve officially also eaten the gonads of sea urchins too. It’s like I have it out for them or something. This food definitely goes on the list of some of the strangest things I’ve eaten, though, and I’m surprised by two things: one, that this wasn’t eaten in Korea, where all strange things are eaten and two, that I didn’t hate it, once I pulled out all the crunchy shell bits that fell inside. I would recommend you ask for a small portion and then share with a friend.

Don't these look appetizing? (Cádiz)
Not exactly what you’d expect gonads to look like, eh? Or maybe exactly what you’d expect… (Cádiz)

“Black Paella” or Arrós Negre

Some Spanish people might string me up for calling this black paella, even though it’s prepared in the same way, contains more or less the same ingredients and tastes pretty dang delicious, just like paella. But the big difference is that squid ink is added to the Arrós Negre, which brings out the seafood flavors better. Now I can’t be sure that I had real, authentic delicious paella in Spain, but I do know that this dish (and its seafood paella friend, in the background) were miles better than the disaster “paella” encountered in Granada. And I was hungry. So it was nom-tastic.

Give me more. (Cádiz)
Give me more. (Cádiz)

Egyptian Moussaka (Messa’aa)

Oh irony. Except when you’re couchsurfing, the strangest situations arise and you end up at a group dinner with people from Romania, England, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, the USA (me!) and Taiwan, eating a traditional Egyptian dish alongside typical Spanish food. This was my first ever taste of Egyptian food, and it really makes me want to hop continents and spend some time with someone’s Egyptian grandma who’s handy in the kitchen. I want to learn their ways. Onion, garlic, various vegetables and cheese are a beautiful, beautiful combination.

Oh dear, I want to eat this all over again and then another ten times. (Madrid)
Oh dear, I want to eat this all over again and then another ten times. (Madrid)

Paraguayan Cuisine

Walking into a random hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Madrid can only mean one thing: random food. This restaurant was literally packed with immigrants from Paraguay having a little taste of home, and we ordered pretty much a giant sampler of everything. The verdict? Kind of like Argentine food, but different. And also yum. But let’s be honest, fried pockets of meat are always my friend.

Also featured: grilled kabobs of beef marinated in something delicious.
Also featured: grilled kabobs of beef marinated in something delicious.

Calamari Sandwich

Yes, I did eat some famous Madrid-ian/Spanish food while in Madrid too, I swear. Well, thanks to Olivia of Halfway Somewhere, at least, who herded me to this shop as soon as we’d met up. If you like calamari, then imagine calamari in your hand, with bread. Best with a bit of lemon, though most locals add ketchup and mayonnaise, which, if you know me, was absolutely not an option. And then the day after meeting Olivia, I went right back to the same place and ate another sandwich; no regrets were had by me nor my stomach. (I can’t speak for my waistline, though.)

Seafood wins my heart, everytime. Fried seafood? Forget about it. (Madrid)
Seafood wins my heart, everytime. Fried seafood? Forget about it. (Madrid)

Churros con Chocolate

Fried things with chocolate can pretty much never go wrong. After eating these, I realized Taco Bell did churros so right (cinnamon is delish), yet so, so wrong. They were perfect. My fingers shined with pride and grease afterwards, and the “napkins” reminiscent of Buenos Aires did nothing to clean them. I solved that problem by licking every bit of my fingers clean.

CHOCOLATE AND FRIED THINGS, OH MY GOSHHHH. (Madrid)
CHOCOLATE AND FRIED THINGS. No elaboration needed. (Madrid)

Really, after this roundup, all I can say is that Spain was straight up nom-licious.

Have you ever been to Spain and eaten delicious food? What was your favorite? Did Taco Bell do it right or wrong?

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Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate on Jeju Island

I really loved seeing all the scenery on Jeju Island, but I’ll go ahead and admit that it was the weird food that won my heart. Being a Korean island, there are plenty of shops that serve the same old, same old; samgyeopsal, kimbap and noodles are all easy enough to find. But if you’re on Jeju Island, don’t do it. Find the specialties. They are awesome. I know they’re awesome, because I ate (some of) them.

Black Pig Barbeque (흑돼지)

Apparently, in old times, this used to be a shit-eating pig. I kid you not, people would poop in holes and the pigs would be underneath, eating it. GROSS. Anyways they don’t do that anymore, they feed the black pigs real food, so you should feel perfectly fine about sitting down for an order of this, since it tastes like (meat) heaven. (Waegook Tom agrees, he wrote an entire blog post about this deliciousness.) IMG_6301 ED R It also comes with a special Jeju-only dip called Myeolchiekjeot (멸치액젓) which tastes like liquid anchovies, and you’re supposed to drop hot pepper and garlic in the sauce while it cooks on the grill. I’ll chalk that one up to an acquired taste, because I was not a fan. Eek.

