with love from my car in Yellowstone in the middle of the night


I write this post in my sleeping bag in my 02 Jetta in Yellowstone national park at 4:16 AM.

How did I come to be spending the night in my car in Yellowstone? Good question. Grab the cup of coffee I so desperately wish I had, meet me back here and I’ll tell you.

Yesterday, my friend and I set out from Bozeman for his first trip to Yellowstone. Our plan is to camp in Mammoth tonight before driving down past Tower Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and all that jazz down to Grant’s Village, where we will camp tomorrow night. We have a half day in the park the next day to see the Grant’s Village-Norris stretch before heading out the West entrance and driving on down to good ol’ Boise for a week of vacation.

We borrowed my parents’ camping equipment and headed on out, stopping at Mark’s In & Out (of course!) in Livingston on the way for $1.39 cheeseburgers and a peanut butter milkshake I can only describe as bomb.

Upon reaching Mammoth, I got out of the car and laughed my way through some pretty hilariously flattering commentary about redheaded women from some gentlemen bystanders as I got us a campsite. When we arrived at our site, we decided to unpack the tent right away because the skies were looking a touch gray.

…Only to realize we had forgotten our rain fly and anything to go on the ground under the tent.

With the prospect of an awfully wet night and two sopped down sleeping bags glooming up my stomach-pit, I walked back down to the camp hosts and worked my redheaded magic to get us a tarp for the night, which we rigged up over the mesh roof with some twine and a camera tripod to provide weight where we needed it. Feeling better, we headed off to see the Mammoth hot springs, whose white-and-orange spectacles never disappoint, and had a grand time wandering the boardwalks in the rain.

When we returned, the bottom of our tent was covered with water. My buddy’s bag was pretty wet, while mine was still relatively dry in its stuff sack.

It was a gloomy moment and stood in stark contrast to those before it, which we had spent in the car drinking our ice cream that had pretty much melted in our cooler. (Friend drank an entire pint of Phish Food. Amazing.)

Eventually, we decided that it would be just as comfortable for one of us to sleep in the car overnight, in the one seat that reclines. I trundled off to the car while my friend strategically placed his sleeping bag in the driest spots possible.

It turns out neither of the seats recline, so I’ve been in about a dozen variations on the fetal position since 10:30 or so. I’d guess I’ve slept around three-four hours. For the rest of that time, I’ve been listening to music and thinking. (What else does one do in this situation?)

So, readers, I’ve decided to share the thoughts that have been running through my cramped head (yup, even one’s head can be described as cramped in this situation).

Frankly, I think we should seek discomfort more often.

It’s hard to believe my poor knees agree with that sentiment in this situation, but in a more general sense, I’ve long thought that travel is excellent partly because of its capacity to provide us with difficult situations to confront. It’s only through difficulty that we ever progress, and I’d take progress over stagnation any day.

My favorite Greek author, Nikos Kazantzakis, believed that one was giving into a downward-pulling force every time one was comfortable–a force that was stable but led to stagnation, as opposed to an upward-driving force that embodied all things associated with energy (progress, hard manual labor, sex, etc). He believed that it is our duty to follow that upward force, eventually living so hard we burn out.

Now, whether you buy the “force” business or not (use it, Luke!), I’ve always thought that the basis of his philosophy is an excellent framework for approaching modern life. In this sleeping bag in my car, I am hereby contending that our lives are being made too easy, and moving toward becoming even easier. Technology gives us every comfort and often does our work for us, so much so that younger generations are growing up without having to do much for themselves. But when was the last time you learned something by using the ice-making device on the front of your fridge? What do we gain by abbreving every word into so-called efficiency? More importantly, how much of our own efficacy and agency are we slowly relinquishing?

I’d like to extend that same argument to physical discomfort (says the girl with her head on the steering wheel and her knees up over the headrest). Most of the modern American’s life is spent in climate-controlled environments. As such, we can’t handle extreme cold or heat, as our bodies adapt to such normalization and we physically become less and less able to deal with temperatures outside of that “normal” spectrum. Further, we sit in things actually called recliners, many of us eat more than our fair share in a day, and we sleep in comfortable beds every night. Couldn’t we use a little discomfort? If not to teach us some resilience and gratitude, at least for some variety?

Granted, I’m dry right now, and even my friend in the tent just drank a pint of ice cream. But travel has provided us with circumstances to get out of our ruts of habit in several different ways. I’ve been designing all sorts of grand schemes as I Gumby my way around to temporary semi-comfort before X body part falls asleep and I have to move again, and my lofty middle-of-the-night conclusions will likely seem silly in the morning. But I’m grateful for this chance to have entertained them, and to have been launched into a new and weird situation for a night. In a couple hours I’ll have that cup of coffee (and it will probably taste like the best cup I’ve ever had!) and will drive and hike through some of the most beautiful landscape in the country. Cheers to that thought, andthe goofy sensation in my forearms from leaning up to type on my phone while all squashed-ridiculous in my car.

KP

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Bringing Greek Flavors to Everyday Dishes


Dear Monday-Thursday of This Week,

I know you thought I was too busy to eat anything but peanut butter straight out of the jar, but guess what? You just got bombarded with zesty Greek flavors. Uh-huh. Yeah, I know I had a bazillion papers to grade and barely slept. But while you were busy throwing homework and a seriously dirty room in my path, I found some super easy ways to integrate Greek flavors into everyday dishes.

So tell it to the halva and kiss my boughatsa.

Love,

Kate

Ingredient #1: Greek Yogurt
Inspiration: Tzatziki

This is a photo of my first dinner in Greece! The small plate on the far right is tzatziki.

Greek yogurt is the best yogurt in ALL THE LAND! It’s thick, tangy and so satisfying in several different contexts: a breakfast context, a sauce context, a dessert context… you name it. Depending on what you mix it with, it can be quite versatile.

