Culture Shock and Cooking

Meet our beautiful Peking duck, he was a total quack up.

Meet our beautiful Peking duck, he was a total quack up.

We returned to America earlier this month and were struck by two things; firstly, the icy blast of a polar vortex that was freezing much of the East Coast (including Manhattan, where we’re setting up home), and secondly, a jolt of culture shock. We slowly unpacked our bags, constantly expecting to wake up back in Southeast Asia on a damp mildewy mattress. But here we are, a month later, still hacking it out in snowy Manhattan.

It’s been just over a month since we came back to New York, and it’s starting to feel like home. I spent the initial two weeks driving up and down the east coast visiting friends and family, a leisurely and scenic tour up and down the East coast. I drove from New York to North Carolina and back, stopping in DC, Charlottesville, and Carborro. It was a very productive looking form of denial – denial of the culture shock I’m going through, denial of impending unemployment, and denial of being in a very inbetween place.

What better thing to do when you’re working through your culture shock than to cook? I cooked a seared juicy steak and creamed spinach for my mother, turkey pot pie for my father and sister, eggplant parmesean for my friends in Charlottesville, and even Peking duck for my soon-to-be-in-laws.

In case you’re wondering how to make Peking duck, check out this uber helpful tutorial from Serious Eats. It was a lengthy but surprisingly simple endeavor.

Links from around the interwebs:

The Reality Behind Instagram Feeds, so true!

Comfort Food for the Cold Weather: Bon App’s Cacio e Pepe

What Happens When You Live Abroad

The Hunt for the Perfect Understated Nail Polish

Two Weeks in America

This week marks 7 MONTHS on the road. This is the halfway point in our trip and a big milestone. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed, it’s a bit scary to be honest. It seems like just yesterday that we were nervously packing our bags and trying to explain to our friends our vague travel plans. Today we are confident in telling our friends that we have only broadest outlines of plans, and prefer it that way. Our travel style has become somewhat more relaxed, and the sense of urgency to cover ground has given way to a quiet contentment (and spending a lot of time in Bali).

Packing up for the first time was a bit chaotic.

Packing up for the first time was a bit chaotic.

I think back to our first weeks figuring it all out in China. We had no idea how to order food in restaurants, we stared at the menus printed in Mandarin and were overwhelmed with the sense that we may actually starve.

Through China and Burma we sorted out our various travel roles and have finally settled into a style of travel that suits us well.

In those first weeks on the road, we proudly told others about our grand scheme to be on the road for 14 months. We weren’t always sure we would make it the full term, telling ourselves that we could go home if it got to be too hard. It didn’t get to be too hard, it grew to be a tremendous amount of fun and a great adventure. There was no shortage of struggles or cranky moments, but I am more certain that we are capable of surviving for 14 months on the road. We have relished meeting a fascinating cast of characters and hearing their fantastical tales. We have gained a tremendous amount in both wisdom and backpacker street cred since those early days in China.

Holy camoly we’ve been homeless wanderers for a long time.

We’ve also been very sneaky lately, we were actually in America for the last two weeks visiting family. Zev’s brother recently graduated college (congrats Ezra!) so we headed home for the festivities.

Congrats Ezra!!

Congrats Ezra!!

Having the chance to see family again, recharge our batteries and restock our backpacks was refreshing. So much has changed since we left, and yet it is comforting to know that we will always have family and friends that make us feel at home. I might not have an apartment or house to call home, but there are many places that feel like home.

As you can tell by the slideshow below, we ate very very well for the last two weeks. It was a flurry of American food, more than it would be proper to tell you about. An embarrassment of delicacies. Perhaps it’s a good thing our trip was so limited, any longer and I might have done permanent damage to my arteries.

We’ve found it is really hard to hit the road again after seeing family, it takes a bit of time to adjust to the solitude of travel. There are no routines when you’re backpacking, every day is a new one requiring its own bundle of planning and logistics.

Although many heart wrenching goodbyes followed, we packed up our bags and hit the road again, making a quick pit stop in Kuala Lumpur to pick up fresh visas for Bali. My mother is arriving in Bali today and I can’t wait!

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Pre-Trip Planning & Coconut Almond ‘KIND’ Bars, the Knock Off

Between applying for Chinese and Burmese visas, collecting all the odds bits of travel medicine and gear, we have been busy! Late last month we made a sudden decision to head to Burma/Myanmar for about 3 weeks in early December. While we’re both very excited about adding this country to the itinerary, it also requires some planning.

I made these granola bars to munch on while we ran errands.  They kept the crankiness at bay.