Green Tea Ice Cream (녹차아이스크림)

Fittingly, this was consumed during a brief stop at the Tea Museum. I wish I’d gotten the “Twister” though, green tea and vanilla frozen yogurt together, because those first couple bites were like licking green tea powder. Once I got used to it however it was great. I mean, it’s ice cream, how could I not be happy? IMG_6412 ED R

Grilled Octopus (문어구이)

If you’ve never nommed on octopus before, then you should probably give it a shot for the experience. The stuff you get on Jeju, though, is all particularly fresh from those famous female divers pulling up seafood all day. IMG_6549 ED R

Abalone and Rice Porridge (전복죽)

Ear shells or abalones are one of Korea’s, particularly Jeju’s most prized health foods, but they’re pricy as a result. A popular way to eat them without blowing the budget is getting this porridge, which is what Koreans call a “boring food”. The best way to eat it is by putting pieces of kimchi on your spoon with it to add some flavor. I thought it was perfectly fine without kimchi, myself. IMG_6835 ED R

The Best Cup of Coffee I’ve Ever Had In My Entire Life Ever (조르바 커퓌)

Coffee with a spiced twist; it included cloves, cinnamon, other unidentified powders, and star anise, a thing I’d never heard of until they told me the name and I googled it (you’re welcome). I can’t get over how awesome this cup of coffee was, it was like a winter day’s dream, and it was a winter day, so it was a freaking dream, people! IMG_6846 ED R On the other side was a honey mandarin latte, which apparently was also quite heavenly. Details for this coffee shop can be found here, partway down the page. The baristas speak English, but their menu does not.

Spicy Noodles with Raw Fish (회국수)

When you’re on an island, you should probably eat some raw fish. Alright, so just fish in general, but I’m a big Hwae/sashimi fan, so I’d advocate for that. This was mixed in a variation of the spicy pepper paste you can find everywhere and included noodles and lettuce, which tasted pretty awesome together. Which was weird: noodles + lettuce?! But yes. Noodles and lettuce. IMG_6887 ED R

Sea Urchin Egg Noodle Soup (성게국수)

No, I don’t mean egg noodles, I mean sea urchin eggs in the noodles. Their flavor wasn’t particularly anything, but the soup as a whole was warm and made me happy and full. Plus, now you can officially call me a baby killer and it won’t even be a lie. IMG_6888 ED R Honorable mentions include a shrimp as large as my face, a cheese muffin that didn’t taste horrible or even remotely like cheese, and a breakfast the super-nice hostel lady made for me with cheese straight from Norway and mandarin orange jam. This was a horrible post to write in between meal times. See you later, guys, I need a snack.

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Have you ever been to Jeju Island? Could you eat sea urchin eggs? Did reading about sea urchin eggs make you more or less hungry?

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Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home

If I had to pick a favorite holiday, I’d stop for a moment on Easter, because of the copious amounts of chocolate involved, then I’d debate over Christmas and the great times with family and gifts and hot chocolate, but eventually, I’d conclude that Thanksgiving, with all of the aromas and haste, rows of seats and unearthly amounts of incredible food, is definitely it. Something about the big table, mixture of gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes and the fact that it’s usually not terribly cold, not just yet. So yes, after serious though, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Hands down.

One of the sacrifices that expats and long-term travelers, study abroaders and other world explorers all make is missing family events. Sometimes they are birthdays, graduations, unexpected funerals or just regular, annual holidays. As the missing family member abroad, I often try to Skype in for parties, send messages and generally just let my family know that I wish I could be there for the event. It’s never quite the same, but it’s something. And once a year, that event I’ve missed is Thanksgiving.

Three years ago, after my semester abroad had ended in Buenos Aires, I spent a month traversing the country and visiting every city I could get myself to. I made a choice to miss Thanksgiving in exchange for the adventures, a choice I wouldn’t take back. But not being there for the turkey, the stuffing, the family shenanigans and occasional mishaps was hard. Three years ago, in a mountain city of Argentina with friends I’d only met a week prior, we came together and did our best to celebrate. Me and Zoe, an American working in Bariloche, cut and boiled potatoes, prepared a casserole and readied chicken to be baked. Someone else would bring the pie. Ironically, the Argentines showed up, saw our cooking attempts and immediately fixed everything; turning up the heat on the potatoes and slicing open the chicken to cut cooking time in half.

Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.
Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.

We ate and laughed, and though the food was good, we enjoyed the holiday more for the people. But just as the smiling faces of friends were comforting to me, they were also a reminder of exactly what I was missing.

