Travel Wrap-Up: What I learned from 3-Months Abroad

Ninety five days of travel brings some interesting insights. For me, it was all about new skills, new perspectives, and new interests.

Today I'm writing about our trip as a whole, partly to get closure and partly to share my most interesting observations. At least I thought they were interesting! Let's start with similarities and differences.

 

Things that are the same around the world (or at least in the 9 countries I visited):

-Ice cream. In every city, I constantly spotted people with ice cream cones and big smiles. From kids to adults. It just may be that ice cream is the best afternoon snack the human race has come up with so far.

-Parents and kids. Even without knowing the language, it's immediately obvious what's happening as a small child tries to run one way and a parent grabs them to bring them the other way. It turns out that little kids are pretty much the same everywhere and taking care of them is a universal human experience.

-Credit cards and the internet. My Visa worked everywhere and I went to ATMs at banks in every country and put in my card to get cash. The world is so connected now, it's amazing. The traveler's checks I remember from my childhood are long gone! Similarly, I was able to blog post from everywhere and keep in touch via the internet easily. Wifi was so prevalent, I never felt disconnected for more than a day at a time.

-People. Yep, people are actually pretty much the same. I found that even with language differences and cultural differences, folks in other countries are just like me. Everyone's just trying to do their thing, get through their day, enjoy their lives.

 

Things that are different in different countries:

-Timing. Meal timing, travel times, lifestyle - all these change depending on the country. Most notably, in Spain. Why yes, I'll have dinner at 9PM, thank you.

-Flora and fauna. The creatures in New Zealand stole my heart and the creatures in Australia genuinely scared me. In southern Spain, the air was perfumed with the scent of orange blossoms and wisteria. In Croatia, the ocean was bluer and clearer than anywhere I've ever seen. And in Iceland, my heart melted when we drove past each sheep followed by her 2 little lambs. The world is a diverse place!

-Languages, electricity, currency (Ok, you already know these, I just wanted to include them as a reminder). Surprisingly, we got by using English in every country we visited except for Spain. There, we used a combination of our (terrible) Spanish and the Google Translate app to communicate what we wanted. We needed wall adapters for our electronics everywhere and there was one type for Oceania and one type for Europe. During the middle third of our trip, we only needed Euros. These differences can put some people off, but once you get used to them, they are not a big deal.

 

How this trip affected me:

-I discovered I like learning about history when I can see it. I'll admit, I've never been keen on learning history. HOWEVER, actually seeing a spot and understanding it through its history was fascinating! Europe's history is long and extremely complex and seeing the impact of various empires in multiple places during our trip made the history come to life. Whereas before I knew next to nothing, now at least I could hold my own in a simple history discussion. : )

-The quickest way to make things better is to eat. I had a hunch that I sometimes got hangry before this trip, but traveling elucidated the truth. When things felt like they were going badly, it was likely that I hadn't eaten in a while. When I got hungry, my patience went down, my energy went down, and my temper rose. In short, I wasn't very fun. A meal made everything better! Once I realized this, we started prioritizing meals when we could.

-I like traveling to places that aren't crowded. I get pulled out of the enchantment of any beautiful site when it's too crowded. When I can't walk at my own pace or I have to weave through a crowd, I can't concentrate on being open to wonderful things anymore. Maybe this means in the future I'll seek out less popular destinations or maybe I'll travel somewhere popular only during the shoulder season.

-I'm still me. I didn't fundamentally change on this trip. I learned a lot and I saw a lot. The ways I like to travel became clearer and I know I can plan awesome trips in the future. In short, I discovered more about myself, but that didn't change me, it actually made me more me! (If that makes sense).

What's next:

I'm back in the United States (and loving the showers!) and it's time for the next chapter. This trip was amazing, but it was appropriate to wrap it up. I was fatigued from traveling towards the end and looking forward to visiting friends and family. But I also can't wait to plan the next trip, whenever that is!

