Christmas in Barcelona

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I know it’s August now, but I’m still working through the last 6 months of my Juarez tour, so bear with me!

Two of our best friends from Juarez got married in Barcelona over Christmas. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to make it work financially and logistically, but after a bit of research and some math, it actually worked out to be a pretty affordable option. I flew from Juarez back to DC on the 21st of December and after spending Christmas Eve wandering DC in the snow, we had a lovely Christmas breakfast at home and headed to the airport. Our flight was supposed to leave from National Airport, but of course after sitting at the gate for 2 hours the flight was cancelled and we were rerouted on a later flight from Dulles. So we reclaimed our bags and headed out to the taxi line. The new flight put us transiting through Heathrow which was an exciting first for me, but the delay in departure meant that we arrived in Barcelona more than 12 hours after our originally slated arrival time. When you only have a 5 day trip including transit time, 12 hours makes a big difference, so I was pretty peeved about the whole thing.

But once we got to Barcelona my annoyance melted away and I fell in love with the city. It is seriously cute. Our hotel was about a 10 minute walk from Sagrada Familia, so we took advantage of that and went for a late night stroll to see the church lit up. It was gorgeous, simply beautiful, and after seeing it in the dark I was pumped to get to see it in daylight.

The next day (Friday) we met up with the bride, groom, and some other out-of-towners and went on a guided tour of the Barrio Gotica and La Rambla. The groom is a Barcelona native, so he knew all kinds of interesting tidbits about the city and he gave us great recommendations for tasty treats in the open-air market. As Spain is a Catholic country, the Christmas season lasts through Epiphany so the whole city was decked out in holiday lights and wreaths. The Barrio Gotic is super old and just packed with cute shops and gorgeous churches. After the tour, we went back to the hotel for a nap and then headed back out into town around 9 for dinner. We ate delicious tapas and drank amazing wine and we ended the night at Caelum, a coffee/pastry shop that also sells jams, jellies, and liqueurs made in local monasteries. We spent a long time trying to find the perfect gifts for some foodie friends and finally decided on some bitters and a jam sampler. YUM.

On Saturday we headed to Sagrada Familia to do the guided tour. The line was INSANE. Like, half a mile down the block insane, and we spent probably a good 2 hours just standing there waiting to get tickets. But it was totally, completely, 100% worth the wait. Gaudi was such a visionary and the way he incorporated plant biology and cell-structure into the cathedral is just astonishing. The stained glass is similarly phenomenal and since it was mid-morning by the time we finally got inside, the lighting was incredible. The whole interior just glows, quite literally, and it’s almost entirely done with natural light. It was really windy, so the tower tours were cancelled, so someday I’m going to have to go back to see the view. I can imagine how amazing it is, but it’s just one of those things I need to see in person.

After the tour, we stopped for chocolate and churros and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding. The wedding site was in a restaurant on the top of a hill and the traffic pattern up the hill is a bit confusing so we had to pull out our phones and google map it for the taxi driver, because he kept driving past the turn off (he didn’t think the road went all the way through). We made it to the wedding with minutes to spare, but being literally the last guests to arrive meant that there weren’t any seats left together so we had to sit separately. Kind of a bummer, especially for such a romantic wedding but it was our own fault so we weren’t too torn up about it.

The ceremony was done in English and Catalan and it was truly one of the most intimate, romantic ceremonies I’ve ever attended. I took a bunch of pictures but I don’t like posting pictures of people without their permission so I’m not going to share any of them, but trust me, it doesn’t get much more romantic than a candlelit ceremony on a mountain in Barcelona. Post wedding we enjoyed a fantastic dinner, delicious cake, and countless glasses of yummy Spanish wine and cava. After the wedding (about 2 a.m.) all the friends/siblings of the bride and groom piled into taxis and headed downtown to dance the night away. We showed up at what is supposed to be one of the hottest clubs in Barcelona, but they wouldn’t let us in because the men in our group (this is a direct quote) “looked too fancy” and no amount of pleading and explaining could change the bouncers mind. We were all baffled. I mean, the mean in our group did look fancy, BECAUSE WE WERE AT A WEDDING, but they weren’t in tuxes. Even the groom was just wearing a suit. It was a really really nice, custom, Caroline Herrera suit, but it was a suit still the same. So we nixed that plan and headed to a different club with less douchy bouncers. Like most clubs in Barcelona, girls get in free, but guys pay a hefty cover (30 Euro!!). Cover comes with a drink though, and at this place that meant a drink the size of a fishbowl. Seriously. the drinks were insane. We stayed at the club till around 4:30 and then walked the 4 blocks back to the hotel.

