Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Baking Fiesta

So, some holidays are quite hard to get in the mood for here. Like Thanksgiving. We get the day off from work, but there are no decorations or mentions of it like other holidays (Christmas). This is why it's great I brought one dry baking mix with me, and received more in the mail from mom. The Chacarilla-ites are having Thanksgiving lunch/dinner at Steph's house, and I volunteered to prepare the dessert and sweet potato dish. The plan was to bake pumpkin pie bars, leaf shaped cookies and pumpkin cake. I made modifications to the last two instead of following the directions of the boxes. This is how three hours of my day went today....

All three things baked at 350 degrees, so that was nice. I started with the cookies. I had bought butter in the store, but it didn't have the tblsp markers like the packs in the States. This meant I had to sort of eye ball the amount of butter I added. It worked pretty well. My welcome kit actually included a rolling pin, so I used wax paper and flour to roll out the dough and cut the leaf shapes. It made 14 sugar cookies. I popped those in the oven, and  then started on the cake mix.

So, this recipe was actually for cupcakes, but those aren't very easy to share and it only made 6. Well, I have a bunt pan in my welcome kit (why they have that in there and not a normal baking sheet is beyond me), so I decided I would just make a cake. Well, it worked (sort of) and I am sure it tastes good. It's just a rather short bunt cake. More like a bunt wreath, really. The pack also came with a mix for cream cheese frosting. I tried mixing it, and it tasted awful. All I added was milk and sugar, so whatever they put in the mix, someone was doing wrong. So, I set that aside and figured I could buy some frosting tomorrow.

Next I made the pumpkin pie bars. They had a grahamcracker crust I baked first with the cake for a few minutes, then I added the filling. They turned out yummy.

Next to cookies part two- they came with meltable things of chocolate and orange colored vanilla. The idea was to melt some of each to dip the cookies, and then melt the rest and put in piping bags (plastic bags) to  decorate the cookies with. Well, um.... I don't have serious enough skills for that. I tried melting the chocolate, and of course that just takes forever and some practice. It worked reasonably well, so I dipped the cookies half in chocolate, then I put the rest of the chocolate in the piping bag. Basically my leaves just have chocolate dots and what not all over them instead of cute lines to make them look like leaves. At this point I did not have any patience left to melt the vanilla ones and pipe them onto the cookies too. Instead, I melted them enough to be spreadable, and used them for frosting on the pumpkin cake, and topped it with orange sprinkles. Voila!

So, now I have 3 tasty, if not quite what the inventors intended, types of dessert to share tomorrow.

Also, I have to make the sweet potatoes, but that shouldn't be difficult- they will go in the oven, then I am mashing them with cumin, chili powder, ginger and maple syrup for a sweet/spicy sort of thing. Yum!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Return of Jessie the Archaeologist

So, anyone who knew me in elementary school knows about my obsession with anything Anasazi, Mesa Verde, etc, etc.... Well, this weekend I got to indulge that part of myself with a trip to Caral, Peru.  This is a relatively new archaeological site (started excavation 12 years ago), but it is actually the oldest city in the Americas.  The civilization that lived in the area of the Supe valley were there for 800 years. Caral is the capital city, although there are a few other sites nearby.

The city was 20 km inland from the sea, and produced crops like cotton that it would trade with the people living on the coast. For this reason, their diet consisted mainly of fish. They were a complex society with very simple technology. They had no pottery, so would carry their water in gourds or baskets. They had no complex tools, fashioning pyramids from polished rocks they used as hammers.  They had no tall trees, so the rooms of their houses were small so they could use short trees for roofs.  They were always developing new architectural techniques for their pyramids.  Whenever they wanted to expand one, they simply build another pyramid on top of the older one. This means some have 20 layers of pyramids in one.

These pyramids were used for religious purposes, and often oriented towards the valley, or according to constellations. At one point, a central figure, who probably united the city into one religion, had all the pyramids re-oriented so that they all faced a large flat area in the middle. This also coincided with the building of the one pyramid used for human sacrifices.