So what's next right now? Now, my husband and I are moving to Denver, Colorado. We had a plan to leave LA for a long time and we're making it happen. He will be starting graduate school in the fall and I will be....Well, I'm not sure yet. I will be looking for my next job/activity/involvement this summer. I'm so excited to get to know a new city and a new region. Especially one that has a lot going on in sustainable food!

Because I will be focusing on establishing a new home base, I am taking a break from blogging regularly. I've enjoyed writing about out trip, but as my life moves in a new direction, I don't know where this blog is headed. Therefore, it's time to take a hiatus. 

Don't worry, if something really interesting is happening, I'll write about it!

Until then, be well.

How My Kitchen Helps My Relationships + A Cookie Recipe

I’m getting ready to pack up my kitchen. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll put my gadgets, my baking pans, and my dishes in boxes and let them rest quietly in the dark for three months. I like to mentally prepare myself for big changes such as this, so recently I’ve been thinking about my kitchen and its role in my life.

Here’s what I’ve decided:

This (small) room seriously bolsters my relationships with other people. It’s good for my marriage and its good my friendships.

I sort of already knew that kitchen was a sacred space for my marriage. When I get home, after I drop all my stuff, it’s my first stop because I want some cookies -- I mean fruit -- so it becomes the room in which my husband and I recap our days. I like to hop up on the counter when we’re chatting, so I’m not in the way as he brews a decaf espresso. These talks are brief. They are joyous and silly. They bring us back together after we’ve had separate adventures for the day and they feel great.

In the evenings, on the days we cook dinner, we turn on some music and roll up our sleeves. We’re working toward sitting down together to eat before we get too hangry (or before I rush out the door to my evening aerial class). Cooking still always feels hard at the start, as if the recipe will never be conquered. But we get into a rhythm. Then, before I know it, it’s time to eat. The atmosphere we create is warm (physically and emotionally!) and it’s centered around the kitchen. Yes, sitting down to eat is rewarding, but the cooking process is another form of reward.

 

My kitchen is not a one-relationship room. It has helped me build many friendships in my adult life. The role of the kitchen has become an established pattern in these friendships.

It starts off with sharing food. A proven way to make new friends is to bring them something you just baked or cooked! Extras you just had “laying around.”

Then, it’s talk: Oh you like cooking too? Do you like baking? What do you like to make? How do you feel about parchment paper?

After that, it's recipe sharing. Maybe this is cookbooks lent to friends or links sent via email. Or discussions of a recent recipe on a favorite cooking blog. Why yes, I JUST tried the latest recipe on SmittenKitchen!

But then, and here’s where it gets really important, comes the sharing of food created in the kitchen. Having friends over for a meal. Getting together to cook a particular recipe. Taking a cooking class. Or an afternoon of baking and catching up. All excellent ways to keep up friendships.

It wasn’t until I looked around my kitchen that I realized how important each utensil and measuring cup is in building my relationships and keeping them nourished. I’ll miss creating food while my husband and I are traveling for three months and I’ll miss my friends! : (

But I know I’ll build new kitchen memories soon enough.

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Here’s a delightful tea cookie recipe I made with a friend on a recent baking afternoon. Small, slightly sweet with a touch of salt, and with enough interesting flavors to make them count as a snack instead of dessert. Try making them with a friend or bake them alone and share them – a way to bring joy to your January!

 

Rooibos Tea Cookies
From Food52.com

Makes 36

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rooibos tea leaves (about 5 tea bags)
  • 1 vanilla bean, whole, ends trimmed, cut into segments OR 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste 
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (or brown sugar)

Directions:

  1. Heat a small pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add rooibos, and shake pan to distribute tea into a single layer. Toast for about 2-4 minutes, until tea is fragrant but not darkened. Depending on your leaves, this may happen much more quickly; watch it carefully. When leaves are fragrant, transfer them to a bowl and let cool for a couple minutes.
  2. Combine the sugar, vanilla bean, and rooibos in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for about 2 minutes, until there are no chunks of bean left in the bowl. Add the powdered sugar, flour, and salt to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Then add the milk, vanilla, and butter and pulse several times, until a dough forms.
  3. Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface, gather it together, and roll it gently into a log 1.5-inches in diameter.
  4. Sprinkle turbinado sugar on a plate or work surface, and roll cookie dough log in the sugar, making sure to cover the entire surface of the log with sugar, pressing it in as you go. The sugar may not stick on its own, but that’s okay, just get as much on as you can.
  5. Wrap log in plastic or wax paper and transfer to the fridge or freezer for at least 30 minutes to chill.
  6. When ready to bake, turn on the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Remove log from fridge or freezer, and cut 1/3-inch slices off the log, rotating the log as you go to ensure that cookie slices stay round. Transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between each (they don't really spread, but they need breathing room to crisp up). Bake for 12 minutes, until cookies are just starting to brown. Leave on the cookie sheet to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks.
  8. Enjoy!

 

30-day No-Added Sugar Challenge Debrief

You’ve been wondering about my no added sugar challenge, right? You’ve been thinking about me every time you eat a piece of candy, or a pastry, or a bar of chocolate, isn’t that so? You’ve been asking yourself: how is Jessica doing with that crazy challenge, anyway?

I’m here to tell you. It’s been stinking hard!

But not for the reason I thought.

 

Remind me again?

I decided last month to do a 30-day challenge of eating no added sugar. That meant I gave up eating desserts, cookies, candy, syrup, jam, etc. I skipped Halloween’s traditional candy binge and instead I’ve sweetened my life with things like fruit. Yep.

Sugar is added to so many foods and is not particularly healthy, so I wanted to take a break to reset my attitude and my palate.

 

Where are we now?

Today (Tuesday) is the 28th day of this 30-day challenge! That means I’ve got two more days and on Friday, I’ve completed it!! It dragged by in the day-to-day, but in retrospect, I feel like it wasn’t SO long.

 

What has been the hardest?

It turns out, the lack of added sugar wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was my HABIT OF FOOD INDULGENCE. Post dinner, while out at a coffee shop, with friends, or when I’m stressed (ie. the election) – eating something delicious as a “treat” is apparently a deeply ingrained habit for me. Without traditional “treats” as an option, I branched out…into carbs. This was not my intention, but suddenly, after dinner, I was reaching for the pita chips or eating popcorn. I’d get home late from an aerial class and head to the kitchen, later chastising myself for eating when I wasn't even hungry because it felt relaxing.

I realized that I haven’t been physically craving sweets, but I relied on them psychologically. It was disappointing to discover that I couldn’t all of a sudden be satisfied with a cup of tea, I wanted more. Alas!

As the challenge went on, I did enjoy a bit of dessert wine in the evening in an attempt to curb the extra carb intake. Then, just last week, I started going straight to the source and sugared up by eating grapes. WOW, they are sweet. And quite satisfying.

 

What has changed? 

My tolerance for sweetness, definitely. I’m noticing that foods are sweeter than I thought and I can immediately tell when something has sugar added to it (because it tastes awesome, duh). What a snazzy trick! 

I have been feeling really good too. I haven’t had any sugar-induced mood swings or crankiness and my health has been great. This is anecdotal evidence, and luckily, I rarely got sick before...but still, I think it’s made some difference.

 

So now what?

I would love to keep up with 100% no added sugar full-time in the future. But I am pretty sure I won’t. It was easier to quit cold turkey temporarily than it will be for me to hem and haw over how much sugar is okay and how much is too much for the foreseeable future. I will try though. I’m planning to limit dessert eating to fruit and dark chocolate at home. I’m planning to celebrate with desserts out at restaurants less often.

And I did discover that I can enjoy (yes, I can!) both almond milk and granola with no added sugar. Incorporating both of these into my regular diet instead of the sugarier versions I used to eat seems like a worthwhile and completely doable permanent change.

 

And now, onward into a minimally sugared future!