Not going to lie, we were pretty hung over the day after the wedding. Not like “OMG I’m going to die” hung over, but neither of us were at our best. So we decided to take it easy and have a slow day, even though it was our last day in town. We did a mini architecture tour down Passeig de Grácia, did some shopping, ate a bunch of tapas and churros, and sat down at the port people-watching and watching sailboats. It was a pretty perfect day and was a great way to end a fantastic trip.

After one last breakfast of pastries and chocolate, we flew back to DC. It was a whirlwind trip and I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had a great time and can’t wait to go back.

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Back to work!

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I’ve been back in DC since mid-May. I left Juarez the end of April and went on a whirlwind road-trip tour of the US, visited my parents and siblings in Utah, hung out with friends in Chicago, met my adorable new nephew in NY, and managed to cram in some quality time with my in-laws in PA and NJ. By the time I made it to DC, it was time to organize my husband’s pack out, move into my new apartment, and get him on his merry way to Qatar.

I’m 6 weeks into Arabic training. It’s weird being back at FSI and I haven’t quite found my language-training groove yet. Part of the problem is that I’ve only ever studied Arabic really intensely, so only being in class 5 hours a day with 3-ish hours of homework feels like I’m somehow doing too little and like I should be working much harder. Another part of the problem is that FSI is really only set up to get you to a 2/1, and anyone who wants a better score than that (especially in speaking) only means more work for the Arabic department, so there’s really not much incentive on the teachers’ end of the spectrum for students to get beyond the minimum. Of course, I don’t want the minimum. I want to get as much exposure to the language as I can, I want to be able to do my job in Doha confidently, and I want a better score if at all possible. So needless to say, I’ve found being back in class to be a bit frustrating and I haven’t made as much progress at regaining my Arabic as I had hoped to have made at this point.

It’s also been hard to be so far away from my husband. I really like that guy, you know? July 14 marks 1 full year since we’ve lived in the same house and the 7 hour time difference right now is really difficult to deal with. I’m already counting down the days until I get to see him in September (67 days!). He seems to be settling into life in Doha pretty well and he’s making friends and exploring the city as much as he can without a car. His UAB arrived last week and the HHE and our car should be there in the next 2 weeks although between the heat-induced shortened work hours and Ramadan, it’s likely that it’ll take some extra time for things to clear customs and to arrive at the Embassy. For the meantime, he’s making do and seems to have found local sources for most things. Between his busy schedule, my classes and other obligations, and the time zone difference, we are lucky if we can cram in a 30-minute FaceTime session awkwardly in the back of the cafeteria during my lunch break. It’s better than nothing, and having video chatting abilities is eons away from what our early long-distance days were like a decade ago, but it’s still hard.

I’m still working on back-posting the rest of my Juarez adventures, so for my understandably-dwindling-readership (hi mom!), look for posts soon about our Christmas trip to Barcelona, my 30th birthday in Mexico City, and my Oaxaca-Puebla Semana Santa trip, among others.

Incongruities

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It’s a gorgeous, Juarez day today. 65-ish degrees and sunny with a gorgeous, clear, blue sky. These are the kinds of days that make me really love this place. For all the awful-ness of the weather during the summers here, the rest of the seasons are, minus the occasional dust storm, quite lovely.

