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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween memories


Obviously I was an angelic child... ;)

Who didn't love Halloween as a kid? The chance to play pretend for a day and get loads of candy? Count me in!

Least favorite costume -- I wanted to be a ballerina like my cousins but no, my mother dressed me as a pig. She still says it was cute.

British relatives visiting recently were preparing to celebrate their first American Halloween, complete with a real trick-or-treating experience. The kids were shocked when my stepbrothers told them that the proper luggage for door-to-door candy collecting was a pillowcase. No wimpy plastic bucket will do -- size does matter!

Sophomore year hippie -- not nearly as cool as Zoe's cop.

I used to babysit for a family that created the most inventive Halloween costumes every year. It was a big family project to make creative, eye-catching designs year-after-year. One of my favorites was an entire dinner party -- with the daughter's head on a platter as the main dish.

Junior year princess with a Goodwill dress.

Last year, the teachers dressed up for a weekend of Halloween classes with the kids. With a haunted carnival, pumpkin carving and trick-or-treat bag making, it was lots of fun. Plus, there's nothing more adorable than three-year-old Korean children in costume. For the longest time, Jeanette's computer background was a tiny Korean boy dressed as a tiger, roaring at the camera. Priceless.

Halloween in Korea as a witch.

In college, raiding Salvation Army and Goodwill always provided great inspiration for costumes. It was often a matter of putting together various items from your (and friends') closets and seeing what you came up with -- a good last resort was always '80s style. Oversize sweatshirt, leggings, scrunchie, done.

Sophomore year, wearing an outfit that I wear besides on Halloween, setting me up for a future as a trophy wife.

These days, it seems like more and more children's costumes are walking (and crossing?) the line between humor and indecency. A pimp costume for kids?! Yep, can't wait to get my hands on that for my future little ones.

(Not.)

What was your favorite childhood costume? I recently found a princess costume from when I was 8 or 9 years old ... and it still fit, albeit snugly.

Simon Pegg is posting pictures of people dressed as Shaun of the Dead (my favorite "scary" movie) characters -- some are very clever!

Friday, October 30, 2009

I don't want to grow up


How do you know when you're grown up?

Often, my students in Korea would ask, "Teacher, how old are you?" After asking how old they thought I was -- the answers ranged from 16 to 100 -- I told them I was 23 and asked if that was old. Sometimes, they said yes. More often, they quickly replied, "Oh no, teacher, young. Eonni." ("older sister")

Good, because I don't feel old. Most of the time, I don't even feel like an adult.

There are plenty of times I wonder what to do with my life. Somewhere along the way, I veered from the traditional path (high school-college-career) and made the choice to spend the first two years out of college traveling. While my year in Korea was spent working full-time, it's generally been a pretty relaxing, easy time.

It's a decision I don't regret, especially when my upcoming calendar includes trips to Costa Rica, Australia and New Zealand (and maybe Spain), all the while making a little money on the side working part time from home.

It's a pretty sweet deal to work in sweatpants, no makeup and sitting on the couch.

At the same time, I'm also looking forward to that point next summer when I settle down and find a proper job. It will be nice to finally have somewhere permanent to call home that is mine and a job that is hopefully more career-specific than anything I've had in the past.

Now it's just a matter of deciding what to do with the rest of my life beyond, say, June.

That said, there's salmon marinating in the fridge and a bottle of wine (attached to a good friend) coming over for dinner. Maybe there's something to be said for 23 being an adult... or at least getting there.

How old is "grown up?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Art in every shade


Art has never come naturally to me.

In school, I loved and did well in almost all of my classes (besides completely failing to wrap my mind around Algebra) but the one class I never excelled in was Art. Sure, I got good grades in it but that was more for doing the work, not doing it well.

I was always in awe of the kids who could take crayons and blank sheet of paper and, 40 minutes later, have perfectly captured a scene. Today, I'm still fascinated by people who use just a pencil and notebook paper to draw an object with almost photo-like accuracy. At a museum last week, I kept glancing over the shoulder of a woman on a bench sketching a pre-Columbian artifact.


Taking Art History while studying in London, my notebook was full of crude pencil sketches of various pieces. It ended up being much more helpful to rely on notes and photographs when writing papers than my in-person drawings. My major presentation (oral, thankfully, no diagrams needed) was on the Mildenhall Great Dish, which I drew basically as a large circle with a few squiggly people inside. It was pathetic. The professor must have had a great laugh reading my art notebook at the end of term.