(When you buy “Greek” yogurt from the store, don’t be fooled by an Archaic font and name-dropped Greek gods and goddesses. Instead, make sure your yogurt is unflavored and as thick as you can find it!)

Try eating it with:

  • Pancakes or french toast. I have taken to making a big ol’ tupperware of applesauce pancakes and sliced fruit on Sundays, which lasts for several mornings. The pancakes take about a minute to warm up again in the toaster (yes, the toaster! It crisps them right back up!), and once you top them with your sliced fruit and Greek yogurt mixed with honey, you’re good to go!

    BAM, Thursday morning! That just happened!

  • Grilled meat or vegetables. You can go traditional and make real tzatziki, or experiment by adding whatever herbs and spices you like. The tang of the yogurt is a great compliment to many savory dishes, as a sauce or as a dip. When I’m on the run and needing some sort of vegetable in my life, I like to chop up a bunch of dill and throw it right into the yogurt while I chop up my veggies. By the time I’m done with the veggies, the dill has infused its flavor into the yogurt, and makes for an awesome dip!
  • A spoon! When mixed with honey, Greek yogurt makes for a lovely breakfast (or dessert!). I also like adding cinnamon, fruit and almonds or walnuts.

Ingredient #2: Eggplant
Inspiration: Moussaka

A metric bevy of moussaka.

There are several ingredients I thought I would hate forever before I tasted them in Greece. Beets and sun-dried tomatoes are on the list, but perhaps the biggest surprise was eggplant. The Greeks pair eggplant with lovely things like cheese and herbs, and the results I found were an astoundingly delicious antidote to my lifelong eggplant Haterade.

Roasted eggplant with feta and fresh oregano, served at a taverna not far from the school at which I taught.

Eggplant is so versatile! Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Grill it! American families grill often, but we mostly go straight for hamburgers & hot dogs. The next time you’re firing up the grill, try adding some nice thick slices of eggplant right onto it. Before you do, brush both sides with olive oil, salt and whatever other seasonings you’d like.
  • Roast it! Like in the picture above, roasted eggplant can be quite a luxurious experience (as vegetable experiences go!). Especially as fall and winter set in, you can add some variety to your usual roasted veggies by incorporating eggplant.
  • Stuff it! A few weeks ago, Greg over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide posted a recipe for stuffed eggplant. I tried it out and was wowed. I have affectionately dubbed it “Frankeneggplant” because the eggplant gets huge with all that delicious stuff packed into it!

    Behold: Frankeneggplant!

Ingredient #3: Sage
Inspiration: Sage tea

In the opening scene of Zorba the Greek (my favorite book!), the protagonist is sipping sage tea. Having loved this book for years before I actually got to Greece, I was thrilled to find and try some sage tea when I arrived. It did not disappoint, and though I have always enjoyed cooking with this delightful herb, I now love its sophisticated, fresh flavor even more.

Sage tea I brought back from Greece! I haven't even opened it yet. I suppose I'm saving it for a special occasion.

  • Sage butteris super easy to make, and is a simple way to add some class to your pasta routine. I like to make it ahead and add it to asparagus and mushroom pasta. You can class it up with lemon juice, pepper or cheese, but when I’m making sage butter and don’t have time to get fancy, I just toss chopped sage into some melted butter in a saucepan and let the flavor fuse itself right in.

    Comfort food! Whole wheat pasta with mushrooms, asparagus and sage butter.

  • It can easily be mashed or baked into potatoes.
  • Whole, fresh leaves of sage can be chopped and cooked with just about anything–I like to add it to chicken, fish, or any vegetable dish. If incorporating it into your protein, try stuffing it with sage and breadcrumbs, and if you go the vegetable route, I think sage is particularly delicious with squash.

Ingredient #4: Feta
Inspiration: Greek salad

Feta is, of course, one of the most famous Greek ingredients. Its tangy flavor packs a punch, and has made its way into several American restaurant dishes. The good news about this ubiquitousness is that it’s really easy to find in the US; I even found a brand of feta that is a real product of Greece at Fred Meyer in Boise!

Lunch in Nafplio! A towering rendition of classic Greek salad, topped with a solid block of feta.

Feta can bring great flavor to a wide variety of different dishes:

  • Pizza. My go-to place for quick lunch in Thessaloniki was a bakery called Ble (which means “blue” in Greek), and my favorite dish there was a pizza topped with potato, feta and rosemary. Feta is a natural choice for pizza toppings for me. I could quite honestly eat pizza til I puke, but I do get sick of the usual standard topping doldrums. Adding feta is a great way to spice things up.
  • Salad. Feta is great in salads, whether they’re leafy salads or Greek ones like the masterpiece in the photo above!
  • Sandwiches. Tired of swiss? Let feta rock your sandwich!

And there you have it, παιδιά! Four delicious ways to stick it to your weekday, compliments of Greece. What other Greek ingredients do you wish you could use more often?

Καλή όρεξη,

Kate

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The Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough 100th Post Spectacular!


Ladies and gentlemen, κυρίες και κύριοι, you’re reading the 100th post of Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough! When I began this blog a year ago, I never dreamed it would be this much fun. 100 posts, 650 comments, and 25,000 page views from 120 different countries later, Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough is just as exciting and challenging to me as it was when I was living in Greece.

While abroad, I constantly had in mind the chief goal of the Fulbright program: to increase cross-cultural understanding through familiarity, thereby working toward world peace. Now that I’m home and a Fulbright alum, I still take that duty seriously–I find myself still seeking ways to contribute to that goal, and this blog has become my primary way to do so. On a personal level, it’s amazing how my writing, cultural understanding and sense of self have changed, and I’m so grateful to have this record of those changes. Blogging has also led me to realize my goals as a writer, and helped me (finally!) find my genre. Delving into creative nonfiction like this has been both a very serious endeavor and an utterly ridiculous joy for me, especially when it comes to travel writing. When discussing my blog with a friend yesterday, she said, “Your blog is like a job.” It’s true, but what other job would let me sit around in my American Farm School sweatshirt, guzzle coffee, blast Greek pop and giggle as I type out the word “duty”?