I’m currently just over 1 week into a 1 month rotation where I come in at 7 a.m. and leave at 4. It’s a nice break from the grind of the visa line, but I am not crazy about being at work at 7 a.m., and the first Monday after the switch from Standard to Daylight Saving Time proved to be difficult. It sucks to leave the house for work in the pitch black, so I actually didn’t know just how lovely a day it was until I left for lunch around 1 p.m.

I had my windows rolled down, NPR classical music blaring (because I’m cool like that) and I was thinking about how perfect a day it was, and how happy the weather made me feel, when I came upon a funeral procession. It’s actually the very first one I’ve seen since I got to Juarez over 22 months ago, if you can believe that. There were more than 30 cars in the procession, and all of them seemed to be full of mourners. All the cars had black crepe flyers attached to them somehow, and right behind the hearse was a pick-up truck with a bed just LOADED with flowers. 

As I was waiting for them to pass so I could merge, it just struck me as so stark and incongruous. Such a beautiful day and such a painful, sad event. I’m projecting, of course, because I don’t know a thing about the person who died or their family, but it made me really think about the inevitability of loss. I suppose I should be happy for them that it’s not a blustery, rainy day, because who wants to stand in a cemetery in the mud and rain? But I just couldn’t help but feel like this perfect day shouldn’t have to be used for burying a loved one. It should be used for flying kites at Chamizal. Or running laps around the neighborhoods behind the Consulate. Or visiting Modesto the lone giraffe at Parque Central. 

And then of course I started to think about all the things I haven’t done here yet and all the things I want to do again before I leave and that just made me sad all over again. Le sigh. I am leaving in 51 days and there is so much to do, so much to see, so much to write about.

Cooking class

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Tonight I taught a cooking class at my house. I have this killer scone recipe and the last few times I’ve made them and brought them to work I’ve had several people ask for the recipe. Rather than just give it out, I decided it would be way more fun and more useful to just have a class where we make them together. For those bakers out there, scones are one of those breads that require a bit of technique to master and it’s hard to understand the technique if you’re just reading the text. Plus, I’ve got several sneaky short-cuts that I’ve worked out over the years that make my recipe super simple (only dirty 1 bowl, 1 fork, and 2 measuring spoons!), and super fast (freeze them once they’re cut out and have fresh scones any time you want!).

We had 9 participants including EFMs, local staff, officers, and even an adorable 10-year old cooking assistant. We made bacon-cheddar-jalapeño scones and they turned out awesome. I think everyone had a good time and I’ve already been asked (and have started contemplating) a pie crust course for next month. I’ve got just over 2 months left here at post before moving on and it’s events like tonight that make me want to stay here forever. I love the friends I’ve made and the staff I work with. I don’t know what I’m going to do without them.

I was sure that I had posted this recipe before seeing as I make these literally twice a month, but apparently I’ve never managed to post it, so here it is, in all it’s glory: my fool-proof scone recipe, adapted from the always amazing Smitten Kitchen’s dreamy cream scone recipe.

Bacon Cheddar Jalapeño Scones
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s adaptation from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached flour (all-purpose or bread flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2.5 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons frozen butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup whole milk or half and half, or heavy cream (or a combination of any of the three)
4-5 thick slices bacon, cooked and crumbled or cut into bite-sized chunks
3-4 oz shredded cheddar cheese
1 medium jalapeño pepper, finely diced (if desired)

  1. Heat oven to 425°F and adjust oven rack to middle position.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Using 2 knives, a pastry blender, or a fork, quickly cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. There will be a few slightly larger butter lumps. This is ok.
  4. Fold in bacon, cheese, and peppers and toss until evenly distributed.
  5. Stir in milk/half-and-half/cream with a fork or wooden spoon until shaggy dough begins to form.
  6. Tear off a large sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle the middle with a bit of flour.
  7. Transfer dough and all the dry, floury bits to the parchment paper and knead just until the dough comes together. I do this by taking 1 corner of the paper and pulling it tight around the dough, then you release, rotate the parchment, and repeat with the rest of the corners until all the floury pieces are incorporated. The goal is to use the floured paper to “knead” the dough instead of your hands. This means less melted butter and more flaky layers in your scones. If the dough sticks to the paper, sprinkle it with a bit more flour.
  8. Press the dough into a circle or a rectangle and then cut out scones using a sharp knife or pizza cutter.**
  9. Place the scones on an ungreased baking sheet (or you can put them on a parchment lined baking sheet) and bake until light brown, 12-15 minutes.
  10. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