Students always laughed during Art class as I shoddily demonstrated each drawing technique -- still life, landscape, horizon, portrait -- as even at 8-years-old, their art skills greatly surpassed my own.


Now I'm realizing that art is more than just pencil-to-paper. Photography has begun to interest me more over the past year and now "art" seems to jump out more than ever. We all have different talents; we just need to learn to embrace them.

What was your favorite subject in school? I always loved Reading and Writing in elementary school -- and still do!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A monumental failure


Washington Monument, autumn 2009

In the vein of yesterday's post about stopping to notice everyday surroundings, I was scrolling through iPhoto last week and realized I had almost zero photos of DC's most famous attractions.

There are plenty of photos inside restaurants, on the streets and at friend's apartments but as to anything famous or historical... not so much. I go right by the White House leaving church and yet hardly pay it a moment's notice.

In fact, almost all the photos I had of any Washington attractions were from the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival and a Help the Homeless Walkathon we participated in a few years ago.

Jefferson Memorial, winter 2007

That's it. 23 years of living in the Nation's Capital, minus 4-month and 1-year stints in London and Seoul, respectively, and I have about 5 pictures of the sites that make this city famous. Pretty pathetic.

And so, along with my vow to take more pictures of small everyday things, I also want to document the more extraordinary sites of Washington, DC. There are some gorgeous places here from the monuments, to the Mall, to the museums.

I was at Dumbarton Oaks last week when almost no one was there and was so mad at myself for forgetting the camera. The atmosphere was incredibly peaceful and even in the autumn chill, the gardens were still gorgeous.

National Cathedral, summer 2008: I was driving home from the Korean embassy and wanted to document my last few days in America.

People who live in cities always hate to be tourists in their own town. I have no problem traveling around the world and yet aiming my camera at a famous site in DC makes me cringe. Funny how that works.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Crunchy leaves



When you see something everyday, it becomes part of the ordinary. You don't stop and take notice because you believe it has, and will, always be there.


Living in Korea, the sights and sounds of life of Seoul faded into the background as I went about everyday tasks. Whether it was grocery shopping, riding the Metro or just going for a walk around the neighborhood, things that would seem unusual or extraordinary in the West became part of the fabric of everyday life.

Now, looking back, I can see the strangeness of it all and marvel at how that was my life for an entire year.


And so I'm making more of an effort to document those "everyday" things back home. As I take daily walks around the neighborhood, I appreciate the changing leaves and stop to observe the small details that have always been there but escaped my notice.

I've inhabited in four houses in this neighborhood over the past decade and lived my entire life (besides the dorm and apartment in college and flats in London and Seoul) in 11 different houses in DC, Maryland and Virginia within the same 30-mile radius. But rarely do I stop and notice what is special or beautiful about this area.


It's fantastic to walk around, camera in hand, and actually take notice of the scenery instead of breezing by. Certainly a change of pace for someone used to going a thousand miles an hour.

-----

Our trip to Costa Rica is booked! December 11 to 16, the perfect time to escape Washington's cold and get back with enough time to do some pre-Christmas celebrating. We're spending at least two days near La Fortuna to explore Arenal volcano -- our hotel, Arenal Observatory Lodge, offers room views of the volcano. How cool to be lying in bed and watching a volcano erupt! Hiking the volcano is one of the things I'm most looking forward to, along with some whitewater rafting.

And then possibly on to the beach for a couple of days. We're still putting together a list of must-sees so keep the ideas coming.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bake me a cake as fast as you can

What are broke and budgeting 20-somethings to do when they want to share a meal without sharing a check? A potluck, of course!

It's been fun over the past few weeks to gather at friends' apartments and houses to enjoy dinner without worrying about cost. It can be hard to plan a meal with so many special food requests (vegetarian, lactose intolerance, food allergies, anti-fish) and yet somehow, it all comes together deliciously.

An autumn theme dominated Erin's dinner with a big pot of hot apple cider, a loaf of cinnamon swirl bread from Spring Mill Bakery and a main course perfect for a chilly fall evening, steamed spinach alongside asparagus-and-mushroom risotto.

Putting on the finishing touches

The star of the show were these spiderweb brownies from Zoe, who provided a great way to celebrate Halloween week. Minus noticing that the icing was beginning to congeal mere minutes after downing a piece. We're troopers; everyone survived.

Ingredients:
- 4 squares BAKER'S Unsweetened Chocolate
- 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine (next time, I would use a butter substitute like applesauce or yogurt)
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs (would also use egg substitute like banana)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup coarsely chopped PLANTERS Pecans (optional)

Mix all ingredients and pour into greased pan. Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes. The recipe calls for marshmallow frosting but we just used vanilla from a packet and it was fine. Minus the congealing...