I tweaked this ‘Moments of Musing’ recipe to create my own granola bars – adding crystallized ginger, flax seeds, and a dash of cinnamon for some pep. The result is somewhat crumbly, but next time a quarter cup of almond butter might help to hold things together.

Coconut Almond KIND Knock Off Bars

Makes about 16 bars

2 cups raw sliced almonds, skins on

1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut

3/4 cup puffed rice cereal

1/2 cup palm sugar syrup (1/2 cup palm sugar mixed with 1/4 cup hot water) OR 1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup almond or peanut butter (optional; this makes the final product more cohesive, but I hate nut butter – so there!)

1/4 cup flax seeds (optional; for fiber and shiny hair)

1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8X8 glass baking dish with parchment paper, this will make removing the bars much easier.

In a large mixing bowl combine the almonds, flaked coconut, puffed rice cereal, flax seeds, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Fold in the palm sugar syrup or honey.

Scrape the mixture into the baking dish and firmly press together. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. Let cool completely before removing the hardened mass from the pan and slicing into bars. Wrap in parchment or wax paper to store. Can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week.

Enjoy and stay safe during Hurricane Sandy!

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Shoes and Jamaican Beef Patties

Packing clothing for an entire year into one backpack has been an interesting challenge. We're not planning on going anywhere too frigid, but having a week's worth of clothing for weather from the low 50's (China in November) to hot (hopefully most of our trip) means weather-flexible clothing is the way to go.

This mantra has proven the most difficult when it comes to shoes. The engineer in me took over and after developing a seemingly impossible set of requirements (waterproof, lightweight, low cut, hiking tread, comfortable enough to run in), researching online for a couple hours, and taking trips to no less than 5 outdoors stores in DC, Richmond, and Connecticut, I ended up with the less than beautiful but extremely functional New Balance MO1521 GTX. Eliza on the other hand has slightly higher aesthetic standards than I, and will be bringing her running shoes for hiking and other outdoor activities, and is currently shopping for a pair of boots for walking around town and for cold weather. Eliza's quest for a lightweight, sturdy, and affordable boot brought Eliza, our friend Sara, and I to SOHO in Manhattan yesterday. Although the quest was entirely exhausting and ultimately unsuccessful, it did yield a pretty phenomenal lunch.

New Balance MO 1521 GTX

I have the tendency to wander long distances aimlessly at the hope of stumbling on a hole-in-the-wall gem for a meal. While Eliza and I sometimes can enjoy this strategy together, when tired feet and hangriness (hangry = hungry + angry) are at play, this food finding approach can cause some relationship discord. After vetoing two perfectly acceptable but not-quite-interesting-enough-for-me places during our shoe shopping marathon yesterday, the hangriness was quickly setting in. But, after passing an uber hip looking membership based coffee shop and a brand new fancy looking bakery (Houston between Thompson and Sullivan), I knew we were in the perfect neighborhood to find a real treasure!

Luck must have been in my favor yesterday, because just around the corner we found Miss Lily's Variety and Bake Shop and Melvin's Juice Box, a Jamaican lunch counter and juice bar. We walked in ahead of a food walking tour just as the tour guide told his group that this was the least busy he'd ever seen the place. So some combination of my food spidey sense and old fashion dumb luck must have really been working for us.

For anyone who has not had a Jamaican beef patty, it is a saucy, spicy stew of ground meat (usually beef, but chicken is fairly common as well) folded up and baked in a pocket of buttery yellow dough.

They're sold commonly in pizza places in New York (I doubt there is any culinary or cultural link between pizza and patties, but I'm not complaining), and are a staple snack item in most Jamaican places I've been. Unlike any patty I've had before, Ms Lily's patties contained shredded beef instead of ground meat, which made it much heartier and more textured than usual, which I really enjoyed. As always, the spicy and delicious brown sauce of the filling balanced perfectly with the rich and sweet pastry, which was moist and doughy with the slightest bit of exterior crunch.

Mostly eaten jerk chicken roti

We also ordered a jerk chicken roti, which is the West-Indian answer to the burrito: shredded jerk chicken with peas and rice, wrapped up in a thin pancake. Miss Lily's jerk was flavorful and just at the limit of my heat-tolerance and in addition to the rice and peas, the cucumber salad inside the roti was delicious and much appreciated for its cooling effect.

We exerted some self control and didn't go for the extra patty-for-the-road, but they did have free postcards, so a couple of you will be receiving the first of many post cards from our travels.

For anyone in New York now craving a beef patty, definitely check out Miss Lily's! For those of you in DC, Sweet Mango Cafe in Petworth or Negril on Georgia Avenue near Howard University were our go-to Jamaican joints in the district.