Almost two years ago, I signed my contract to move to Korea and teach English. On Thanksgiving, last year, I worked. The foreigners in town chose the following Saturday to get together and have potluck style Thanksgiving dinner. Two homemade pumpkin pies arrived, mashed potatoes were devoured (before I even got any!) and chickens were roasted, turkey hadn’t made its way into town. We had all of the classic fixings of Thanksgiving, aside from Turkey, and we stuffed ourselves to the breaking point in true Thanksgiving tradition. As the night wore on, it developed into singing and merriment which had to be taken outside. A long line of foreigners poured into the streets of this small Korean town, celebrating their holiday, like a single bit of sun on an otherwise cloudy day.

Last year's Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.
Last year’s Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.

A week ago, I labored over a cutting board, slicing carrots into strips, peeling ginger with my fingers and adding clove after clove of garlic to the mixture. The end result was far from pretty, but finger-licking good and I dutifully carried my Tupperware containers to the annual foreigner’s Thanksgiving potluck. We packed ourselves into the tiny apartment, ate a strange mix of foods including spicy pasta, bacon mac and cheese and roasted chicken. Mashed potatoes had been promised but not delivered, stuffing arrived almost an hour late and gravy was nowhere to be found. Pumpkin pie, store bought but a god-send nonetheless, was delivered several hours after we’d finished our food. Wine was consumed, ice cream was spilled and space was tight and cramped; what last year had felt very Thanksgiving-like, this year felt nothing of the sort.

The food was good, though, and the laughter was still there. What was supposed to be a Thanksgiving potluck was more of a strange miscellaneous potluck drinking-fest with pumpkin pie and stuffing. I had my fun, I enjoyed spending time with my friends, but at the end of the night, I wasn’t hesitant to go home. More than any year before, this Thanksgiving reminded me, painfully so, of what I was missing. Of what I’d given up to live abroad, teach and earn money in another culture and expand my horizons.

My five months in Argentina, one month of it backpacking and my year and a half of life and work in Korea are experiences that could never be replicated at home. They’ve brought me trials and lessons, laughter and new ways of thinking. My brain expanded to accommodate new languages, faces and customs. I’ve grown as a person and become more confident, daring and content with what I already have. But I haven’t lived as an expat without sacrifice; missing my favorite holiday and the family that go with it are a price I pay. Missing Thanksgiving three years running is part of that cost.

Is it worth it?

Yes.

Do I miss my family and mashed potatoes?

More than they’ll ever know.

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Have you missed holidays while traveling or living abroad? What do you miss the most from Thanksgiving? Is there one holiday you refuse to miss?

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iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Argentina

First of all, I want to start with a moment of gratitude. This morning, I finished my morning run and had not accidentally adopted any dogs by the end of it. Pfew, a sigh of relief.

This blog began back in 2011, when I wanted to document my semester abroad in Argentina. Since then, I haven’t written a whole lot of meaty posts about the experience. The writing I was doing back then (on Tumblr) was mostly short, anecdotal or quick story-based with a photograph or two. I’ll have to remedy that, in due time, but for this post I’d like to reminisce on delicious Argentinian food. Because I’m hungry, and looking at a bunch of juicy steak is going to make that better, right? Right.

24 Jul 2011 1 Ovieda Apple Pancakes

Ordering in restaurants did not start out on the right foot, in Argentina. This was “pancake”. It was literally sugar, baked onto a metal plate with a little breading in it. Way too sweet!

27 Jul 2011 2 Alfajor y Cafe

A traditional alfajor, or sandwich cookie biscuit thing, usually covered in powdered sugar. For some reason, I just couldn’t get into alfajors, unless they lacked the outer covering and were straight dulce de leche. Then I was totally into alfajors.

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Speaking of dulce de leche, it was a key culprit of my horrible eating habits during this semester. I could never say no!

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STEAK! This was the first steak I ordered in Argentina, three months in, believe it or not, because I was actually a vegetarian before studying here. Needless to say, that didn’t survive my trip.

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The best part of studying abroad might be the melting pot of cultures all coming together in one place. His face hiding behind a camera, pictured is a friend from Argentina who studied in Germany. The cook, not pictured, is a German who was also studying abroad in Argentina and decided to make us a German meal.

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The panaderia’s, or bakeries were both my best friend and my worst enemy. I wanted to try all of the different pastries available, ever, so I made it my mission.

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This sandwich was literally as big as both of our heads combined. So we each ate half, and died finishing it. Gotta love absurd portion sizes.

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My attempt at “healthy” by eating a whole grain medialuna. or butter croissant. It was unsuccessful, but deliciously so.

