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What I’m thankful for

Written by Chaz on 8 January 2012

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The family, the food, the fun — I really like the ritual of it all, and I especially like that, unlike most other holidays, there’s an actual reason for the celebration that people remember and care about. I love the energy of people gathering from all over the country to spend the holiday together.

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One of my only hesitations about studying abroad in the fall was missing Thanksgiving in the U.S., but since there were many more reasons not to go in the spring, I did it anyway. My friends Gene and Joanna ended up coming to visit me in Stockholm for the Thanksgiving week. Along with some of my friends from my program, we made a Thanksgiving dinner consisting of a small turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and Stove Top stuffing that Gene and Joanna had to bring with them from Providence.

We cooked in the home of one of my friend’s host families. In Sweden, Thanksgiving is, of course, just another Thursday. So when my friend’s hosts got home from work, a feast was ready for them in their kitchen. We sat down at their dining room table and explained the tradition of going around the table for everyone to say what they’re thankful for. All of us had a lot to be thankful for that Thanksgiving, and I will never forget the experience of sharing the tradition of Thanksgiving with the Swedish family, my friends from abroad, and my friends from Brown.

This year, I spent Thanksgiving in Bethesda, Md., just outside Washington, with some of my family’s oldest friends. At this Thanksgiving, the tradition is for everyone to make one dish. My mother, who is a master chef, did more than her share, handling the turkey, gravy and stuffing. In response to popular demand from people who have had her turkey, she had written up a Thanksgiving memo that details the steps to prepare her recipe, starting the day before and going right up to the moment the food is served. So she was slaving away starting Wednesday evening when we arrived.

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On Thursday, my mother began to cook the turkey itself. After stuffing the turkey, buttering it, and covering it, it was ready for the oven.

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After a few hours, it was ready to come out. But this proved easier said than done.

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After the turkey was safely extricated, my mother turned her attention to the gravy. Using the roasting pan from the turkey, she added a few secret ingredients and began cooking it down.

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Meanwhile, all over the kitchen and even the house, others were working on pulling together their own contributions to the Thanksgiving dinner. I was on mashed potatoes duty, which is a pretty last-minute operation. As soon as the turkey came out of the oven, though, it was immediately filled with other dishes — rolls, sweet potatoes, green beans, brussel sprouts, spinach, pies and more.

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Before long, it was time to carve the turkey and assemble the various dishes for people to claim their first plates. In a matter of minutes, a shockingly large buffet materialized.

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Once dinner was on the table and served, it was time for firsts, seconds and thirds. My mother outdid herself again with the turkey, and everyone else’s dishes were delicious as well. I had to restrain myself from having more of the dinner to save room for pie.

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It was a wonderful holiday with terrific friends, family and food. Only eleven months until the next one!

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In which we meet Dorothy and our adventures begin

Written by Emmy on 25 September 2011

On Wednesday (September 7th — it’s been a while), we began our west coast adventure road trip. The day began early in each of our hometowns, as Chaz boarded a plane before 7 a.m. and I boarded one just afterward. Several hours and plane rides later, we reunited in the Salt Lake City airport. We nearly missed our last flight and had to be paged to the gate, though we’re not really sure how that happened because we were waiting at the gate. Mishap was avoided and we took the short flight to Fresno, Calif.

We touched down in the small airport just after noon and made our way to baggage claim. In celebration of what the region is most known for, the airport was filled with giant redwood trees (truly — they were poking out of the ceiling). We simultaneously addressed two hurdles: the baggage and the rental car. We had reserved a car as part of a great Hertz deal: rent in California and return in Arizona in exchange for a great rate. (They need more cars down south for winter vacation.) This deal guaranteed us a small car and we were prepared to take what we could get. When we reached the counter, the woman explained that due to a series of regulations, there were only two cars available to us: a Chevy Aveo, which would barely have fit the two of us, let alone our luggage, and a Dodge Grand Caravan. We weren’t thrilled about the minivan, but said we’d take it, especially since we didn’t have to pay extra since it was their mistake. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we had basically won the rental car lottery.