**At this point, if you like you can transfer the scones directly to the freezer. Place them on a piece of parchment in a single layer and freeze until solid (about 24 hours). Then gather the frozen scones and put them in a freezer-proof Ziplock bag. When you’re ready for fresh scones, put the frozen scones directly into a preheated oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

Santiago de Querétaro, Part 1

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As far as tandem couples in the Foreign Service go, we’ve gotten pretty lucky. Juarez isn’t terribly far from DC, and since the husband is also going to Qatar, eventually we’ll sync up and be in the same place at the same time. But as we like hanging out with each other, we’ve tried to see each other every 4-5 weeks these past few months and lucky for us, between US and Mexican holidays that hasn’t been terribly difficult.

For MLK weekend, we met up in Mexico City, rented a car, and drove up to the little town of Santiago de Querétaro. Querétaro city is a UNESCO world heritage site. That is not a typo. The entire town is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is incredible. But before I even talk about the town I have to tell you about how we got there.

Flying in to Mexico City from Juarez is pretty uncomplicated. The terminal is huge, but it’s easy to find your way around and everything is pretty clearly labelled. Flying in to Mexico City from the U.S. is a bit of a different story. We tried for weeks in advance to find out which terminal we’d each be arriving in, but we weren’t very successful. All domestic flights arrive in Terminal 2, but only most international flights fly into Terminal 1 and there’s not really a good way to tell where your flight is going to end up. Neither the airport nor the airline website mentioned arrival terminal so we just made plans to meet at the hotel shuttle stop and take it from there.

We arrived in different terminals and didn’t figure out how to find each other until the hotel shuttle had all but stopped running. Actually, we never did find each other in the airport, we just ended up taking different shuttles to the hotel and meeting there, which in retrospect was probably a smarter plan all along. Unfortunately, I had misread the dates on the hotel reservation and had accidentally made it for the previous night. The hotel had rooms available, but they insisted upon charging us anew, which was fine because it was entirely my fault, but the price of airport hotels in Mexico City is insane, and this single night in DF ended up being the most expensive hotel room I stayed in my entire 2 years in Mexico. Lesson learned: reading is fundamental.

In the morning, we took a shuttle out to the car rental terminal to pick up what was supposed to be a compact, automatic, 4-door vehicle. We reserved it online through the Mexican affiliate of a very popular American car rental company and thought all was well. Unfortunately, car rental “reservations” in Mexico literally mean nothing so the rental place tried to give us a manual SUV. I have never driven a manual with any regularity and the husband hasn’t driven one in years. Plus we were going to be driving out of Mexico City in Saturday morning traffic AND Querétaro is in the mountains which sounded like a terrible combination for a rusty driver of a standard transmission. We waited an extra half hour for them to find an automatic that fit our request and then we waited another half hour for their system to come back online from a small outage (more on that later). Finally, with car keys in hand, we headed out of town: optimistic about beating traffic (it was only 9:00) and excited for a beautiful drive through the Mexican countryside.

We paid extra for GPS but it took a little getting used to, so we missed a turn early on and ended up having to take city streets for part of the trip instead of taking one of the many highways that circle the sprawl. That added on a bit of time, but traffic wasn’t terrible and driving in DF was super fun (read: terrifyingly awesome) so we weren’t too worried. We finally made it to the outskirts of town and to the road toll where of course, there was a long, crazy line of cars waiting to pay.