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My apartment was directly above one of the most incredible empanada shops. They made them open faced, with little bread bowls and I ordered take out several times a month. So. Good.

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Oh look at that, more pastries. More dulce de leche. More drizzled chocolate, powdered sugar and other creamy white sugar concoctions stuffed into a butter-saturated pastry from heaven.

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I lived 20 minutes away from “Chinatown” (actually Asia-town), which meant I could go into the grocery and get an uncut giant roll of sushi, unwrap the plastic and just eat it while walking or sitting or on the train. It was awesome.

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Okay, so I didn’t consume all of this, but it was consumable. Bariloche in Argentina, or the little Switzerland of Argentina, makes their own chocolate and it’s SO GOOD.

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Sometimes you order a meal, and it’s just three different kinds of potatoes. Argentina has a LOT of different potatoes that you can buy, though, so that’s pretty awesome. Did you know there are 5,000 different species of potatoes? Now you know!

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THIS PIECE OF CAKE WAS DELICIOUS and I’ll never forget it. Ever. As you can see, Argentina is pretty talented in the cake/pastry/fattening sweets area.

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Argentina and wine go together, and tasting wine at a winery while in Mendoza, a wine producing capital? That’s just a must-do. Not tipsy scraping and destroying your knees while falling off of a bicycle on the way back, though. You don’t need to do that. Trust me on this one.

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Argentina is famous for its asado, or barbequed / outdoor grilled meat. This asado was a king of asados, I’ve never seen a layout quite so big.

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Bondiola, or grilled, huge pieces of pork put on a nice bun, covered in weird sauce and stuffed into your face as quickly as possible, before it gets cold or drips on you. I miss bondiolas.

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Instead of just plain ketchup, you should probably also opt for the mini fries on your hotdog. I don’t know why, but you should just do it.

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I wandered around Bahia Blanca for a long time, unable to find anything I wanted to see. This cupcake shop and peanut butter cupcake literally saved the day, and made sure I wasn’t a grumpy grumpy monster when I got back to my accommodation.

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Thanksgiving in Argentina: though I missed my family, I didn’t miss out on great food and company. Or eating bird.

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More asado, because it’s delicious. This time in someone’s backyard. Sausages and huge slabs of beef are the usual.

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And to round this little photoessay off, only more pastries would be fitting.

Did I mention I gained 15-20 pounds in those five months? Well, I’m sure you can figure out why. How is anyone supposed to say “no” to food this delicious? Or even stop at reasonable amounts? It’s just not possible. If you can stay skinny without upping your exercise in Argentina, I’m assuming your taste buds don’t work.

Good thing my next stop was Asia, or I’d have been in real big trouble. (Hehe punny me!)

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Pepero Day in Korea

Today’s blog post was a no-brainer, because it’s one of my favorite holidays in Korea: Pepero Day! Yes, the holiday is totally invented by corporate magnates who wanted to sell more of their Pepero. Yes, there is no real meaning behind the holiday, and it’s only on November 11th because 11/11 looks remotely like four Pepero sticks in a row. I get it, I’m buying into the system and it’s stupid, etc… but look. I’m a teacher, so I’m pretty much exclusively on the receiving end of this tradition. So celebrate it, I will! I love Pepero Day!

In Korean, it’s spelled 빼빼로, which if I do say so, looks adorable.  Pepero is actually a brand name and it’s also acceptable to buy the competing brand named Pocky. (Like when you buy Puffs instead of Kleenex and still call it a Kleenex.) Pepero are essentially just pretzel sticks, unsalted, and dipped in chocolate. They come in multiple flavors and this year, they came out with some pretty rocking new ones. I received just the classics, though.

Today's bounty of deliciousness.
Today’s bounty of deliciousness.

The typical flavors are: plain chocolate or chocolate with pieces of almond in them. An older but less popular flavor is the reverse of a classic Pepero, where the chocolate is inside of the tube. The new flavors are pretty awesome: strawberry, melon (surprisingly incredible), and the best flavor ever and ever and ever, cookies and cream. There may be another flavor I’m missing, but it doesn’t matter. Oreo.

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Creatively called “white cookie” in Korean. Nom.

So the tradition itself is really quite simple. Buy Pepero and give them to someone. The boxes even have blank space for writing notes on the back to the lucky recipient, if you’d like to go so far. So when 11/11 rolls around and it’s Veteran’s Day in the USA, maybe the best way to remember those brave souls is to give them a box of Pepero, available for purchase on Amazon, of course.

Happy Pepero Day, Happy Veteran’s Day, oh and Happy Birthday to my little brother! I love you almost as much as I love “white cookie” flavored Pepero.