The finished product: spiderweb and spider

So many get-togethers revolve around food; whether it's meeting for lunch or coffee, we're incapable of sitting down together without some sort of food or drink. Potlucking and home-cooked meals let us enjoy that together-time while keeping costs low -- if everyone contributes something, the end result is good food, good friends and good conversation.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn apple crisp



Our trip out to the farm a couple of weeks ago resulted in a TON of fuji apples in the house. As in, way too many to eat.

So rather than risk any going bad, it meant getting creative and finding ways to incorporate the apples into other recipes. I've always liked baking so it was fun to troll the Internet and cookbooks to find new ideas.

One way I love eating apples (besides the ultra-simple method of popping them into the microwave for a minute with a little cinnamon and nutmeg -- yum!) is in an apple crisp. Apple crisps are incredibly simple and end up tasting great hot or cold.

The easy recipe calls for:
  • 5 medium-sized apples
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour (white or whole wheat)
  • 1.5 tbsp butter

After slicing the apples and layering them in a pan, mix together the other ingredients and slather (ooh, love that verb!) the mixture on top. Bake at 375 F for 30-35 minutes until the apples are soft.

Before baking

This makes a delicious and healthy dessert (it was supposed to make 6 servings at 147 calories and 1.8 grams of fat per serving, but we got way more than 6 servings out of this) and is also yummy for breakfast.

After

Cinnamon, nutmeg and apples -- how can you go wrong?

What's your favorite fall dessert? I LOVE pumpkin bread, which reminds me I haven't had one in a LONG time. That could be on the agenda today...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ch-ch-ch-chia seeds


It can't hurt to try new things. Worst cast scenario: you hate it and never go near it again. Best case: it becomes an integral part of your life.

Leslie had a great post recently about how she's incorporated new health foods into her diet after learning about them from blogs. One of those foods was chia seeds and after hearing a lot about them both on the blogisphere and in the press, I, too, gave them a try thanks to Diane at GreensPlus.

Chia (pronounced chee’ah), is the richest and only unprocessed, whole food source of pure Omega3. A member of the min family, Chia is native to Central America and has been used traditionally for over 3000 years.

[...]

Due to its high fiber content, Chia seed absorbs up to ten times its weight in water, making it an excellent source of hydration. Omega3 Chia’s soluble fiber forms a gel that slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, binds it to toxins in the digestive system, and helps eliminate waste.

Omega3 Chia is especially rich in essential fatty acids. One 15g serving provides more than 3g of Omega3 (as alpha linoleic acid) and 1g of Omega6 (linoleic acid) in a perfectly balanced 3:1 ratio, making it the richest, unprocessed and fully-difestible whole food source of Omega3.

Pretty impressive, eh?

There's been so much in the news lately about the importance of Omega 3s. It seems like every time I turn on the TV, Dr. Oz is on yet another talk show talking about this vital nutrient.

Studies suggest that eating foods rich in Omega-3s can greatly reduce risk of heart disease and help treat ailments including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis and breast and prostate cancer.

I mixed the Chia seeds into a marinade for salmon (making this meal an Omega-3 extravaganza). They have a slightly nutty flavor on their own and were almost undetectable in the marinade.

Two thumbs up, chia seeds. Thanks for making me healthier AND tasting good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

word to the wise

Don't watch an "Oprah" episode about the happiest places on earth when you're stuck at home. Between seeing the Danes' tiny but comfortable flats -- "less space, less stuff, more happy" -- the bustling markets of Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro's sun-soaked beaches, my travel itch is going crazy right now.

Copenhagen has always been somewhere I've wanted to visit, especially after seeing my Mom's pictures when she visited during the spring. Denmark is consistently rated the happiest country in the world and with its universal health care, free university (they pay YOU) and other social benefits, it's easy to see why. Plus their attitude about things really rings true with me; we don't need so much stuff. I'd love to live in one of their cozy, uncluttered flats.

One of the most inspiring books I read over the past year was Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. He visited both the happiest (Iceland, Bhutan) and unhappiest (Moldova) countries to discover what makes them this way.

Many of his conclusions are obvious -- Danes are happy because they have so many social benefits and a healthy lifestyle. Moldova suffers from many of the economic and social problems you might expect from a discarded member of the Soviet Union.