They also had a concert area where they played flutes and horns.  Eventually the climate got the better of the civilization though.  A change in temperature caused a big rain storm, which led to mud slides. As the temperature reverted to normal, this mud turned into sand, creating large sand storms that destroyed the crops. It is thought that the remaining people of Caral integrated into a society in the north, which had developed art, weapons and city defenses.

You can see the whole album of pictures from my trip in my Picasa web album:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Starting Monday...

... I will start getting a little crazy. I have decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month again this year. I did it last year and had an awesome  time meeting new people, and of course, trying something completely new. For those who don't know, the idea is to write, during just the month of November, a 50,000 (fifty thousand) word novel. Crazy eh? The key is to tell everyone you know about it so that they can nag you constantly on your current word count. I believe as long as you writ 1667 words or so daily, you will finish. Last year I wrote a little sporadically, sitting down and committing a few straight hours some days and skipping others. Whatever works. The thing to remember is that by the end of the month I will have a novel. Will this year's product go the same place as last year's? Well, last year's novel is sitting in my  gmail account and staying there forever because it was pretty much not worth reading. I am trying to set myself up for a slightly higher standard this year however.

As far as standards go, I already have a plot and the contest doesn't start for a few days. That's pretty good, right? Also, in Peru, November 1 is All Soul's Day, and thus a national holiday. I can spend the whole day inside writing and get a great head start! I will be posting updates periodically throughout the month. Wish me luck!

Friday, October 22, 2010

First two weeks in PerĂº

Hello all! I know I have been silent on here for a while- yesterday I was able to get my internet set up in my apartment, and I should be able to post more things from here on out! Firstly, I am doing well so far and enjoying meeting everyone at work. There are quite a few folks who live in my neighborhood, so I've been using their wisdom to go around my area here. Lima is a huge city compared to what I'm used to, so I'm adjusting to what everything looks like and the traffic. Oh the traffic! I think in the long run it will be worth it though.

I arrived at my apartment on the 6th and really like it so far. The rest of the building is pretty quiet. The hardwood floors are also really nice- I enjoy sliding around on them (maybe too much).

Here is my living room. I have some planters on the window sill, and then to the right of this is my dining room, and my balcony going off that. The furniture is a little out dated, but it is pretty comfy. I'm thinking of getting some covers for it though.

As far as goings on, there is a lot of advertising going on for Halloween.  I am not sure how much people actually celebrate it, but there are things for sale in the store. I bought some pumpkins for 2.19 Nuevos Soles/ kg. I don't know how much that came out to. I carved one of them tonight, and I might leave the other one for now. It's sitting on the table in my entry way and I like that. It adds a little bit of seasonal decor. It is actually spring time here, and all the tropical trees and what not are blooming, so it is not the normal October weather I am used to!

This is the pumpkin I carved tonight. He's a little ghost guy! In past years I've tried doing faces and they don't come out like much, so I tried something new this year. For a first attempt I think it went pretty well. I found a stencil on the internet, but I just drew it freehand on my pumpkin. It occurred to me that I don't have any candles, so I will have to buy some. Tomorrow I am going to Jockey Plaza with a few neighbors. It is a big shopping mall with all sorts of stores here in Lima. The Marine Ball is coming up, and even though I already have my shoes, not everyone is in the same boat!

In addition to just learning my surroundings, I have also been adjusting to all the food preparation and groceries, etc. It is not suggested that I drink the tap water here, so I have water delivered (it's the local equivalent of deep rock, etc) and have a dispenser for it. It works well but cleaning dishes is always a "process". I have been experimenting with cooking, but one thing that is hard is starting a pantry all from scratch. There were a few things waiting for me when I got here, but I just bought salt and pepper last weekend. I hit the Savory Spice shop in Boulder right before coming here, and I'm glad I did! The spicy adobe and italian cheese mixes have been getting me through quite a lot! Here is an example of my inventiveness:

I made breaded chicken using corn flakes. The mashed potatoes turned out really well because I added some of the italian cheese mix. The salads here you have to be careful with. I bought the packaged lettuce from a trusted grocer with high quality produce, and  then I used cucumber and carrots because I could peel them. Of course, I realized I had no salad dressing. I actually made some. It might sound a little weird, but tasted very good. I mixed some mayonnaise with some juice from a can of green olives. I then added some maple sugar, some more of the italian cheese mix, some mustard powder, and some black sesame seeds. It turned out a little liquidy (I started out with too much mayo and had to add more olive juice than I planned), but other than that it was pretty tasty! For those who care, the wine is a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Also very yummy.

Well, it has been a long week, so later I will continue to post some updates on what I've been up to. I can't believe it's only been two weeks!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Rental Car

It went like this...

Jessie decided she wanted to rent a car because she was going to drive all over the place to all sorts of festivals this weekend. United sent her an email with a Hertz discount code that would also give her frequent flyer miles. Score! She rented a Corolla, and opted for the "Never Lost GPS". This is Jessie we're talking about after all, and she needs the GPS!

Fast forward to Saturday morning where she and Ester go to the airport to pick up the car.

20 minutes of boring waiting in the line.

Yay, rental contract received. Time to head to the garage to pick up the (red) Corolla.

E: Why is the hood of the car up?
J: Maybe we're supposed to inspect it before we drive off.
Mechanic: Um, I have to jump this car. They weren't supposed to rent it out.
Us: Um.
Mech: Just go to that booth down there and ask them for another car.

We go to the booth, hoping we get another car and we get to head off to the festival soon.

Customer: Blah blah blah I'm complaining rarg (I am paraphrasing here)
Customer Service Rep: Well, the only thing comparable is the Yukon, which doesn't get as good of mileage.
Customer: Grumble grumble I'll keep the one I have bleh bye.
Us: Um... hi.... I just got assigned a car upstairs but the mechanic says he's not renting it out. (I hand her the contract)
Service Rep: Yea... I just told them not to rent that. (She is of course suffering from Saturday morning working on a holiday weekend annoyance because customers are annoying like that).
Me: I guess they're not reading the memos up stairs. (Did you get that memo?)
Ester: Well, since we can't have the Corolla... can we get something bigger? Like a Camry?
Service rep: Well, we have a Sienna minivan.
Us: Ew.
Rep: You don't need the room?
Us: Um, no, we definitely don't need the room :)
Rep: Let's see.... do you want something fun?
Us: Sure. Whatever you have.
Rep: Well... it doesn't have the GPS....
Us: Well, how fun are we talking?
Rep: Brand new Camaro.
Us: We don't need the GPS.

This meant we got the new (8k miles) cherry red Camaro for the price of the Corolla, minus the $40 the GPS would have cost. Ca-ching.

After that, we were rollin' in style to the Scottish Festival, B-More and the Ren Fest. W00t!

Lesson to all: When things unexpectedly happen, be nice to the customer service people. They may just bend/break the rules for you and you get to vroom around in a brand new car of awesomeness for the weekend just because you were flexible.

Aside from the fact that mine had a sunroof, the car looked like this:

Thursday, September 2, 2010


This is a quick, non-post to say that I have been busy uploading photos to Picasa to be viewable on the web. I've only been including a couple photos on my blog, so if you want more, read the rest of this post to get the links to my online photo albums!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More Touristy Stuff in DC!

So, I have had a few friends visit me in the last couple weeks, so I have been able to do even more  touristy type things! It´s quite funny how things work out some times...

My friend Mollie, who I´ve known since we were locker partners freshman year of High School, is studying in Baltimor and spent the day with me. We went to the National Zoo, then toured around the National Portrait Gallery, Woodley Park and Chinatown.