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Mini iPhone Photoessay: A Week of School Lunches

[See also: Rebe’s Week of School Lunch
& An Entire Blog Dedicated to Korean School Lunch (Eat Your Lunch-ee)]

Ah, school lunch. Growing up, it was the time of day almost everyone looked forward to. Worry free, Mom or Dad would hand me either a bag lunch or money to buy something in the cafeteria. Once I began living on my own, I realized that cooking food for myself was much less easy. Mostly just time consuming. Dislike!

And when I came to Korea for my first big-girl job, I was thrilled to find that lunch was provided. During the week, even if I failed completely during breakfast and dinner time, I’d at least have one balanced, good meal to keep me going. Well, they are usually good; though there are moments when I wonder who thought cooking pickles with spicy sauce was a good idea. Or who would think spaghetti and rice and a soup with deokk (rice cake) in it was a balanced lunch. Anyways, I digress.

My goal was to photograph a week’s worth of lunches. The plan failed quickly and completely when forgot about it on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thankfully, I found some backup photos of school lunch from earlier in the year, so the project was salvaged! Please pretend that this was a consecutive week, you know, for congruency’s sake.

Monday

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See the upper left hand corner? That’s what I’m talking about. Pickles in spicy something is just gross; thankfully this side dish doesn’t come around too often. Top middle was deokk (rice cake) and mini hotdogs also covered in spicy pepper paste (gochujang). The rice is just rice, and the soup was pretty much the best soup I’ve had all month. Beef and assorted root-y vegetables. Soup saved the day on Monday.

Tuesday

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In the top left, we have Korean “pancakes”, which are kind of scrambled egg circles. Vegetables and seafood are mixed in. The top middle is one of my favorite side dishes, beef and hard-boiled quail eggs. The top right, you’ll notice I was still trying to pretend that I liked kimchi (this was a back-up photo from February), which by now I’ve given up on. Rice, as usual, and a light soup with fried tofu balls and some white things. Honestly, it’s been 16 months and I still don’t know what those are slices of… embarrassing.

Wednesday

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PURPLE THINGS IN MY LUNCH! Actually, the cabbage is purple (mixed with corn and apple) and it’s just covered in yogurt. So it looks like the whole thing is purple. Then in the top middle, we have spicy chicken and potatoes, which by now I’ve finally learned how to consume with chopsticks. Missing kimchi, this backup photo is from last month, some plain rice. The soup is a Korean favorite; seaweed and tofu soup. I kind of love it.

Thursday

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Ah Korea, always full of surprises. The top left is a mix of bean sprouts and other stringy vegetables. Yes, those are fish that were literally deep fried, as is. I’ve never seen this in my lunch, before, but maybe the lunch ladies knew I was planning to write this post and wanted to freak all my readers out. You just pull all the bits of fish out with your chopsticks. Plain, old, boring rice and kimchi chigae, or spicy kimchi and pork soup.

Friday

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In the upper left hand corner is a soy sauce mixed with green onion and sesame seeds (and probably some other unknown ingredients). No, it’s not meant for eating as is; you either dip those cheese sticks in it or mix it with the rice situation. Those cheesesticks were a surprise, I’ve also never seen the lunch ladies make those. It was a special treat, since I’m always mourning over a lack of cheese. The rice was mixed with pieces of beef and bean sprouts. The soup, a tofu and cabbage soup, was surprisingly tasty.

Bonus!

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I’m sorry for tricking you into thinking this was going to be a congruent week, the post title is a big fat lie, so I’ll make up for it by including a bonus lunch. Sometimes fate intervenes and the lunch ladies serve us something incredibly yummy. Apple juice, a weird sweet bread thing and a single piece of kimchi sit in that top row. (This was about the time I gave up on kimchi altogether, this past July.) The rice is mixed with purple sticky rice (hence the color!) and the beautiful bowl of noodles is graced with egg, seaweed, carrot, cucumber, and spring onion. Mix and nom!

Your Turn

For the other ESL/EFL/any other kinds of teachers in Korea, listen up. For once in your life, I want to know what you had for lunch. You can do an entire week (or piece together a week’s worth, like I did) or you can do just a day; however many or few you’d like. Take a picture of your delicious cafeteria food and post it to your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, personal blog or wherever. Just use the hashtag #KoreanSchoolLunch, with a link to the lunch in question. (And if possible, send me a link to your lunch by Tweet or private message so I don’t miss it!) Those with blog posts, I’ll link to them here. Show me your noms, people!

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Think you would enjoy eating school lunch in Korea? What terrifies you? What makes your mouth water? What’s just straight up weird?

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