Above all, παιδιά, I want to thank you all for reading. One of the lovely things about the medium of the blog is that it allows for discourse, sometimes with people you wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to converse with. Thanks for continuing to talk travel, teaching, running, and, of course, Greece with me. As a writer, I feel really lucky to have such an audience. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege!

So, with drum rolls, fanfare, cannons, fireworks and kazoos in the background, let’s take a look at the first year of Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough. Oh no, are you already out of champagne ouzo? Let’s get you another glass, friend! We’ve only just begun!

August 2010 – Salutation! Please to enjoy blog document in language, the fruitful and stimulating of glorious human adventure!

My Teach Yourself Greek book, with the creepy dolls on the cover.

…If you’re on the ball today, you caught the several different spellings of the vowel sound “i,” as well as the fact that “v” is “n,” “p” is “r,” “x” is “h,” “u” is one spelling of “i,” and “y” is “g.” YEAH. AWESOME. And did I mention that semi-colons are now question marks? It’s nuts—in college, I studied a little Arabic and a little Japanese, and had an easier time learning those alphabets because at least they don’t have English letters that mean something other than what they mean in English! (Though pronunciation is easier; I once practically threw up in Arabic class trying to pronounce a guttural “q.”) …

September 2010 – Senator Fulbright, I Salute Thee.

2010-2011 Greece Fulbrighters!

If you have ever been interested in studying, researching, or teaching abroad, or even just doing something totally extraordinary, do yourself a freakin’ service and apply for a Fulbright grant. I say this now because I’ve just returned from my Fulbright orientation in Athens and Aegina, and I have truly never been so electrified by a sense of purpose in my entire life as I am now. …

October 2010 – “I Hope Your Sheep is Doing Well,” and Other Things I’ve Accidentally Said in Greek

…With that and accidentally saying “You are a restroom?” instead of “You have a restroom?” to the server at an ice cream shop in Nea Moudania this weekend, and watching one of the interns point to the food at lunch and say “You are good!!” instead of “It is good!!” to one of the kitchen ladies, I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what it means to learn a language through immersion. ...

Also from October of 2010: A Smattering of Tidbits in Alphabetical Order

November 2010 – The Only (and Best!) Birthday I’ve Ever Celebrated in a Foreign Country

Micah and I with our olive branch crowns after everyone sang to us.

…Looking back, I’m amazed I didn’t suspect that Carrie & Ashley would have some sort of birthday shenanigans planned for lunch, where all students on campus over the weekend would be in the cafeteria. Ashley had made Micah and I each an olive branch crown to wear while everyone in the cafeteria (I’m going to guess about 75 people) sang “Happy Birthday” to us while pounding on the lunch tables! …

Also from November of 2010: Meet My Little Fat Friend, A Moment and A Day in the Life

December 2010 – “It’s Just a Goat Head”: Changing Concepts of Normalcy at the Three-Month Mark

Well, folks, it’s been three months since I arrived in Greece. It’s hard to believe that my time here is almost a third over. So much has happened and changed. While talking with a friend the other day about my ever-evolving concept of “normal,” I decided it was time to take stock of those changes. There are some things that are a part of my every day life here that I wouldn’t have ever dreamed would be!

Also from December of 2010: Let it be known that even if you are from Montana and happen to be on a Greek island in November, the water is still freakin’ FREEZING.

January 2011 – Six Things I Did with My Six Hours in Budapest

Gorgeous statues (at least some of which are from mythology; I recognized Leda and the swan) adorn the edges of the pools.

…I’m not a girl who thinks about this sort of thing often, but as I sat soaking in a blissful daze in the hottest pool, I found myself thinking that I’d like to come here with my future husband one day, whoever he may be. The whole experience had such an air of romance, whether that was between couples or, in my case, with myself, basking in the glow of my self-date on my solo adventure in Budapest.

Also from January of 2011: Teacher Face, (Greek) Kids Say the Darnedest Things, and The Time I Stayed with a Greek Family for the First Time and Almost Accidentally Mooned Them While Saying Goodbye

February 2011 – What Do You Get When You Mix Telephone, Pictionary, and a Bunch of Greek Teenagers?

Students laughing over the results of one stack, which began as "A new beginning" and ended with a sunflower taking a bath.

As a teacher of English as a foreign language, I’ve come to rely on what I like to call the Sneaky Teacher Motive. The Sneaky Teacher Motive is in its element when it represents a real lesson lurking in the background of a really fun game. STMs help keep students and teachers happy. Everyone wins! …Today was perhaps the best Sneaky Teacher Motive I’ve ever put into action. My friends and I play a game back home called “Telephone Pictionary,” as it’s a mix of the two games. …

Also from February of 2011: Fulbright Greece Across the Generations and “Is Good Gymnastic!”: My First Three Weeks of Half-Marathon Training in Greece

March 2011 – Adventures in Lesvos: the Perfectionisticus Totallus, out of Her Natural Habitat

"The girls." These three ladies were my company for a cup of coffee on a cold day in Agiasos, Lesvos. It was a challenge to get through an hour of speaking Greek, but with the aid of gestures, we got by, and it quickly became one of my favorite unexpected adventures I've had in Greece.

…The women stopped talking and looked up at me. Unsure if the cafe was supposed to be closed or not, I said, “Er… thelo na ena cafe?” (“I’d like a coffee”). …”Sit down,” they said amiably. When I went to make for a different table, they looked confused. It was then that I realized I was supposed to sit down with them. So I did. The oldest of the women (on the far right in the picture) was the owner of the kafenio, and she brought me my coffee. And then we talked in Greek for about an hour. …

Also from March of 2011: My Week Without Running: a Tragicomedy in Six Acts

April 2011 – My First Half Marathon: It Was the Most Amazingly, Life-Changingly Euphoric of Times, It Was the Most Bleepity Bleeping BLEEEEP of times.

