2016: A Year of Advice

When my high school counselor first told me “It’s not where you start, but where you finish,” I was disgruntled. He shared that dictum in response to where I wanted to go to college and, at the time, I expected more encouragement than pragmatism. Unfortunately for me (at the time), he was right. I didn’t get into Northwestern out of high school. Instead, I went to community college, applied again and was accepted as one of two transfers to the School of Communication at Northwestern.

His phrase, which may be a twisted epitaph, was likely born out of his role as the coach of the cross country team. As I mature and only run to catch trains, his advice has proven to be a life truth. But its utility is when looking in the past. In the moment it’s easy to lose sight of what could be.

It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.

-Søren Kierkegaard

There was a TED talk that explored how resilient we are when facing the extremes of life. People experience traumatic events and survive. They don’t return to life as they previously knew it, but they adapt, they grow, they persevere. It isn’t about where you start, but where you finish.

With a new year freshly in front of me, I set aside some time to reflect on 2016. It was a full year; full of challenges, new experiences, important life lessons. Let’s take a look back! Continue reading 2016: A Year of Advice

Fish Don’t Go to Heaven (and other advice from Fajardo)

Loquillo

“Sometimes certain things happen…” Denise trailed off before pausing, shrugging her shoulders and raising her hands to the sky. She works in the mornings at the front desk of the hotel where we are staying. “Everything happens for a reason, you know? That’s what I believe.”

My girlfriend and I got up early to purchase tickets for the ferry to Culebra, an island said to have one of the best beaches in the world. We were advised to be there at 6AM for the 9AM ferry. That seemed ridiculous, so we walked there from our hotel and were in line by 7. It was a 10 minute walk from our hotel and we figured we’d save the $5 on parking. While Leann waited in line, I went to the nearby post office to attempt to pickup or MIA sunscreen and contact solution. En route a man waved me toward him. I asked where the post office was and he pointed up the street before asking me if I could give him a dollar for the ferry. I said I didn’t have cash and walked into the post office, which didn’t have an attendant for another hour.

Back in line with Leann, the line inched forward. There were three windows to buy tickets; one for Culebra, Vieques and cargo. Everyone was in line for the best beach in the world. The family of four in front of us purchased their tickets. Then the woman waved at us, shook her head and signaled to another man who announced that the 9:30 ferry to Culebra was sold out. That was our plan for the morning. The ferry to the other island was available, but they weren’t known for being one of the best. We decided to check the post office again and regroup. Continue reading Fish Don’t Go to Heaven (and other advice from Fajardo)

Pizza for the Procrastinator | Recipe & Story

world cup, fifa, lunch, salad, wrap, pizza

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I like to believe that I’m unique, but there’s one thing I trust I share with most people: I procrastinate when it comes to food.

Most of my free time is spent watching cooking shows, reading recipes and cooking. I also nap more than a newborn. Planning meals is not listed in that rundown. I improvise in the kitchen and oftentimes it works out well. But certain food needs advanced thought, especially anything involving a dough.

If you stalk me or are just vigilant about reading my semi-occasional posts (I appreciate all my readers), you may recall that time I tried making pizza a few weeks ago. The toppings were a bit off and the pre-made dough needed salt. While sitting on the couch watching the World Cup, I found a blog post for tw0-ingredient pizza dough that didn’t require yeast or time to rest/rise/rest.

For the dough: 1 cup Greek yogurt and 1 – 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour.

I didn’t have self-rising flour, so you can add 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

BOOM! You are now one step closer to your own show on the DIY Network.

The story before the pizza:

My lady friend and I attended the Summer Lovin’ fundraiser for Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I had gone a few times in the past to sample the finest food the Windy City has to offer and the finest singles Chicago Magazine selects. I’m still waiting for the email or phone call, editors of Chicago Mag. This year was the first I went where I wasn’t single.

Singles events are like the World Cup. Take the corner kick. Everyone crowds the net waiting for the perfect opportunity to head the ball into the net. Every time someone passes by, you hope they stop or that you can engage them in some repartee. Or maybe you run around looking for the right opportunity.

But here’s my pearl of wisdom from dating the majority of women in the metropolitan area: free kicks are rare. You have to make your own opportunities, and I’ve found they don’t happen at singles events.

No one wants to go to a singles event solo. So they rally the army for a night out. Instead of having one-on-one interactions, you have the choice of 1-on-5, or, if you have some confident friends, 2-on-5. Oftentimes when you look around you’ll see one guy talking to two or three women. That takes confidence. Or drunkenness. Either way, you have to make the move and find a group that doesn’t look like they are discussing how to cure cancer.

The night and scotch reminded me of all the time and events I went to trying to meet an adventurous gal. As soon as the security guards started ushering the pretty people toward the exit, everyone suddenly was in a meaningful conversation. It’s like the referees had just added bonus time to the match.