Here is an adorable little (ok, not so little) panda having his breakfast at the zoo. We saw lots of animals, including some lions that acted just like large house cats taking naps! I was super glad it was slightly overcast that day, which made walking around a little more bearable. At the Portrait Gallery, there was a temporary exhibit made entirely of Norman Rockwell pieces. It was really interesting to see prints that had appeared in the newspaper contrasted with later paintings of the same scene. We should have spent less time viewing some guy´s aluminum foil 14 year in his basement masterpiece, because we didn´t get to see all of the Rockwell exhibit before the gallery closed for the evening. Still, it was all quite interesting.

This past weekend, Katiuska and Noel came to visit me, which was a surprise and a real treat! Because of all the goings on in DC  this past weekend, they were unable to get a hotel for Friday through Sunday nights. Luckily, I have been ordering all sorts of sheets, pillows, towels and the like, so I had plenty of things to furnish them with when they stayed in my apartment instead!

They visited most things downtown while I was in Spanish class, but we were also able to go drive by the monuments at night for a change of view. On the weekend, we walked all around Georgetown and Old Alexandria. The boat tour from Alexandria to Georgetown was very refreshing because the breeze provided us with some lovely relief and rest while we floated by DC landmarks.

Since I will be leaving the beginning of October, I'm glad I have been taking advantage of staying here in DC longer. The only Smithsonian I have yet to go to is the Air and Space Museum. I might just go on a Wednesday afternoon in the next couple weeks in an attempt to avoid massive amounts of people. We shall see....

Until next time, I will continue to study away. I even created a blog so that I can keep up with my daily Spanish writing: Jessie's Daily Spanish Musings . Take a look if you have time, and want to read some Spanish!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

In D.C. for a little longer...

Hello all! So, my departure date has been pushed back to October 6. In the meantime, I will be taking Spanish language classes in Virginia. Classes are going well so far, and I can really see the progress when I am in classes every day.

To pass the time, I am going to more D.C. landmarks. Today, I walked down to Ray's Hell Burgers, right down Wilson Boulevard from where I live. It's an awesome place (even President Obama eats there), and I can totally see why! I went pretty much as soon as it opened so I didn't have to stand in line. They've got a map with pins showing the different places customers have been from. The burgers were *awesome* as well. I got the "soul" burger with sauteed onions and mushrooms, bacon, swiss cheese, and it was probably the best burger I've ever eaten. Also, if anyone wants to go there, it's cash only, totally worth the wait if you have to, and be sure to go on a pretty empty stomach because the burgers are huge.

I brought along my camera and did the incredibly silly tourist thing of taking photos of the food. But, look at the picture. Was it worth it? Oh yea!

Despite the fame, the place hasn't suffered from the increase in customers and demand. The burger patties were freshly made and cooked to perfection (mine was a perfect medium). So, if anyone gets a chance to walk around in Arlington (it's right in the middle between Rosslyn and Courthouse metro stations), I highly recommend it. Yum!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Adventures in Cooking

I've spent the last month living by myself, but it's a pretty temporary situation and given my training schedule, I haven't been home much to cook anyways. However, since I will be moving over seas and totally responsible for all my own food (eek), I figured it was time to start practicing. Although I have had some cooking successes, I have also had a lot of failures (ie, burning things, leaving out half the ingredients, etc). Well, today was full of successes, and I even have photographic evidence!

Firstly, it's Saturday, and weekends basically call for brunches. Here is my gorgeous omelet (onions, pepper jack cheese, parsley, tabasco), cinnamon toast and fruit.

Next up, was me cooking something from a recipe. I have never had this dish before, but apparently, it is very popular in Peru, which is why I chose it. I am really excited to see what the dish tastes like when I get there, but I think my attempt went quite well. Here is a basic run down:

Lomo soltado is a common dish, and I took several recipes and adapted them based on what ingredients I had available. It's basically a mix of beef (I marinated it with vinegar, soy sauce and garlic beforehand), tomatoes, orange bell peppers, red jalapeno peppers, a little more soy sauce, and some cayenne pepper. There are freshly made french fries on the side (I seasoned  them with some salt and cayenne) and rice.