The final push across the bridge!

…Devastated, all I could do was continue. I was shocked, upset, anxious and even terrified for the miles to come, as I now had to face an even greater distance of new territory and the tremendously humbling realization that I was even slower than I had thought. But there I was, all alone with my music, the pavement and a handful of other runners. At this point, I was reminded of one very important thing: I’m mortal. Relying solely on my own body to propel me forward, with legs that were already starting to ache, my only choices were to quit or be a human-powered machine. I chose the latter.

Also from April of 2011 (a seriously epic month!): Christos Anesti!, The Top Ten of My Trip to Santorini, Nerding Out in Crete: My Kazantzakis Pilgrimage, Riding in Pickup Trucks with Greek Boys, and Other Adventures from My Trip to Pilio, and Prague in Pictures

May 2011 – Finding Konstantinos: A Peterson Family Pilgrimage

The first picture my parents took of Konstantinos, while walking along the road.

…It was wonderful to have the chance to spend some time paying homage to Konstantinos, a man who was so kind to my parents when they were on their own traveling odyssey.  The feeling of finally being in the place where this amazing family legend actually took place was remarkable. Greece, being so steeped in history and tradition, often gives the sense of being able to simply jump right through time: to skip around the centuries and decades as easily as if one was diving into a pool. That’s exactly how I felt as I was standing at the tomb of Konstantinos Bastounis.

Also from May of 2011: And That’s How I Injured the Only Other Knee I Have, Dinner with the Legend, My Top 10 Strangest Experiences on Public Buses in Greece, and My Weekend with Sokratis

June 2011 – The Great City of Istanbul, from A-Z

Braving the crowds on my quest to find the perfect scarf!

…Grand Bazaar – How could G not be for Grand Bazaar? The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. … It is packed with tourists and locals to the point where you can hardly move at times, and with so many shiny, colorful things and noisy racket going on all around you, I’d describe it as sensory overload on crack. That said, once you let yourself indulge, it’s a blast! I myself really get into haggling, and I dare say I got some steals with the comeback “But sir, I’m just a poor teacher…” The vendors certainly have their own arsenal of lines, some more business-based than others. Though “Hello my angel, how can I help you spend your money?” and “Darlings, come look at my rubbish!” got us giggling, this year’s grand prize goes to, and I quote, “Come back to my heart, meow meow!”

Also from June of 2011: The Eleven Commandments of Traveling in Greece and Intercultural Bewilderment: My Turkish Bath Adventure

July 2011 – Our Golden Girl

Carpe Flingball, Abbie. I hope there are hot dogs and bunnies wherever you are.

…That night, Mom, Dad, Boyfriend and I went out to dinner to celebrate the life of Abbie. Loved by all, she was a remarkable creature, and I can’t think of anything better to do now than celebrate what a lovely little doggie life she lived. Therefore: the tribute post. …

Also from July of 2011: Spice Cupcakes with Pecan Buttercream Filling and Espresso Frosting and Power-Tripping TSA Hulk Lady vs. Jet-lagged Culture-Shocked Ginger, and Other Tales from my 50+ Hour Transit Nightmare Home from Greece

August 2011 – How Greece Changed the Way I Think About Food

A close-up of some heavenly spanakopita. Look at all those layers!

…Eating more vegetables and sweetening things with honey instead of sugar have inspired other changes along the road to eating healthier, like seeking out whole-grain products and (eureka!) stopping eating before I feel like I’m made out of bread/peanut butter/cheese/other culinary vice of choice.

Also from August of 2011: My First Day of College-Level Teaching


And with that, bottoms up to the next 100! …Are you out again? What number is this for you anyway? …Five?! Wow. Clearly, you’ve learned a lot from this blog. You’re well on your way to becoming Greek yourself! 😉

Στην υγειά μας,

Kate

Posted in Blogging | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

10 Ways to Live Like You’re Traveling


When I’m exploring the world and writing about it, I am my best self.

Nothing brings out the personality traits, qualities, ideas and behavior I’m most proud of like the travel mindset. When I take on the role of the traveler, I become more open, more aware, more adventurous and more creative. In fact, when I step back and concentrate on that mindset in order to recreate it, I feel my eyes physically open wider. And that’s just it–I associate travel with open eyes, mind and heart. To me, traveling well is about honest, exciting efforts to observe, practice and become.

However, how does that differ from living well? What is a life well lived if not a series of honest, exciting efforts to observe, practice and become? Achieving our best selves is about rising up to meet chances to do so with grace, whether they arise in Irakleio or Idaho.

Travel is an expensive addiction, and I’m a poor grad student. Though I can’t wait for the day when I am gallivanting off to foreign lands once more, I can live more fully in the meantime by taking a few lessons from my traveling self. So, when the piggy bank’s empty and the travel withdrawal shakes & sweats are too much to bear, here are some ways to use your love for travel to your advantage in your everyday life.

10. Think on a global scale.

The first step is to simply start thinking globally. Introducing more international items and activities into your everyday life is a great way to begin creating a global frame of mind for yourself. The concrete leads to the abstract; making curry turns into renting a Bollywood movie, and soon enough, you find yourself reading an Indian author in order to answer the intercultural questions prompted by the movie. So, cook international food! I may be biased, but Greek food is a great starting place–many dishes are simply prepared once you have the ingredients. Add everything from Romanian gypsy pop to Afro-Western dance music based on the traditional music of Malawi to your workout playlist (and please enjoy the utterly ridiculous music video for the latter in the meantime)! Decorate with postcards or photographs taken all over the world! Watch obscure foreign documentaries–extra points for bad dubbing! Simple, fun and exciting, whether explored with friends or solo-style, little things like this expand your frame of reference and get you thinking globally.

