Friday, October 31, 2014

Potsdam, Wittenberg, Oranienbaum, and Wörlitz

Hello again.

Here I'll tell you about the other cities I visited in Germany!

This past Monday, I went to Potsdam, where my friend Jörg lives, to visit him and see the city. He was a great tour guide, and took me to see various city streets and buildings, the Sanssouci (the former summer palace of Frederick the Great of Prussia, who introduced the potato to Germany) and the surrounding parks, as well as a historic windmill in the area. Apparently, the grounds of Sanssouci are also used for the biology studies of a university just outside the grounds, where Jörg attends.

 Potsdam building

 Potsdam church

 Potsdam street

 Heron on the grounds of Sanssouci



October 21st-29th I went to Berlin, Germany to see a bunch of friends, a few of whom I had not seen for several years. It was a last minute decision to go - I had just decided on a date to start a new job in Peru, and I had been planning on going to Europe since my friend Nelson is there for two years. I decided that if I am going to go, now is the time while I'm in Washington DC and the plane tickets are relatively cheap (plus the flight is a little shorter from DC :/), so I went ahead and purchased the tickets.

It was hard to swallow at first that I could only be in Germany for about a week, since usually if I'm going to deal with that much jet lag and travel time I like to be at a place for closer to three weeks. But I'm so happy I did go for that time, as Berlin is a laid back city and we were able to just take it in without rushing. Plus the jet lag was okay, because most people my age there stay up pretty late anyways, especially on the weekends, which was a little closer to DC time. Plus the purpose of the trip - to see friends - allowed me to fulfill my expectations of what I would and could do in Germany relatively easily.

I was not in Berlin the entire time, but I'll start with my Berlin highlights and write later posts about the other cities I visited.

The first day there, Maria - my friend who resides there - met me at the airport, and we went to her flat and met my friend Nelson. I got in pretty late, so we didn't do anything that night. The next day we went to a grocery store to stock up for the week. We bought a chocolate-covered baum cake (a cake baked in thin layers) and cream pastry as a morning snack :) I was feeling the German pastries, definitely a good start to my day.

There are no pictures of this first day, sorry :/ I decided not to take my camera that day because I thought we wouldn't do a lot of sightseeing.

Then we did 3D, blacklight mini golf at Görlitzer Park. Those people took their minigolf seriously, there were a lot of courses that I could just not get the ball in! The walls were covered with crazy glow-in-the-dark 3D art. It was a good introduction to Berlin style - the city is brimming with art upon art upon art all over its walls, doors, stations, everything. 

We then got Döner kebap at Mustafa's Gemüsekebap - basically a Turkish gyro with different sauces like chili and hummus. A very typical Berlin food. Actually, a lot of Turkish food is very typical Berlin food. Afterwards, we wandered the artsy district at Friedrichshain and saw the Berlin Wall.

The next day, I have a lot more photos (yay!)

We started our morning with good German bread and spreads. Probably my favorite thing about Germany is the bread, it's these great rye and spelt breads that are dense and moist. We didn't get started till much later that day since we were so tired, but after staying at the apartment and having lunch, Nelson and I went to the downtown area where we saw the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was a series of stelae covering a city block. The stelae were short on the outside of the square, but grew taller towards the middle. Conversely, the ground started at ground level, but sloped down as you went towards the middle of the memorial. There was a museum under the memorial which was quite well done - it explained many of the first hand accounts that provided the basis for our knowledge of the timeline and extent of the Holocaust. 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Nelson walking through the memorial. See how the size of the stelae and the depth of the ground changes?

We then moseyed over to the Brandenburger Tor, which was built in the 1700s by King Fredrick William II, partially destroyed in WWII, and rebuilt again. It is a famous symbol of Berlin, and we saw renditions of it in many places, including on metro windows and made of chocolate in Fassbender & Rausch chocolatiers.

 Part of the Brandenburger Tor - I don't know why, but I didn't take a picture of the whole thing

Decals of the Brandenburger Tor on the metro window

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Escape the City in a Rocky Mountain Way


I just was able to go back and visit my home state for a week. 