We pulled up behind a small truck and stopped and not 3 seconds later, the engine sputtered and the car completely shut down. The battery was dead. Fried. Completely. I called the rental company and requested help and a new car, and we pushed the car to a median area to wait for help. But apparently, loitering in the median is not allowed, because the Federales came over no fewer than 4 times to tell us we needed to move. Finally, the last time, I said “Officer, we would love to move. That’s why we’re in a car. We want to be traveling somewhere, not sitting here. Unfortunately, this car is dead. I’m not sure what you want me to do about that…” He laughed at my sarcasm and helped push us through the toll to a safer shoulder where another Federale repeatedly told us to move. After explaining the situation to him approximately 23426365323412325 times, he got it, wrote our names down and license plate number, and said he’d tell everyone to stop annoying us (his words, not mine).

Nearly 3 hours later, the rental car company showed up and brought us a new car. By this point I was STARVING as we hadn’t really eaten breakfast because we were planning to eat a big, tasty lunch upon arrival in Querétaro. So there we were: both exhausted from arriving late and leaving the hotel early, hangry (hungry + angry), and annoyed at the rental car company for taking SO LONG to get to us. We dug out some gummy bears from the husband’s emergency stash and decided to stop complaining and make the best of it. Well ok, he wasn’t really complaining to begin with, that may have just been me…

The rest of the road trip was gorgeous though, so the pretty views and good company made up somewhat for the dramatic start to the trip.

Thanksgiving 2014

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Everyone who knows me in real life knows that in my house, Thanksgiving is Serious Business. I start thinking about a theme months in advance. In early October, I start thinking about menus and planning my guest list. As soon as the Bon Appetit November issue comes out, I snap up a copy, drag out my old editions, and start bookmarking recipes to try to pull together a cohesive menu. I look through all my cookbooks with the selected theme in mind, and I comb the internet for centerpiece ideas and interesting cocktail recipes.

By the first weekend in November, I have my guest list narrowed down, my invites done, and my recipes more or less selected. The next week, I write up a giant, handwritten grocery list broken down by dish so that I don’t forget to buy anything. I cross reference this list with local grocery stores, so that I don’t end up at a store where they don’t sell a particular item. This is especially important in the Juarez/El Paso area, where only a few stores carry “specialty” items. Finally, I work up my master schedule of cooking/baking. The goal of my schedule is to do as much as I can in advance and to minimize extra prep work. For example, I set aside one evening to chop all the onions, carrots, potatoes, etc for all of the recipes. Everything gets measured and put in a labelled ziplock bag in the fridge, which is organized shelf by shelf. This sounds like an insane process, and I’ll be the first to admit that it kind of is, but I love love LOVE it.

The first few Thanksgivings we hosted, I provided the turkey, stuffing, and dessert but as the years have passed, I’ve slowly started providing more and more. My ultimate goal is to host a full Thanksgiving where I just invite people to show up with a bottle of something tasty and their appetites. This year, I made the turkey, gravy, stuffing, traditional Scottish skirlie (a type of oat-based dressing), 2 potato dishes, 3 veggie side dishes, 2 desserts, 2 appetizers, and a signature cocktail.

Last year’s mega-party (17 guests!!) was super fun but so exhausting so I decided this year to do something on a much smaller scale. I handmade paper invitations and delivered them to a very small group of friends and I asked everyone to contribute a single side, appetizer, or dessert that went with the theme, which was Agave, Tequila, & Mezcal. 

My husband flew in on Thanksgiving day mid-morning so I had to pop the turkey in the oven early before heading across the border to pick him up. Initially, I thought that I’d really need him to be sous chef for me, but I actually had things pretty well in hand. I had pre-cut, pre measured, and pre-made almost everything and I got up early to put together the few things that had to be done last-minute. Of course the last hour is always insane, as I have yet to manage to input adequate time in the schedule to shower and get myself ready for the formal event. It’s the one thing I consistently forget to plan for and I really should just take whatever amount of time I figure into the schedule and double it to give myself a few minutes of downtime before the party starts.**

The event was spectacular, if I may say so myself. My friends are all amazing cooks and bakers, so we had some pretty incredible items to choose from. Here are some of the things that were on the menu:

Mezcal-tequila-sage-cocktails
Cranberry Margaritas
Wine
Pumpkin-tequila soup
Tequila Queso Fundido with tortilla chips
Mezcal-agave-glazed turkey
Mezcal-cider gravy
Mashed potatoes with agave caramelized onions
Apple sage stuffing with tequila glazed croutons
Kale & Brussels sprout salad with agave glazed nuts
White-chocolate mezcal ice cream sandwiches with gingersnap cookie crusts
Apple tart with mezcal-salted caramel sauce

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It. Was. Awesome. Great food, great company, all-in-all an excellent way to spend a holiday. I can’t wait for next year, when the theme shifts from Mexico to the Middle East!