Postcards and maps are my decor of choice.

9. Bring a little vacation insanity to your weekend. And your Thursday. And your Wednesday…

The famous “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” slogan is famous for a reason. It taps into one of the most deeply alluring parts of traveling–that of throwing caution to the wind. While caution is still a good thing in moderation, especially in the city you live, work or study in, I’m hereby declaring that far too many people’s lives are dictated by it. That’s why we dream of vacation. That’s why ads for cruises depict people dancing, laughing and generally having an awesome time; by appealing to what we want, they imply we don’t already have it. Are they right? Not anymore. Anytime you feel the urge to do something crazy, ask yourself if you would do it if you were on vacation. If the answer is yes, then by golly, you go ahead and do it! Life is far too short for bedtimes, bland food and declined invitations to dance. Though we certainly must keep up with the practicalities of life, we have an equal duty to balance it out with a little insanity, just like we do when on vacation.

(As a side note, last night in Kateland included homemade spanakopita, antelope lasagna, bruschetta, and two kinds of pie, wine, rosemary-infused vodka, a poetry reading, live bluegrass, a heated discussion on Foucault, shouting “Ola kala!” while walking home on Boise’s Capital Avenue, and excellent conversation with excellent company to the tunes of CCR. Live the dream!)

8. Get outside.

Whether the outdoors are at your doorstep or an hour’s drive away, getting outside is one of the very best ways to recreate the travel mindset. While traveling, I’m sometimes struck by how very small I am, in the best possible way. With all these people, all this land, and the remarkable diversity therein, how can the seemingly dire daily dramas of my little life matter? The other context which continually reminds me of the same thing is the great outdoors. Surrounded by trees so much older than I, and mountains so much older than those trees, I’m so small, and therefore so free.

On top of the remarkable ability of travel and nature to put things in perspective, they also both create a state of wonder. Edward Abbey writes of his time spent as a park ranger in Arches National Park in Desert Solitaire, which includes one of my very favorite passages of nature literature:

“If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful—that which is full of wonder. A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.”

Delicate Arch, in Utah's Arches National Park. Taken in October of 2009.

“The power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit.” Indeed, this certainly applies to travel; the traveler who returns home having never left her ruts of habit is a poor traveler indeed. Both travel and the outdoors open our eyes, all the better to see this “world of marvels.”

7. Be a tourist in your hometown.

A few summers ago, I went to visit my seriously rad aunt Trudy in Boston. (She’s a marathoner, a taekwondo student, a scuba diver, a CFO, and the mother of a newly adopted, beautiful baby girl. She’s also been to Fiji and makes the best crab dip I’ve ever had.) While in Boston, we did everything! We went to the aquarium, we went on a Duck Tour, we saw a show, we ate cannoli at Mike’s, and we even engaged in this ridiculous and seriously fun activity:

Do you see that smile? That's a pure joy the likes of which only going down a gradual slope on a segway can produce.

 Though Trudy was born in Massachusetts and works in Boston, she had never done these “touristy” activities, and she continually marveled at how much fun they were and how much she was learning about the city. And why not? When you see the familiar with fresh eyes, it becomes that much more meaningful. I just hope your hometown touristry adventure includes segways too.

6. Make a friend from a different culture.

Whether you find them in the foreign language section of the library, the international programs office at your university, or the “ethnic” aisle of the grocery store (which always cracks me up–what does “ethnic” really mean, and why is it only one aisle?), your town almost surely has at least a small pocket of international citizens. Go forth, find them, and reach out! Making friends with someone from another culture is a win-win. You gain so much from becoming close with someone whose customs are different from your own, and as someone who has lived abroad, I can personally vouch for how crucial local friendships are when you’re living in a different country. For one of the most powerful stories of intercultural friendships I’ve ever heard, as told by This American Life, click here.

Carrie and I with our friend we made on the ferry ride from Istanbul to the Prince Islands in June.

5. Unplug.

Traveling facilitates relaxation and independence, and one of the best ways to achieve both those qualities in your everyday life is to distance yourself from electronics, at least temporarily. If you can turn off your phone and computer for even just an afternoon, you will likely find yourself feeling surprisingly light and free. Without the pressures of answering calls or e-mails, your time becomes truly yours; and when you remove the internet’s remarkable time-suck from the scope of possible activities, it becomes that much easier to be productive with your time (whether that means being productive in work or productive in play!). There’s something so freeing about being unreachable, be it due to foreign travel or purposefully done in the comfort of your own home.

4. Seek out culture shock.

As a new student at BSU, I just had my first adventure in Bronco football. I headed to a sports bar with some friends last weekend at four. The game started at six. We barely got a table. When we finally did, it was amongst men in blue-and-orange boas, deafening whole-bar team-spirit chanting, and even toddlers decked out in Boise State football gear.

It was terrifying.

But I like wings, and I like beer, and I even like football. Once I got over my mini-culture shock, I was chanting, cheering and booing along with everyone else.

We are surrounded by hundreds of subcultures. Especially in a highly individualistic country like the United States, we have an incredibly diverse array of strange little pockets of society. To prove this point, I’d like to point your attention to the bizarre phenomenon known as Roller Derby, the differences between the culture of a supermarket and the culture of a community food co-op, and the entire city of Portland, Oregon. That said, it’s remarkably easy to expose yourself to culture shock right in your hometown, just as you would when you’re traveling. It’s those moments of mind-blowing contrast that help to either reaffirm the familiar or open your eyes to something better, and in some ways, it becomes even more mind-blowing when it takes place so close to home.

3. Learn a language, and find a way to use it.

The key to this idea is its second part. All too many of us studied a foreign language in school, but never kept it up, and are now left with the “Donde esta el baño?”s and “Voila mon passeport!”s of foreign language study. However, learning a foreign language is one of the most accessible ways to broaden your horizons, just as you do when traveling. It’s also a fascinating window into a culture.