As I recently got a new job (where I'll be living and working in Peru!), I needed to return to beautiful Colorado to see family and organize my things. I hiked in the foothills near Ken Caryl and went to Steamboat Springs for the weekend with my mother, aunt, and several friends. Here are some photos of my parent's backyard and my mountain trips ;D

Oh, and you should listen to this song as you look at my photos, for proper atmosphere.

 Morning glory next to a pumpkin in my mom's garden

More morning glories

 Basil flowers

Single red leaf - fall hasn't quite finished in Denver

Prairie dog in Ken Caryl

Cactus flower in Ken Caryl

 I hiked the Valley View trail near the Steamboat ski area at 7am and got some nice pictures facing South and West of Steamboat Springs

Valley South of Steamboat with a hot air balloon and aspen changing leaves

 Aspens in fall colors

 Hot air balloon

 Aspen against the blue Colorado sky

Part of Steamboat and the valley

Mountains above Steamboat

Break in the clouds


 Creek behind our condo at sunset

Fall leaves at Steamboat Botanical Garden

Berries at Steamboat Botanical Gardens

Robin at the gardens 


 Fall leaf on moss

Aspen leaf

 More berries

Path leading to the botanic gardens with aspens and other trees - excuse the rain on the lens!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Himalayan Fog

I want to recount to you a very lovely memory.

On a beautiful afternoon in mid-August, I departed from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison with a good friend from Hamburg with a destination in Durango, Colorado where I was eager to meet Justin, with whom I have a deep friendship and who I very much admire for his generosity, serendipity, and earnest love of life. I was in good company, awaiting a very happy visit, and on the cusp of some of Western Colorado’s best landscapes.

After passing through the farmlands and many small towns in need of reparation in the midst of an involved conversation about welfare, we only subconsciously registered the beginnings of the Rockies closing in around us until we drove right into Ouray where the beauty and awe of the San Juans engulfed us.

Ouray is a place where my soul resides. And understated town with a single main street and a few tourist shops compressed by walls of pine-floored mountains brimming with waterfalls, geodes, volcanic hot springs, aspens, and bright primary colors of earth. Rain had just visited and gone before us, and as we stepped out the air seemed unaffected by the humanity within it in its pristine, crisp clarity. This is the town called the Switzerland of Colorado, but it is far more remote, less lushly green, and more intensely, starkly of the Colorado Rockies, which is why it is a place that is deeply buried in my heart; a place near where my grandfather wants his ashes scattered; a place where my mother and brothers find a calling; a place that means not Switzerland but the earth and kin of home.

We stepped back into the car, and as we mounted the switchbacks the sun began to descend in the slow way of summer, releasing soft gold streaks on the mountain sides. The gold lit the red earth of Red and Sun Cloud peaks to flames and filled the cavities from mountain top to mountain top. Through my window streamed thin, sweet Colorado air with enough chill to make me feel alive. We cantered down the Million Dollar Highway, ending at the plateau of Ft. Lewis College in Durango with Justin, where we watched the last neon clouds lose their colors to dusk.

It was one of those days that you know will characterize future perfect days. Funny, I have a lot of such days that are rooted in Ouray, Durango, and the stretch between.

Today, I made a drink that reminded me of this day. When we were in Durango, we stopped at my favorite shop, Mouse's Chocolates and Coffee. They have a drink there called Himalayan Fog that combines all of my favorite things into one potent cup. Their menu description of it goes something like this: “6 shots of espresso, cayenne pepper, and dark chocolate topped with whipped cream. Something that can even cut through Himalayan fog”. I ordered a half order, and even that charged me for the whole night.

This afternoon I recreated it, but in my own way.

These products were what made this great:

·      The Agape Roasting Project’s Ethiopian Gedeo espresso – the most amazing coffee roasters ever, with a precise ability to make ease out each subtle flavor from each coffee. And hey! They’re a nonprofit that donates EVERY net profit to a different deserving cause each quarter. Plus the owners are coffee-, beer-, and Colorado-loving people like myself.

·      Amazona Chocolate’s Bellavista Gran Pajatén 73% organic chocolate. I bought this chocolate in Lima, and it is excellent. It is a smooth, fruity, and complex chocolate made from cacao beans grown by the Acopagro Cooperative in San Martin, Peru. I’m not sure if it’s available in the states, but it is worth ordering if you find it online.