After briefly checking out the after party and a short stroll around downtown, we headed back toward the ‘burbs.

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Saturday (aka PIZZA DAY)

The sun was out and all was right with the world. My lady friend and I went for a walk in a forest preserve. She didn’t kill me and leave me for dead. So there’s that.

After wandering around and not seeing the pretty parts of the trail, we eventually migrated to another walking path. This time by a river. We spotted four couples taking wedding photos. Apparently everyone wants to get married on the longest day of the year.

Ominous clouds crept in and we made it back to the car just before the downpour. We loaded up on extra foodstuffs at Trader Joe’s for the pizza and detoured around closed streets before firing up the oven for Pizza Night: Round 2.

Toppings:

  • Sauteed red onion and mushrooms
  • Kalamata olives
  • Salami
  • Shredded cheddar

Notes: The dough is incredibly sticky. The flavor is decent, it needs a teaspoon of salt. Next time we will try 1:1.5 cups ratio. The dough may not have been fully cooked in the center, so make sure you roll it out to an even, thin layer. But we nailed the toppings.

You know what they say about the third time? Stay tuned for Pizza Night: Round 3.

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Become a Travel Expert in Two Weeks

Always find the view.

All it takes is one trip to be perceived as a travel expert.

Prior to this adventure my only international travel explorations were Canada and Mexico. I have been back in the states for five days. In that time I have been asked for advice on upcoming trips by friends and coworkers, including my VP. I suspect his budget may be a bit different from mine.

I am guilty of asking everyone and anyone I have ever met for their advice before I left. Beyond anything else, I hate waste. Wasted words, time, energy or money. I wanted to travel efficiently. And who better to ask than someone who has already been where I was going?

While catching up with some of my well-traveled coworkers this week, one asked me what I would have done differently. I wish I’d taken a formal tour of the Vatican and Colosseum. The manager promptly replied, “I told you so.” I will take this opportunity to repeat his advice. If you are going to the Vatican or the Colosseum, get a tour guide.

Be careful if/when you return. Some people will ask you about your trip. Others will hate you for having left the office, especially if they had to cover your work. This may be why Caesar was really killed. Brutus got jealous that Julius was gallivanting around like he ran the empire.

The Vatican is overwhelming. Wandering around aimlessly is fatiguing and frustrating. I ended up not enjoying the Vatican Museum as much as I hoped I would. I’ll write more about that in a separate post.

If you are a history buff and remember everything from World History in high school, you are my enemy. But, you will be well prepared for visiting the sites in Roma.

The Colosseum is doable sans tour guide, but if you get one of the tours offered you gain access to restricted areas like the third level and onto the main floor. The tour was about 10-15 euros and lasts an hour. In our haste, we ascended the stairs after getting through the gate and marveled at the spectacle of the monstrous arena. After an hour walking around mouth agape we headed for the exit and saw the signs for the guided tours. At that point we didn’t want to spend another hour walking around the Colosseum.

Traveling is one giant upsell. You buy a museum pass, then you get there and a tour is offered for another 10 euros. Or an audio guide for 7. You begin to forget you already paid to access the site or museum.

Tip: Read as much as you can pre-trip. Stock up on history texts. If you’re like me and don’t have a ton of time to read (fall asleep on page 2), there are tons of podcasts and lectures you can stream.

Aside from those two sites, I wouldn’t have done anything differently on the trip. That’s a bold statement from me. I am extremely critical, especially of myself. One time I parked in the wrong parking garage for a company party. The garage cost $30, instead of the valet that was pre-arranged and cost $12. I still haven’t forgiven myself for that.

Most people enjoy talking about two things: themselves and their travels. So, be curious. Ask them questions. What did they love that they didn’t think they would? What would they have done differently? Where do they wish they had time to go? What was underwhelming? What’s the transit system like?

Those are all questions I asked anyone willing to talk to me. The answers helped me shape the time in each city and agenda. I’m fortunate to have a lot of friends who have traveled the globe. My cousin studied in Rome for a semester. Another friend spent a significant amount of time in Italy. I didn’t get a ton of advice on Paris, but supplemented personal advice with travel books and Paris’ tourism site. I was also extremely lucky to have someone with similar cultural interests and curiosity joining me on the trip.

Ultimately, if you are a planner, you’ll do your legwork before take-off. If you like to wing things and live each day as it comes, you will also have a great time. The biggest advice I could give if you are traveling with someone is to make sure you know what type of person your companion is. If I had gone on the trip with someone who wasn’t a planner and relied on me for everything, I would have been resentful and burnt out.

Traveling is tremendously rewarding but also tiring. I haven’t tallied up all the museums and sites we saw or the mileage covered, but this may be the first trip where I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Aside from getting on the flight back to Chicago.