I used two sautee pans, one pot for the rice and four cutting boards, but this dish turned out really well. In fact, I invited some friends to try it, and they liked it. Yay! Cooking experiment number 1: Success.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Peruvian Independence Day

Happy 189th Independence Day Peru!

Today I had the unique opportunity to attend a reception in honor of this holiday, and it just got me more excited about my living in Lima starting this August! I of course had the chance to drink a pisco sour, which was a very welcome respite to this awful weather in D.C. I didn't make it to the food at the buffet table because I was too busy chatting, but it looked very yummy from afar! I am very much looking forward to sampling all the lovely food Peru has to offer.

There was also some live entertainment with a choir and dancers. Although I couldn't hear the singing very well over the noise of conversation, I did like the costumes. Maybe when I get there I will  track down some dance classes. :)

This reception also provided a nice break from training. Although I have been learning a lot of new things over the past few weeks, it is really nice to just get out and do something outside of the classroom. I got some hands on experience with chatting in Spanish and going through the receiving line, etc at parties, which is something I will definitely have to get used to once I'm abroad.

As far as training goes, my formal class ends this week, and after that I have some other courses (some in class, many online) to complete, and also more time for errands. Tomorrow we are giving presentations on our countries of assignment. Although I created a PowerPoint presentation to go along with mine, I will be very careful to stick within the 10 minute time limit, and for those of me who know my hate for all things powerpoint slide mental torture, be comforted by the fact that it's mostly just pictures. I have a very good presentation worked out completely independently of the slides. I am however, excited to use the Smart Board. :P

Well, until you hear from me again, I will continue buying things I will need over seas (like, an entire household minus the furniture) and finishing up my immunizations!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

For all U.S. citizens who travel abroad

Please visit International Travel Alerts (part of Department of State Consular Affairs) before your next trip! In my orientation course today, this is one thing we talked about. If you are traveling out of the country anywhere, this will give you specific information you need to know about traveling in whatever country, and any special issues you need to know about (ie, hurricane season, common security concerns, etc). Also, you never know when something bad will happen, so you can also look up how to register at the U.S. embassy in a foreign country so that, if needed, they can get in contact with you and get you safe. I know this isn't something we all want to think about, but I'd rather have everything in place (such as emergency contact info) beforehand.

Anyways, that's my little advice token for the day. I hope all my friends who are going to travel internationally any time soon (or you are abroad right now) take a look at the site and register yourself at your local embassy asap. :)

In other news, we get our assignments next Tuesday, where we will be given a flag of the country we will be posted at. Also, we will be officially swearing in to the service on Friday the 9th, and my family is flying out to see me! So basically, I am really excited next week and can't wait to find out where I will be going!

Saturday, June 5, 2010


So, there hasn't been an update on here for awhile, and that's because I haven't been traveling. I've been staying put and enjoying life here in beautiful Colorado. I went downhill skiing for the first time ever this winter, and managed pretty well after a couple lessons! I also went hiking a couple weeks ago, and will be heading to the Colorado Renaissance Festival next weekend. Maybe I can squeeze a day in of white water rafting up the Poudre River too. In the last few weeks I also started dancing again, and was part of the entertainment for the Bolder Boulder. I will also be gypsy dancing at the Boulder International Festival next weekend. So- why am I trying to fit all of this stuff in right at the beginning of summer?Well....

That Foreign Service job I applied to last year (16 months ago) panned out! I have orientation starting on June 21. It's coming up fast and I can't believe it. I am super excited, but also sad to leave my job here. I've really enjoyed my new job since February. Well, this just comes to show you can never plan too much, because life might throw you a curve ball!

I am flying out to D.C. right after (literally) my friend Carrie's wedding. I have three weeks of orientation, at the end of which I will be given my assignment. After that I will have one more month of training, which could be more depending on where I am sent. After that, I will most likely start a two year assignment over seas.

Thanks to everyone who has made my life here in Colorado so far such a blast, and I will miss you all. Of course, I will be updating this blog as much as I can (depending on what my internet connection is like where I'm stationed) to keep in touch with everyone.

Jessie- reporting for duty!