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Our baggage made up the vast majority of what had been on our little plane and we loaded it into the minivan, which we formally named Dorothy. For the record, we’re really not sure how we would have fit into a smaller car; we left the airport with three suitcases, a cooler, a huge box of camping supplies, two backpacks and two additional carry on bags. We then went to Trader Joe’s and loaded the car up even further with food. After making our way toward Yosemite, we bought more supplies at a second supermarket stop. Less than two hours in and Dorothy was reaching capacity.

After about 90 minutes on Highway 41, we reached the outer perimeter of Yosemite. Yosemite is a large park — larger than little old Rhode Island — and there are campgrounds throughout. We headed toward Wawona Campground for our first night, which is conveniently close to the entrance nearest to Fresno.

We set up camp and began preparing dinner after a quick appetizer of guacamole, chips and mango salsa. Camping really challenged my culinary abilities, but we persevered in an effort to eat and create beautiful food. The first night’s menu featured turkey burgers and so we tried to use charcoal, but those coals took a while longer to heat up than we might have hoped. We were aiming to eat in enough time to be able to watch sunset from Glacier Point, about a 30-minute drive from Wawona, but the burgers just weren’t cooking. So in a moment of desperation, we put them in a pan, popped them on top of the propane stove, aggressively cooked them and then ate them while en route with muenster and avocado atop honeywheat buns. Though we faced some technical difficulties, dinner could at least be classified as gourmet to go.

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Chaz navigated the winding roads of the park while I handled the car-based cuisine, a common theme throughout our trip. We got to Glacier Point, one of the best (and most accessible) overlooks in the car just as the sun was setting.

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From Glacier Point, we could see all of Yosemite Valley stretched out in front of us, waiting to be explored.

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After watching the sun dip below the mountains (and taking the obligatory 20+ sunset photos) we headed back to our tent and quickly fell asleep, tired from our day of travel and ready to wake up bright and early for adventures in the park!

Home sweet home

Written by Emmy on 5 July 2011

We arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport, bleary eyed, at just after 4 a.m. on Thursday. With no flight other than ours set to take off for hours, we moved through the deserted airport quickly. In an attempt to send some love back home (and use up our extra Singapore dollars), we bought postcards, which turned into a mini-adventure as Chaz then ran around the airport looking for stamps. Finally, with postcards stamped and mailed, we boarded our flight to Tokyo. I think I slept for the entire seven hours.

We landed in Tokyo and waited on a long security line with all of the other passengers (read: Americans) transferring onto flights to New York, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and several other stateside destinations. Vernie’s final food recommendation had been to eat ramen in Tokyo’s Narita airport, but our 45-minute layover made that impossible. We even tried to get takeout, but as it turns out, small Japanese airport stalls do not have a mechanism for allowing you to carry soup onto the plane.

Flying from the U.S. to Asia (and vice versa) is long and disorienting. Things like movies and snacks and Ambien are very helpful for passing the 12 hours, but there is just no way around the longevity of traveling such a distance. On the way over, we lost a full day, which was kind of confusing, but on the way back, the whole business of time zones was even more complicated. We left Tokyo just after 3 p.m. on Thursday, and landed in New York just before 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Despite the fact that we seemed to travel backwards in time, we did live out a very full day on board our massive plane. In our final act of Asian food photography, behold, Delta’s Japanese breakfast noodles.

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We landed at JFK on time, but could not deplane for a while because there was so many people stuck in customs that we could not have fit in the building. (Knowing JFK, I thought this could have been due to ongoing back up from the turtle incident the day before.) The problem was one of building capacity. Too many planes had landed at the Delta terminal for the customs agents to handle them, and so we waited. It was almost ironic that after enduring immigrations inefficiencies in Thailand and Vietnam, the slowest process was to get back into our own country. By the time we finally cleared an hour later, all of the bags from our flight had been dumped off the conveyor belt and onto the floor.

With my rice patty hat on, we left the airport and parted ways for our respective homes (with a few days to spare before celebrating America’s birthday!).

In the coming days, we’ll be doing a bit more reflecting on our trip as a whole. We’ve also posted hundreds of photos and videos that never made it onto the blog. We just want to take a moment first to thank you for keeping up with us on our journey. We hope you enjoyed reading about our travels as much as we enjoyed recounting them to you.

Happy Independence Day

Written by Emmy on 4 July 2011

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program with an important announcement: Happy July 4th!

And now, back to recounting our adventures in Singapore.