·      My friend Divya’s homemade ceramic cups. She doesn’t sell them, but they are certainly pretty enough to do so!

Here is the recipe. It is wholly up to you how spicy or creamy you want to make it. And FYI, if you do not like things that are on the bitter side like very dark chocolate or unsweetened coffee, perhaps this is not the recipe for you. But if you DO like these things...this may just turn into your favorite drink ever ;) The quality of the goods is key here though because of the lack of sugar - if you use a bad chocolate and a dark-roasted bitter coffee, then it will not turn out as well as mine did.

You may quadruple the recipe so as to emulate the original 6-shot Himalayan Fog if you are daring enough.

·      0.5 oz dark chocolate (please use quality, fruity chocolate of 73% cacao or higher)
·      1.5 shots espresso (or more or less depending on how strong you want it. Please use a light roast and a quality, fruity coffee)
·      1/16th tsp cayenne pepper (again, depends on how spicy you like it)
·      2 Tbs half-and-half or heavy cream (also more or less to your liking)

·      Prepare espresso in an espresso machine or Aeropress.
·      Break up or chop chocolate into small pieces and put into a small coffee cup. Add cayenne pepper.
·      Pour hot espresso over the chocolate. Let sit for around 30 seconds, then stir to dissolve the chocolate.
·      Pour in the half-and-half or cream and stir.

·      Optional but extra delicious: top generously with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cayenne. Be prepared to be extra awake!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Blueberry almond lemon-curd skillet cake

This was inspired by this lemon curd cobbler by the Crepes of Wrath and some fresh blueberries I got at the farmer's market.

...and my boyfriend's repeated request for dessert.

And yes, he got what he wanted, because I might have wanted to make and eat something sweet too.

This requires a hot oven, so save it for a cooler day!

I changed a few key ingredients, but the recipe is very similar to Crepes of Wrath's.

lemon curd filling:

  • 6 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 3/4 c honey
  • 2/3 c cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1 & 3/4 c ground almonds (not almond flour - I just stuck almonds in a coffee grinder and ground them until relatively fine)
  • 1 & 1/4 c flour 
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c cold butter, cubed
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/3 c hot water
In a saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, brown sugar, honey, cornstarch and salt. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to low. Whisk until thick, around 6 minutes. Slowly pour into another bowl with the egg yolks, whisking the whole time to slowly heat up the yolks (be careful not to pour too fast, you don't want cooked eggs). When half of the lemon mix has been added to the egg yolks, return the whole thing to the pan and cook on low heat for about 1-2 minutes, until everything is heated through and very thick. Take of the heat and add the butter and lemon zest.

For the cake, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Add the butter and cut in with knives or fingers until crumbly. Add olive oil and mix with a spoon. Add hot water and mix just until combined. 

Pour lemon curd into a well-oiled 9" cast iron skilled (or other 9" pie pan/skillet) and sprinkle with the blueberries. Dollop the cake on top so that the dollops cover most of the top, and spread the mix so it completely (or mostly) covers the blueberries and curd. Bake at 400 degrees F for 35 minutes, or until browned on top. Serve with vanilla ice cream ;)

(ps, sorry for the bad photos, it was quite, crumbly cobblers a la mode always taste better than they look!)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Summer end farmer's market


Washington DC's Eastern Market has a beautiful farmer's market, and I enjoy going Tuesday nights to see the rare, fresh, and relatively cheap produce. Sorry, no photos, because the majority of the sellers are Amish, and it is against their religion to be photographed as photos are considered graven images. Their produce, however, is incredibly fresh, organic, and sometimes rare. This past Tuesday I was able to buy Tabasco peppers, tiny Thai eggplants, and bitter melon (Japanese: Goya ごや). I was even able to tell one of the Amish families how to cook the goya; apparently someone else gave them the seeds and they had never had it before! I bought a couple and I plan to make goya champuru - Okinawan goya, tofu, and pork belly stir fry.