My travel list is constantly being updated. While Costa Rica is chronologically next (followed by Australia and New Zealand in February), I'm always thinking about what's after.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? I'm dying to see Egypt, Turkey and Argentina.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One blue sky

Thanks for all the great vacation suggestions yesterday! It looks like we're leaning toward Costa Rica but who knows?!

Today is one of those perfect, clear blue sky, zero humidity, 70-degree days. It makes me wish I lived on the water -- it would be ideal conditions for a waterfront dinner and boat trip.

Indigo Landing: a great place to be on a warm day, offering amazing views of the city from across the river.

The only water I live near is the manmade lake at the center of my neighborhood but it was perfectly adequate to take a long walk around this morning, admiring the stunning red, orange and yellow leaves.

It's so lovely outside that another evening walk may be in order just to truly enjoy every last minute of this unexpected warmth following a week of nonstop rain and temperatures in the 40s.

Looks like the nice weather will be around for another couple of days before a cold front (and lots more rain) move in at the weekend.

-----

Food for thought: Today's fantastic Washington Post article about the new "super green" classification of fish.

We all know that there are fish that are good to eat and those that aren't -- if nothing else, almost everyone is aware that Chilean sea bass is one of the worst things you can order at a restaurant in terms of its environmental impact.

But the Monterey Bay Aquarium has released new guidelines and introduced an entirely new category: "super green," those fish that are both healthy for for people and the environment.

Giving up seafood entirely is something I've been considering thanks to Simone and her work at SeaWeb. While I haven't made a decision yet -- when you consider health and environmental aspects, you're seemingly damned if you do, damned if you don't -- the most important thing is to be informed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Do you know Costa Rica?

Has anyone been to Costa Rica and have any recommendations/travel tips/suggestions? My dad, sister and I are trying to plan a getaway weekend and it's one of the places we're considering going but I know almost nothing about it. With only four days -- is it a good place to go?

Last year, I went to Belize and Guatemala for a long weekend and loved them, so was thinking Costa Rica would be equally fantastic.

Any other budget-friendly long weekend suggestions (preferably in a warm climate) would be welcomed. We talked about going to Yellowstone but November might be a little cold and snowy to do much hiking around...

Another idea was a cruise to the Bahamas but while it would offer warm weather and nice beaches, a Caribbean vacation just isn't quite my top choice. I'd be happy lounging around in the sun, but I'd much prefer visiting somewhere to soak up local culture beyond thousands of Americans jostling for space on a white sand beach.

Call me a snob; I know it's true.

There's always Southern California -- beaches, great food, lots of outdoorsy stuff to do and easy to plan. Maybe that's the way to go!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Prost



Today might be cold and rainy -- more like December 17 than October 17 -- but last weekend the skies were bright and sunny for Oktoberfest.


Our local Oktoberfest celebration always brings the neighborhood out in force. There's a lot to see and do, from vendors selling handmade jewelry and art, to a traditional German band and dancers, to games and crafts for kids.


It's a fun event to walk around and explore, ducking in and out of booths to see both stunning and (occasionally) terrible art, where you're not sure WHY someone deemed it saleable.


When I was in high school and worked for the neighborhood community association, Oktoberfest meant work, usually selling tickets or helping lost passersby. In the years since, the celebration has expanded doubly and is certainly more fun as an attendee than employee.


A nice surprise this year was a booth from a German bakery. While 95% of the food vendors sold your typical fare junk -- hamburgers, greasy pizza and funnel cake (which Lauren made me try for the first time at ShamrockFest two years ago) -- this booth had real apfelstrudel, giant Bavarian pretzels and Haribo.

In this 10-foot-wide booth was a tiny taste of the entire market experience I had in Salzburg, Austria, two years ago.


I was disappointed there wasn't more German food, though. Most hamburger stands also sold bratwurst and sauerkraut but that was it. All I wanted was a big plate of spatzle. I don't know why but it's just SO good, like German mac-and-cheese.


All and all, Oktoberfest is always a fun day out. Two years ago, I celebrated Oktoberfest at a beer garden on the Thames in London. One year, I'll make it to Munich.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Photography exhibits galore



When the weather starts getting cold, I want to spend as little time outdoors as possible. Luckily, there are a ton of FREE indoor things to do in DC and the plethora of museums are just one option.

This week, I spent some time at the National Building Museum. It's one of those museums I don't visit often, maybe once a year or less, but each time I'm reminded again what a stunning building it is inside and out. It's also rarely crowded as many tourists ignore this museum -- or are unaware of it -- and focus instead on the Smithsonian and monuments.