Signing up for a class, finding a language partner through a local program, watching movies and reading books in the language are all great ways to keep it up, but I’ve also discovered Livemocha. It’s an online language-learning community. I’ve been using it since March, and the 101, 102, 201 and 202 courses are completely free. Each of these courses for Greek includes 3 units of 5 lessons each. Moreover, after each lesson, it prompts me to type a paragraph in Greek and then record myself speaking in Greek. That paragraph and recording then go out to native Greek speakers, who give me feedback. In return, I give feedback to those studying English and French. I think it’s an incredible tool for times when native speakers are really hard to find… like, say, when you live in Idaho.

2. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

When I had to pack up my life into two 50-pound bags last year, I was astounded by the sheer volume of stuff I had accumulated in just 22 years. As a sentimental person who saves things and plays the cello (that certainly wasn’t going to fit!), I can’t even fit everything into my VW Jetta. However, once I arrived in Greece and set up the things I had packed, I realized that what I had with me was more than adequate. In addition, I even felt better and freer with less possessions. The same is true for a shorter trip; you make do with what’s in your suitcase, and when it comes time to move cities again, it’s so much easier to pack. Since I got back from Greece, I have been trying to whittle down what I own. I want to get to the point where everything (even what’s still in my room at my parents’ house!) can fit into my car, and am looking forward to enjoying the freedom and simple joy that will come with living a life less cluttered with stuff.

1. Challenge yourself, every single day.

Over the course of my travel escapades, I’ve accepted hospitality in the form of a big bowl of chunks of fat for me to eat, relied on a toilet that was no more than a hole in the ground, yelled curses in Greek at a pack of wild dogs to keep them from eating me alive, been out-danced by a pack of French four year-olds, and had a come-to-Jesus meeting with fifteen Greek teenagers, nine of which had just turned in plagiarized papers to me. I’ve pantomimed food poisoning to my French host mother, and a UTI to the school nurse in Greece. I’ve missed planes, left bags on buses, gotten lost, and cried in way too many airports.

And you know what? I’ve survived. That, to me, is one of the greatest gifts of travel–the knowledge that when the going gets tough, you’ll find a way to make it through.

Though the stakes don’t seem as high when you’re at home, you can live like you’re traveling by getting out of your comfort zone every single day. Try new things, do what scares you, and learn from it all! It can be as simple as talking to someone new or as grand as going skydiving. As long as you’re creating adventure for yourself, you’ll be living like you’re traveling.

That’s what travel does. It shakes you to your core by bombarding you with the unfamiliar. And in this “world of marvels,” there’s more than enough of the unfamiliar to go around. I wish you the best of luck in discovering it.

Happy trails,

Kate

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Coffee Culture Shock: Adventures in Over-Caffeination


Not so long ago, I could have Greek coffee whenever I fancied a cup.

There was frappe, that sweet, Nescafe-based mistress. Whipped into foam and combined with milk and sugar, she packed a punch. Nescafe doesn’t mess around–at least not when you add as much as the Greeks do. Meant to be consumed slowly, one of those suckers gets you raring to go for a whole day. One of my first faux-pas in Greece was to down a frappe too quickly, which made one of the Balkan students I was with say, “We don’t drink it like milk.” Right he was. Once I shrugged off my American coffee landscape, littered with to-go cups, I realized the joys of drinking coffee slowly. It’s not just about tasting each sip more fully. There’s also something so devilishly self-indulgent about spending that much time doing something like drinking coffee. When consumed slowly, with sunglasses on, the well-made frappe will slowly trickle into your system, caffeinating your bad self at a steady pace.

(The effects are only intensified by a beach setting.)

A frappe and a book on the beach, in Halkidiki in June.

And then there was–my love!–Greek coffee. Where frappes were fun when out with friends, the Greek coffee and I had a more meaningful relationship. Think of Greek coffee as strong espresso with the grounds still in the bottom of the cup. I took mine “sketo,” which means without sugar. Bitter, sultry and rich, sipping a sketo Greek coffee is an intense experience: you sit, you sip, you brood, you sip, and suddenly, you’re more awake than you’ve ever been in your life.

A Greek coffee, in the Areopolis plateia in May.

By comparison, the popular American drip coffee seems so… weak. It’s just not as strong. Hell, we drink it with cream. We drink it fast, we drink multiple cups (the average American coffee consumer drinks 3 cups per day), and we take it with us in disposable cups wherever we go.

I’d like to think that this contrast was part of what led to my caffeine-induced breakdown this week.

On Tuesday, I was drowning in schoolwork, English 101 papers, and the general stress that comes with starting a new chapter in one’s life. I hadn’t gotten a paycheck since April, I hadn’t been running in weeks, and though it was the start of the second week of school, I was already feeling the effects of the slow build-up of sleep deprivation I was beginning to accumulate.

What was my strategy to combat this awful set of circumstances?

Seven. Cups. Of coffee.

I don’t even know how it happened. I had my morning cup (or two), took a break while responding to student papers to get another cup (or three), had some more in a meeting and got another cup for my afternoon office hours… and suddenly, my system was experiencing what can only be described as a wild, no-holds-barred orgy in caffeinated hell.

It started off just fine. Great, in fact! With my morning cup(s), I slowly felt myself transition from a bleary half-person into a genuine ass-kicker. Going to school? YEAH! Wearing a teacherly skirt? BAM! Riding the bus? WOO! I arrived on campus, happily smiled my way through a meeting with a student, and sat down to get some work done.

Sure enough, after responding to a few student essays, I felt that surefire eyelid-droop hit. It was only eleven or so. But, what the hell, I thought! I’m workin’ hard. I’m doin’ my thing. I’m rockin’ my teacherly skirt. I deserve a little bit more coffee!

Ah!, eleven-AM naivete. Little did I know what a dark fate awaited me that afternoon.