11 Holiday Cooking Tips I Wish I Knew Sooner

I feel like there should be blurring or black bars for this shot.

I feel obligated to share that I’m eating cold, left-over pizza as I write this. The leftovers are all gone from Thanksgiving. A few weeks ago I started planning what new things I’d try this year. For fellow home chefs, holidays are the day we have been training for: making stocks, timing multiple dishes to finish at the same time, drinking enough to keep up with/tolerate the relatives, and avoid spilling anything on yourself thereby making others question your competency. This year’s turkey day served as a warm-up for Christmas.

The shopping and prep work started a week ago. I hit 5 stores to get all the ingredients. Since I don’t believe in making lists, instead, relying on my faulty memory, where was I going with this…Ah! Yes. Shopping. All told the meal cost about $60-75, which is lower than normal for my family.

Onto the cooking stories and lessons, lest I bury the lede any deeper. Here are the things I wish I knew before embarking on today’s feast. These are now useless until next year. You’re welcome for my planning ahead to help you.

A. Don’t apologize. However things turned out is how they were meant to be. Embrace it. Learn from your missteps, and do better next time. Enjoy the people you’re with and the time you have together. In the end, that’s all that matters. Not that you brined, smoked, and photographed a trollop of a bird, made mashed potatoes of the perfect texture, constructed gravy that would make grandmothers weep.

2. Make-ahead stock. Purchase turkey wings. Roast those with halved onions, roughly chopped celery, some salt and pepper for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Flipping 20-25 minutes in. Then de-glaze the pan with 2 cups of water. Once you have gotten most of the bits off the bottom, add 10 more cups of water. Simmer the wings/bones/aromatics for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Upside: this is mostly a passive activity and beats store-bought stock which is loaded with sodium.

D. Salt your food. I usually omit this step and rely on salting dishes individually. This bothers me largely due to watching cooking shows where chefs lambaste contestants  for not seasoning their dishes. All the dishes I made today needed salt. Otherwise the flavors were balanced. So, as a reminder, salt your food.

4. Delegate photo duties to someone you trust. When handling raw turkey and most meat, you don’t want to be spreading those bacteria to your phone. I had my sister take a few of the pics as I manhandled the bird on the grill. In retrospect, I should have discussed my preferred angles and framing.

5. Mashed Potatoes as God intended.  Heat milk/cream and half a stick of butter. I always used to add them cold to the hot potatoes. When you heat the fats, it makes for a much creamier end result.

6. You can’t eat all day, if you don’t eat breakfast. I had 2. My usual cereal upon opening my eyes. Then I made hash browns with my sister. Homemade hash browns. Added that with bacon, poblano, onion and cheddar for a frittata/omelette.

7. Post and post often. Your friends won’t invite you to friendsgiving if you don’t fill their feeds with food instead of kind notes about how thankful you are. By constantly posting, you’re screaming to the world that you have better food than they do. And that you need attention. But I prefer the former justification.

8. If you aren’t getting the necessary compliments on social media, take the direct approach. Text friends extreme close-ups of the bird or crudites. Possibly calling them, then rushing off the phone. “Gotta go check on my turkey smoking on the grill.” If possible, use a hashtag during the call. The more incoherent the better. I suggest #nevergohungry

9. Try something new. Every year I change something. Some of the changes are small. Some are new dishes. A few years ago, I started making stuffin muffins. Now, largely because of the hype I’ve created, all my friends request I bring in leftovers on Monday. This year saw two changes. First, was smoking the bird, which freed up the oven for other dishes, and was one less pan to wash. The second modification was a second gravy. I roasted poblano peppers after the turkey was done, then blended them with 2-3 cups of my finished gravy.

10. Find someone to wash dishes. Based on my straw poll, very few people like doing dishes. I’d consider marrying someone solely for their willingness to always wash dishes.

11. Embrace tradition. Maybe yours is guessing which relative will become uncomfortably intoxicated. Who will disappear before the dishes are done? If you don’t have any, create some! My family always watches Home Alone. This year I fell asleep sitting upright. No apologies.

 

Biz Markie, The Philosopher

Oh baby you, you got what I need
You got everything I need
You’re like medicine to me
Oh baby

A recent discussion with a lady friend led to a seemingly simple question: What do you need?

This question is increasingly difficult as I age. The higher my age, the less things I perceive I need. The more people I date, the more self-reliant I have become. My multitude of first dates has led me to stop looking for fulfillment in my partners in an effort for self-preservation. In my life, I have learned that the only person I can depend on is me. To some extent this is tied into taking responsibility for my own life and my own happiness. Do I want my happiness linked to someone else? My initial thoughts to the question of what I need are the base elements of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Continue reading Biz Markie, The Philosopher