My favorite exhibit was Storefront Churches: Photographs by Camilo José Vergara. Vergara takes pictures of unusual churches from around the United States, from those with funny signs to converted stores or restaurants. One of my favorites was a former fast food restaurant that is now an evangelical church. It was also interesting seeing time lapse photos from the 1970s to today, and how an area has changed over time.


The other exhibit I saw was Form and Movement: Photographs by Philip Trager. (Can you tell I like photography?) Trager is best known as a photographer of architecture and displayed here pictures of houses and buildings from around the United States, France and Italy. He has a talent for unusual angles and manipulating the images to make certain aspects pop.

I loved this shot from Paris:


There were also some fantastic portraits of dancers included in the gallery, almost everything in black and white.

Like almost all of DC's museums, the National Building Museum is free and worth checking out. If nothing else, the building itself is stunning and worth walking through, plus there's a Firehook Bakery and Coffee House on that ground floor that's always delicious.

Do you like visiting museums in your free time. Some people love it, others are bored to death. I was often bored as a kid (except at the exceptional Air and Space Museum) but now I love museums!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

For love of pumpkin #2

Trader Joe's never steers me wrong.


This week, I tried their Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix for the first time and the results were scrumptious.

Topped with organic vanilla yogurt (also from TJ's!), flax, strawberries and raspberries, it honestly tasted like eating pumpkin pie for breakfast. Just so decadent and delicious -- a fantastic breakfast treat.

First pumpkin butter, now pumpkin pancakes... could breakfast get any better?! (Although I see that Caitlin made pumpkin spice pancakes from scratch and I'm intrigued to try that out soon.)

What will the next ode to pumpkin lovin' be about? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Farm fresh



One of the best things about living here is the huge range of environments available just a short drive or Metro ride away. From inner city to sprawling suburbs to wide-open spaces, you can go from downtown DC to rural Maryland in under 30 minutes.


For grocery shopping, buying directly from a farm is always better than the grocery store. Not only are you getting the freshest products possible, you're also supporting the local economy and a family-run business.


Rural Maryland still has a lot of family-run farms and it's always fun to head out to pick your own pumpkins, apples or broccoli. You can choose from a huge array of homemade jams, baked goods and crafts.


I've been introduced to new products at farms and farmers markets, too -- different varieties of apples, raspberries and tomatoes that even Whole Foods doesn't carry.

Driving out to the country, seeing the autumn leaves and clear blue skies, the air seems fresher -- especially after a year living in Seoul, where the air just never seemed quite breathable.


Last night, we enjoyed acorn squash from the farm. Today, I'm baking an apple crisp with Fuji apples that had just been picked. It's great to enjoy a meal where you know exactly where the ingredients come from.


Do you visit farms or farmers markets? Even if you can't make it out to a farm, farmers markets are also great places to buy affordable local produce, meat and dairy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A cloudy Solar Decathlon





For an event that relies on solar power, the sun was nowhere to be seen yesterday at the Solar Decathlon. This annual event brings together college students from around the world in a competition to create attractive and energy-efficient solar housing.


20 teams made the final cut to display their houses for two weeks on the National Mall before one is crowned the winner -- in 2007, my alma mater, the University of Maryland, came in second place overall and won the People's Choice award for the second consecutive year. This year, unfortunately, Maryland's team wasn't included.


What's cool about this event is that almost everything is explained in terms that even a science-challenged liberal arts major like me can understand.


At the house from the University of Minnesota, the students showed how to keep the house insulated from freezing winter temperatures (triple-paned windows), while competitors from the Universidad de Puerto Rico used cross-ventilation to keep indoor temps cool year-round and reduce the need for air con.


And don't think that having an eco-friendly housing equals a shack. These homes featured the latest appliances, from refrigerators and washing machines to televisions and dishwashers -- all entirely powered by the sun's energy.


Most of the houses, although small, looked cozy and completely livable. There's certainly enough room for one or two people and a pet or baby. TWalking through one house, I could definitely see myself living there, even with the small square-footage (5oo sq ft interior -- the competitors were limited to 800 sq ft total).


But the price tag for this adorable abode? $500,000. Whew!

It's a paradox. If solar housing is too expensive, people won't move into these types of homes. But at the same time, if more people buy solar houses (or even install a few solar panels on their current home), the price for necessary materials will decrease, thereby making solar houses more affordable. What's the answer?


The Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, runs on the National Mall today and October 15-18. It's definitely worth checking out for an hour or more, just to see what the future might hold.