Another local seller had asian pear (Japanese: Nashi なし). This is one of my favorite fruits, as it is crunchy and sweet on the outer flesh, and sour on the inner flesh. I hope you are enjoying your fall so far, because I am enjoying mine!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Iquitos/Amazons recap

Seguido en Español

We were in Iquitos from 6/13/14 through 6/18/14. This is a city that is just a 10 minute boat ride away from the Amazon river. It is very hot and humid, and very much reminded me of coastal Central America.

There were some amazing nonprofits and government agencies in Iquitos. I was very impressed with the efforts that the people involved in human rights here made. There is a particularly poor shanty town community here called Belen where much of the human trafficking happens (which is primarily in logging and the sex industry). This community is on the shore of the main river that separates Iquitos from the Amazon. When that river floods every year, these people are displaced from their homes. The government subsidizes their building material costs and the costs of construction, but does not subsidize a location that would allow the community to not have to rebuild and repair yearly. 

We arrived just before the weekend, and took the weekend to do some sight-seeing. Saturday we took a day-long boat tour of the Amazon. We got to go to a wildlife refuge for animals that had been domesticated and then were no longer wanted by their owners. I had a little capuchin monkey friend that decided to be my scarf for the time we were there. I also got to hold a baby sloth, who - looking back on it - was very distressed about a leaf stuck on its left claw. There was also a toucan - those things make very loud clacking noises with their beaks, it was kind of terrifying to have it on my arm. 

We also got to meet some Amazonian tribe members, shoot a blowgun, do a traditional dance, and get our faces painted with red achiote stripes. We saw a humongous tree, ate jungle cuisine (aka this fish -and later this fish), and fished for piranhas (not really fished, more like watched them attack the chicken bits we put on a string).

Here are pictures of the Amazon trip:

Shooting a blowgun.
Disparando una cerbatana.

Dancing in a traditional hut.
Bailando en una cabaña tradicional.

 Our canoe in the Amazons, on a small tributary river.
Nuestra canoa en las Amazonas, en un río tributario.

Boats at the port.
botes en la puerta.

 Me and my monkey friend.
Yo y mi mono amigo.

I wish this leaf was not on my claw.
Desearía que esa hoja no fue en mi garra.

Oh, hello.
Oh, hola.

Will you take this leaf off my claw?
¿Podrías remover esta hoja de mi garra?


Toucan - I was terrified of the sounds it was making. 
Toucán - me dió miedo los sonidos que estaba haciendo.

Huts on the river. 
Cabañas en el río.

 Here are some videos too! One of the monkeys attacking the birdies I was holding, and one of me and the sloth:
Aquí hay unos videos también! Uno del mono atacando a los aves que porté, y uno de yo y el perezoso.



The next day we saw the Amazon Animal Rescue Center (CRA). They were breeding endangered turtles and taking care of sick or previously captured animals as a transition to freeing them into the wild. Here are some pictures:

 This hawk did not live there, but had entered the otter tank to steal its food.
Este halcón no vivió allí, pero entró al tanque de la nutria para robar su comida.

 The otter was really upset that the hawk stole its food, it kept approaching the eagle then running away.
La nutria fue muy molestada que el halcón robó su comida, siguió acercando al halcón y huyendo.

 One of the resident monkeys. 
Uno de los monos residentes. 

 Baby Amazonian manatee! Look at its tiny eyes. According to our guide, this is the only manatee species that resides in fresh water.
Un manatí bebé! Mira sus ojos pequeños. Según nuestra guía, este tipo de manatí es lo unico que reside en agua dulce.

 Look how weird their mouth is, they eat with a pincer motion with the stiff hairs on their lips. I also discovered that they liked to be petted! I should have become a marine biologist and worked with baby manatees. 
Mira como es su boca! Comen lateralmente con los pelos tiesos en sus labios. Descubrí que les gusta cuando les acaricias. Debería haber sido una bióloga marino y haber trabajado con manaticitos. 

 Wild monkey in the jungle where the rescue center was located.
Un mono salvaje en la selva donde el centro de rescate fue ubicado. 

Baby snake one of the center employees found in the grass.
Un serpientito que uno de los empleados del centro encontró.