By 4:00, after the seventh cup had disappeared down my ultra-caffeinated gullet, I had actually managed to caffeinate myself full-circle. I had long passed through the happy-alertness-and-rainbows stage. Remarkably, I managed to drink coffee until I was a bleary half-person again.

Akin to paralysis, the seven-cup stupor is a fearsome foe. Staring at my computer screen, I couldn’t even decide what I should be working on. Once I finally chose a task, there was no staying focused long enough to get anything done on it at all. My eyes felt like they were burning, and right behind them lurked that characteristic caffeine-induced feeling of Exhaustion: Ultra-Alertness Edition.

Frustrated, frazzled, beyond tired, totally not myself and nearly crying in my cubicle, it was like I was an emotional drunk: I naturally decided that I have no friends in Boise (not true) and am terrible at my new job (not true). Thank goodness my fellow TA friends were there to talk me down; who knows what metaphorical or literal alleyways I would have found myself wandering down if not for their good sense.

Since then, I have made a conscious effort to limit myself to two cups per day, and it’s worked just fine. There have been no seven-cup stupors, no bleary half-personhood past seven AM, and no caffeine orgies in my system. For the rest of the week, I remained calm and happy in my new surroundings with my new friends.

But if you see me walking around campus in the morning, just know I’d rather be drinking a Greek coffee. 🙂

Στην υγειά σας,

Kate

Posted in Grad School Life, Greece | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Seedy Underbelly of Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough


I really should be diving into an annotated bibliography of Hamlet, but something which merits immediate discussion has just come to my attention.

WordPress users have access to a fairly comprehensive “Stats” page for their blog. When I log in, I can see how many overall hits I’ve gotten that day as compared to past days, which pages were viewed, and how many times each one was viewed. I can see which links viewers clicked to get to my blog, and which links people clicked on once they got here. (Of course, all this information is totally anonymous.)

However, one tool has been slowly providing more and more entertainment over the past months, and has now reached a point of total hilarity: the search terms which have led people to my blog.

Many of the search terms are quite normal. Some people searched for “Athens” and must have clicked through a bazillion pages of search results to get here, as I’m pretty low-profile and mention Athens only a handful of times. Some other search terms are totally random, and I can’t imagine how they led people here; I bet the person who searched for “1/2″ x 125′ x 12″ bubble wrap (large bubbles)” was pretty freakin’ disappointed.

But yesterday, a new search term claimed the number one spot on the list. It’s now the top search term that has led people to my blog, in its cumulative history beginning about one year ago.

What is this magical term, the buzzword which is apparently inextricably linked to Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough?

Naked Greek men.

Oh yes. As of today, “naked Greek men” is the top search that leads people to my blog; it just beat out “Santorini, Greece.” A whopping 64 people have arrived here by entering “naked Greek men” into their search engine of choice. What their motivation for searching for said term is, we’ll never know (thank goodness). But now, more than “Fulbright Greece blog,” more than “How to Wrap Phyllo,” and more than even “Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough” itself, it’s people looking for Greek dudes in the buff who wind up here.

Some of you may remember a post entitled “My First Time at the Greek Theatre, in All its Naked Glory!” The post detailed an unexpected adventure I had with seeing a play in Greek for the first time, which happened to be quite experimental and featured a male protagonist who was naked for the entire show. This was made even sillier by the fact that I was sitting in the center of the front row, on a cushion on the floor. I had fun writing the post, and it was one of the most viewed posts of this blog’s early days.

Little did I know it would be so incriminating.

As a joke, I also tagged “naked Greek men” on my post about the ridiculous things that happened to me while riding buses in Greece, as I tell the story of seeing a man drop trow in the middle of the street in downtown Thessaloniki. But that still makes only two instances. Who knew that would be enough to tell Google that my blog was a hub for Greek porn?

Further, what do these searchers think when they get to my blog? Are they disappointed? Probably. Unless I happen to have an equally hilarious adventure pertaining to the subject in the future, I have no plans to further analyze the topic of naked Greek men; and I certainly, purposefully failed to include any pictures. Yikes.

Other Honorable Mentions on the List of Search Terms Leading People to My Blog, Though Perhaps Not as Popular:

  • “Travel playlist Indigo Girls,” 22 (Must be from this.)
  • “Turkish boobs,” 4 (Good lord! My blog is more obscene than I thought! This one has to be because of this post.)
  • “Zip up his wetsuit,” 4 (No idea. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)
  • “Pickuptrucks.com,” 4 (First of all, why would you not just put this in as the URL? And second, how the heck did you get here?)
  • “Wonderful Greece,” 3 (Aww.)
  • “Sweden Pipi,” 2 (How do they know I look like Pippi Longstocking?)
  • “Insane phyllo nmrs bath info watch,” 2 (…)
  • “Weird black and white art,” 2
  • “White girl eating Chinese Dumplings,” 2
  • “Giant checkered rabbit,” 2
  • “Dirty Russian Road,” 2
  • “Gingerus Maximus,” 2 (I totally thought I had coined that one! Darn!)
  • “Dirty grain godown,” 1 (??)
  • “Using fringe tableskirts to wrap a float,” 1 (“Wrap Me in Fringe Tableskirts” could be a winner, don’t you think?)

So, if you’re here because you’re spending your Saturday on a Google quest for Greek gods missing their fig leaf, I’m so sorry to disappoint. Try going to see a play in Greek. It worked for me.

Ciao for niao,

Kate

Posted in Blogging | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Wrap Me in Seaweed


What I’m about to say is a big statement.

You know. You’ve been reading this blog. You can see the massive, zoomed-in, shining hulk of phyllo pastries in the banner graphic. You can read the title. You know by now, you smart cookie, that this is the blog of a diehard foodie.

But, of all the fruits and cheeses, all the peanut butter-laden desserts, all the delightful pastas and delectable crustaceans, all the cupcakes and enchiladas and curries, one food dares to rise above the rest as my favorite, forever and ever, amen.