 

**Future Self: Take note!

So. Much. Work.

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Work has been utterly insane lately: I’m training a new officer to the IV section, our new IV chief just arrived so I’ve been busy in-briefing him, I just got assigned to be site officer for a very important upcoming visit, I’m re-vamping our entire IV training program in the next 6 weeks, AND on top of all of that, we just got the mandatory Windows 7 upgrade which has made a very large portion of my job pretty much impossible to do. So needless to say, work has been fun lately.

I can’t believe I only have 6 months left at post. I have SO MUCH WORK to do between now and then. I need a second set of hands and about 10 extra hours in the workday.

 

Queremos Jalowin!

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Halloween. I have never been a huge fan of the holiday, but here in Juarez it’s a pretty big deal and people get really in to it.  The Consulate has a big Halloween party every year and all the employees bring in their kids for trick-or-treating.* The warehouse guys set up a terrifying spook alley and every office or section decorates their area and has a table with candy and treats. It’s super fun and so so cute to see all the kids in their costumes.  This year there were a LOT of Spiderman costumes, a couple of really cute mermaids, a tiny Khaleesi, and an even tinier Mike and Sully from Monster’s Inc. I didn’t dress up for work, but one of my fabulous coworkers had brought a bunch of props so I grabbed a few and threw together a last minute costume.

After work, I spent a few hours trying to figure out what I was going to dress as for the crazy, Juarez-wide Halloween party I went to with a bunch of friends. Most of my friends were going together as a a group of sexy female mariachis. Somehow I missed the invite for the group costume, though, so I had to come up with something on my own. Seeing as I’m an ex-theater nerd I almost always have some costume-y things laying around the house and even though most of my stuff is in storage, I did mange to ship one gigantic box full of costumes etc. I wanted something really really easy this time. I hate spending money for Halloween and I didn’t want to have to buy anything for the costume, especially as I didn’t really even start thinking about it until T-minus 3 hours from the start of the event.

When I pulled my old cheerleading outfit out of the box (complete with pom poms and matching scrunchy!) I knew that was a good starting point. I could have just been a cheerleader and called it a day, but I wanted to somehow incorporate Mexico into the costume.  I started googling like mad and racking my brain trying to figure out how to add a touch of Mexico to my pretty ubiquitously American cheerleader costume. And then it hit me: a calavera Catrina! Luckily, I had leftover white make up from last year’s Labyrinth couple costume, so I did a google image search, found a classic style that I liked, and got to work. It turned out great and thanks to my awesome face-stay-spray, it stayed on all night even when I forgot about it and scratched my cheek. The party was awesome: great location, good music, good drinks, AND my sexy mariachi friends won the costume contest! Hooray!

I don’t think Halloween will ever be a holiday that I look forward to all year, but it’s good to know that even at my laziest, I can still manage to pull of a great costume. Next Halloween I will be back in DC, just days before my final Arabic exam and my move to Doha. Hopefully I’ll be able to kick back and enjoy the holiday a little bit, but I already foresee another lazily planned costume. Calavera Congressional Intern? Calavera Martha Washington? Vamos a ver…

 

*Trick-or-treating here is different than it is back in the U.S. At work, the kids don’t  say anything when they came to the candy booths, we just give them candy and tell them how cute they are. But if you are lucky enough to get trick-or-treaters at your house, they come in gigantic groups and they stand on your porch and chant “queremos jalowin!” (literally: “we want Halloween!”) until you open the door and give them candy. I kind of love it. I always wondered why we say “Trick-or-Treat” when clearly we just want candy, so to me, queremos jalowin really gets across the message that Halloween = candy. There’s no pretense. There is no pretending like there’s another option. Just give us the candy and we’ll get off your porch.

Spreading the love

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As you all know, I bake a lot. Even more now that my husband is gone and I’m all alone in the house. Most of what I bake gets delivered to neighbors or taken to work where my colleagues kindly eat even my less-than-perfect creations. One of the things I have found myself making with growing frequency is this filled bread recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve made it now with several delicious permutations, my favorite of which to date has been the roasted peach-lime filled braid I made a few months ago. Until now…

Last week, one of my colleagues asked me if I would be willing to share the recipe with her. I always like to spread the joy of baking, so when asked to supply recipes I almost always* say yes. I’ve made this braided loaf enough times to have come up with an adaptation that works well for me at this altitude, that takes into account the dryness in the air, and that makes sure that every bite is filled with cheese-cakey, fruity, delicious filling. Rather than try to type it all out here, I’ll just direct you to the link above and tell you that if you live at altitude (I’m at about 3,700 feet) and/or if you live in a dry, dry desert, you may want to try the following adaptations:

  • I find that I have to add about 1/2 tablespoon of extra water to the sponge, and about the same measurement of extra sour cream to the dough.
  • I always, ALWAYS, double the cheese filling part because I like to have a super thicker layer.
  • I never use lemon juice in the filling because it’s next to impossible to find here and I find that the slightly more subtle flavor of lime juice really brings out the creaminess of the cream cheese filling.
  • It takes way longer for it to raise here in Juarez, so I usually leave 2 hours for the first raise and between 60 and 90 minutes for the second.
  • I never have pearl sugar so I usually use raw sugar, the kind you can buy in little packets for coffee or tea, which give it a nice, sparkly top but also mean that you have to watch it very carefully so the sugar doesn’t burn.

This is one of my very favorite recipes to make and to eat so I am totally excited to get to share it with you here and to get to share it with my friend at work. Food diplomacy at it’s finest!

 

*There are a few recipes that I have been asked for but which I have to refuse to share. My family has a long history in the kitchen and there are a couple of top secret family recipes that Grammo forbade us to give away outside the family. I make them and feed them to my friends, of course, but I just can’t give out the recipes. Gotta keep them guessing somehow!

It’s different this time

I used to love living alone. I only did it for a short period of time, but it was one of the best times in my life. I was 21 and in the throes of my senior year of college. I had no money: I sold plasma twice a week for grocery money and to pay my utility bills and I survived on mostly coffee, peanut butter & celery, and the occasional loaf of garlic bread. I lived in the basement apartment of a 100-year-old house with creaky pipes, terrible insulation, and the biggest, deepest, claw-footed bathtub you have ever seen, I basically lived in that bathtub, especially when it was freezing cold in the winter and the ancient heater couldn’t get the temperature in the apartment above 62 degrees. I lived alone because I wanted to and it was awesome.

Now, close to a decade later, living alone is completely different. I’m nearly 30 years old and both college and graduate school seem like an eternity ago. I am lucky to have at least a modest amount of disposable income. I have a good job that is mostly interesting and which affords me the ability to travel and to live comfortably. Aside from an admittedly unhealthy love of Annie’s mac-n-cheese, and bacon, (although not generally together), my diet has much improved. I live in a kind of weird but charming house and I traded that gorgeous claw-footed tub for one of the newer and jetted variety. But perhaps the biggest difference in my life now is that this time, I don’t live alone by choice. I live alone because in order for my husband and I to both have fulfilling careers, in order for us to be able to work in our chosen field together someday, we have to be apart now.

It’s a choice we did not make lightly. We agonized about it for months before we finally pulled the trigger. But just because it was a choice doesn’t make it any easier. Living alone this time isn’t as much fun. Yes, I can watch trashy reality TV without my husband mocking me from the other room. And yes, I can sleep right in the middle of the bed and hog all the blankets. I do both of those things, practically daily. But I still wish he were here. It’s just not the same this time around.

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