That was it for our tourist activities in Iquitos. Otherwise, the food was really interesting and I enjoyed trying all the different weird and wonderful tropical things that they had to offer. My favorite was a fruit called "aguaje" (picture here) that by itself had a funky tart, savory taste, but in drink form was beautiful, bright orange, and refreshing. We also ate quite a few plantains and some camu camu and acaí juice (camu camu is a berry that Iquitos is known for, here's a picture). I even got to try alligator and turtle eggs (which we later found that some varieties of these are from endangered species - if you go travelling, do not eat the turtle eggs! They were sold all over, apparently it's a huge problem). There was lots of cold cane juice and coconut water sold on the street too, I was pretty impressed with the food at Iquitos. There were some roasted grubs at street food stalls though, unfortunately we couldn't work up the ability to stomach those - one of the French men who came back from the Amazons with us ate a live one though, that was an image that will stick with me.

Wish I could have spent more than four days here!

Estabamos en Iquitos desde el 13 de Junio hasta el 18 de Junio 2014. Esta es una ciudad que es solamente 10 minutos en barco fuera del río Amazon. Es muy caliente y húmido, y es muy parecido al Centro America. 

Fue algunos ONGes y organizaciones del gobierno increíbles en Iquitos. Fui muy impresionada con los esfuerzos de la gente involucrada con derechos humanos acá. También hay una favela acá que se llama Belen donde hay mucha trata de personas (que primeramente es de los industrias de tala de bosques y prostitución). Esta comunidad está en las orillas del río que separa Iquitos del río Amazon. Cuando inunda el río cada año, estas personas sean desplazadas de sus hogares. El gobierno subvenciona los materiales de contrucción, pero no subvenciona una localización que permite la comunidad a no tener que reconstruir y reparar anualmente.

Lleguemos justo antes de la fin de semana, entonces tomemos ese tiempo para hacer un poco de turismo. El Sábado fuimos al Amazon de un tour de barco por un día. Fuimos a un refugio para animales que fueron domesticados y después no les quisieron sus dueños. Yo tenía un mono Capuchin amigo que decidió ser mi bufanda mientras estabamos allí. También pudiera portar un perezosito que - de retrógrado - fue muy angustiado acerca de una hoja atascado a su garra.  También había un tucán - esos animales hacen sonidos muy ruidosos con sus picos, me dió un poco de miedo tenerlo sostenido en mi brazo.

También conocimos con algunos miembros de un tribu Amazónico, tratemos de usar una cerbatana, bailemos un baile tradicional, y pintaron nuestras caras en rayas de pintura hecho de achiote. Vimos un árbol gigante, comimos comida del bosque (como este pez y este pez), y pesquemos para pirañas (pero no fue como pescando, más como pusimos pedazos de pollo en una cuerda y miremos mientras atacaron los pedazos).

El día después fuimos al Centro de Rescate Amazónico. Allí crían tortugas y manatíes en peligro de extinción, y cuidan a animales enfermos. Cuidan también a animales que fueron domesticados como transición para liberarlos a la selva.

Eso fue todo para nuestros actividades turísticos en Iquitos. Otra cosa fue de que la comida fue muy interesante, y disfruté probando todas las diferentes, extrañas, y maravillosas comidas que había. Mi favorita fue una fruta llamada 'aguaje' (foto aquí) que por sí solo tenía un sabor raro y salado. Pero hecho a una bebida con azucar fue un color de naranja brillante, y refrescante. Pudiera comer muchos plátanos y beber jugo de camu camu y acaí (camu camu es una baya para que Iquitos es conocido, aquí está un foto). Aún probé aligátor y huevos de tortuga. Después aprendimos que algunos variedades de esos huevos son de tortugas en peligro de extinción - si vas a Iquitos no los comas! Se los vendieron en todos partes, aparentemente es una problema muy grande. Había mucho jugo de caña helada y agua de coco que se vendieron por las calles. Pudieramos haber probado larva asada de comida callejera, pero desgraciadamente no tuvimos el coraje. Uno de los hombres francés que estaba en el barco al Amazon con nosotros comió una larva viviente, un imagen que creo que va a pertenecer conmigo.

¡Desearía quedarme más que solamente cuatro días acá!