Sushi.

Sushi is without a doubt my favorite food. I could eat it every day with a big, stupid, drooly-gross grin on my face and wasabi in my hair (it’s happened before). If I am ever pregnant, it will be hard for me to not hold a grudge against my future child for life for keeping me from eating it for nine months. I would climb mountains, swim across seas, walk through fire, swim across seas of fire with mountains in them… you name it. I would go Gollum for sushi, right down to jumping into Mount Doom and desperately holding it up to try and save it from the flames.

But let’s hope it never comes to that.

Sushi is, for me, just an all-around feel-good eating experience. The flavors are bright and fresh, using chopsticks makes it fun to eat, and I just feel so good after I eat sushi–the lean-protein-to-carb ratio is a recipe for solid energy and good vibes.

And luckily for me, it’s easy and fun to make! It can also be pretty cheap if you go fishless and decide to rock it out veggie style.

How to Make It

So, dear readers, because I love you so much and want you to experience My Precious the joy too, here’s a step by step tutorial for those of you who have never made it.

  1. Cook your sushi rice and season it properly (don’t skip this step!). Prep all ingredients (slice vegetables into thin strips, cut fish, etc) and have them handy nearby.
  2. Lay a piece of nori (seaweed) on a clean cutting board, shiny side down. Some people like to use a bamboo rolling mat. I find I work better without it.
  3. Plop several spoons’ worth of rice onto the seaweed. It should look like this (wine included :D).
  4. Spread rice into an even layer all over the nori, except for a one inch-wide strip at the top. Your rice should be a couple to a few grains thick and cover almost all of your seaweed. The rice will be sticky, so it helps to have a small dish of water nearby–this process is much easier with wet fingers!
  5. Select your ingredients. Put them in a relatively compact row about an inch to an inch and a half from the bottom of your sheet of nori.
  6. Now it gets a little bit tricky. From here, pick up the bottom edge of the nori with your forefinger and thumb. Then, use all your other fingers to tightly hold the ingredients in place as you begin to roll the bottom edge up and forward.
  7. Keep tucking the ingredients in. Don’t be shy–you really have to push them in! Once that bottom edge has come to a full circle and is touching the rice again, keep slowly rolling it up, all the while continually tucking it tighter and tighter as you move forward.
  8. When your roll looks like the one in the picture above, stop rolling for just a minute. Hold it in place with one hand, and wet the fingers of the other. Next, dab the water all along that one-inch, rice-free section at the top of your nori. It should be evenly wet without being soaked through. Then, roll your sushi roll all the way up to the top of your nori, still carefully tightening and tucking as you go along. Press firmly along the wet section so it will seal. Resist the urge to eat it just like that, burrito-style (it’s happened before).
  9. Using a very sharp knife, slice the roll into half-inch pieces. If your knife gets gummy with rice residue, rinse it with warm water before continuing. Done! Hurray!

Put Stuff in It

When deciding what ingredients to include, you can decide just how traditional you want your sushi to be, and stick to straight-up Japanese style or add a little American flair. I like both. I love sticking to the basics like a plain tekka maki with perfect ingredients, and I also like making up new, interesting rolls.

Basic ingredients (stick to just one-three maximum for traditional rolls):

  • tuna
  • salmon
  • yellowtail
  • shrimp (good for first-timers)
  • crab
  • avocado
  • cucumber
  • carrot
  • bell pepper
  • sesame seeds
  • wasabi

Other ideas:

  • tamago
  • mango
  • fish roe
  • lemon or lime juice
  • sweet chili sauce (like this one)
  • tempura crunchies
  • asparagus
  • cracked black pepper
  • cilantro or other herbs
  • Other ideas? Comment! I wants them!

Get Creative

The night I did the tutorial photos, I was making sushi with my parents. Somehow, we had the fun and silly idea of coming up with a roll for each of us. I was charged with the task of making up a “Kate” roll, a “Norm” roll (yes, my father’s name is Norm Peterson, and the “Cheers” references will never cease!), and a “Mary” roll based on our personalities and tastes.

The Kate roll!

The Kate roll: I was going for bright, fresh, texturally interesting and slightly unexpected (just like me!). I ended up with salmon, red bell pepper, and avocado, garnished with ultra-thin sliced lemon with most of the rind removed and a dash of cracked black pepper.

The Norm roll: The goal here was warm, friendly, and simple, with an international twist (for my travel guru dad). This one had ahi tuna, carrot, red bell pepper, and a sprinkling of curry powder.

The Mary roll: Sweet (but not too sweet, as it is a savory dish), subtly complex, and comforting (aww–I love you mom!). I used yellowtail (hamachi), avocado, sesame seeds, and the tiny strips of lemon rind I cut off the lemon for the Kate roll.

A metric bevy of sushi, with nigiri (from the Japanese for "to squeeze") at the top, the Norm roll below, the Kate roll on the bottom left and the Mary roll in the bottom right.

Please do tell–what would be in your recreation-of-self roll?

Do Your Reading

I picked up The Story of Sushi, by Trevor Corson, for a plane ride in college. It’s now one of my all-time favorite food books. Corson followed a class through the California Sushi Academy and details the experience. The result combines instruction, the (absolutely fascinating) history of sushi, the ins & outs of the business, some fun personal stories from the chefs, and even the science of why sushi tastes good to the human palette. If you are interested in sushi, if you’re curious about its history, or even if you just don’t want to look like a tool in a sushi restaurant, I highly recommend this book!

In other news, I’m in Boise now! I drove down yesterday, and I must say, driving eight hours with a carload of stuff is so much easier than packing your life into two forty-five pound suitcases and flying halfway across the world. My TA orientation starts tomorrow and class starts in one week!

Speaking of which, I had better stop drooling over raw and wrrrrrriggling fish and get to work. Have a great Sunday and nom on!

Ciao for niao,

Kate

Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments