Quiche anyone?

I forgot how therapeutic the simple act of chopping up some onions and peppers can be. The smell of oil and garlic and butter all steaming together into one heavenly mix; the kitchen windows fogging up with the warmth of the stove/oven; the music turned up a little too loud… it always puts a smile on my face. I would have opened the bottle of Chianti Classico from Casa Emma that a friend got me, to truly round out the evening, but I didn’t have the heart—I promised I would drink it with him when he came to visit me in New York. The only thing my night-in was missing was someone to share it with.

I contemplated posting an ad in the personals section of Craigslist: “one short Italian girl in need of dinner companion—looking for someone to cook for while we share a bottle of wine and good conversation.” I figured, though, that I might be sending the wrong signal. Hell, I thought, maybe I’ll throw in “who loves to give/receive oral” just to see what kind of responses I get.

So there I was, alone, in a new city. With no one to cook for. But I didn’t let that stop me; otherwise, I’ll end up getting takeout every night and sitting in front of the TV. (I’ve already forced myself to eat at our pseudo-kitchen table for every meal so I don’t fall into that rut.) I decided to sauté a big batch of peppers, onions, and mushrooms to use for two different meals (take that, Suze Orman!). The first was simply tacos with 97% fat free turkey—yet another foray into “how to make low-fat ground meat taste good.” (It’s not easy.) I’ve been acclimating to the neighborhood by eating an almost-entirely-Latino diet as of late, partly because it’s cheap and easy, and partly because the “Food Dynasty” seems to carry little besides Goya products. I think I’ve had some form of rice and beans for the last three days straight.

The other meal is what I was really excited about: quiche. My mom made an awesome broccoli cheddar quiche last weekend using Julia Child’s recipe, and since my roommate and I eat eggs practically every day for breakfast it seemed like a perfect idea: make a yummy quiche, and simply heat up a piece every morning. Julia’s ratio of egg to cream is as follows:

3 eggs to 1 ½-2 cups of half & half or heavy cream

It seems like too much cream, but it’s perfect. Just add a tsp. of pepper and nutmeg (the secret ingredient) and any other ingredients you like. Pour into a pie crust and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes (mine took longer, but it was in a deep dish ceramic pie plate, not glass) until the egg mixture is set and “puffed” and “golden brown.” Of course, there are many variations, but this is the basic recipe for a quiche. Julia has instructions for how to make the crust, too, but, hey, it’s pie season…no reason to make a shell if you don’t have to! She suggests serving it with a fresh loaf of French bread or a salad, for lunch.

[Interesting side note: when I bought the Pillsbury pie crust, the cashier had no idea what it was—she asked me a bunch of questions (Is it ready? Does it come with the stuff inside?) and even asked the cashier next to her to come over and have a look. I think I need to start a column: “You know you don’t live in the suburbs, when…”]

It looks delicious, aside from the fact that the edge is about an inch higher than the eggs…I thought it would rise! And, I might have forgotten to crimp the edges…I’m a disaster.

 

Mmm...eggs and pastry. What's not to like?

 

Two other interesting cooking tips I learned this week (that’s going to be my second column: “Things my mom taught me”): tarragon is delicious in eggs of any style (it’s true—I’ve been using it all week), and never add salt to a recipe that already has butter and/or cream—it’s already salty enough. Oh, and another of Julia’s tips: don’t crowd the mushrooms! If you cook them in a separate pan, with lots of space, they turn out golden brown and delicious every time.

Anyone got any other tips/recipes for quiche you’d like to share? Or another way to serve rice and beans?

I’ll let you know how it tastes in the morning…

And if you need another reason to Get Happy, here’s Barbara Streisand and Judy Garland doing the original, which was covered on Glee this week (hopefully it doesn’t get taken down, like the last one):

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Change of title/theme

In case you haven’t noticed, I finally gave my blog a real title, and I’m playing around with the layout. It still has a long way to go, but I’d love to hear your feedback! Do you like it?

(The URL won’t change–Wordpress allows you to change the title without changing the URL. So you can still find me under adriennelynn.wordpress.com/)

Just to make this post more interesting, here’s Rachel and Sunshine singing the first minute of Beyonce/Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” on Glee. Enjoy!

Breaking down the walls

Lately, I’ve been touched by the number of people who have opened up to me and told me how they’re really doing. Not in an adolescent I’m-going-to-bitch-to-you-for-an-hour-about-how-awful-my-life-is kind of way. Just in an honest well-since-you-asked-things-aren’t actually-perfect sort of way. I think it’s a sign of growing up, and I like it.

Looking back on middle school and early high school I’m struck by the shallowness of it. Everyone was so painfully self-conscious that we combatted it by over-complimenting each other. I felt forced to compliment at least ten people a day on their clothes, their hair, their bag, their make-up…and god forbid I didn’t get ten compliments back (I must have looked horrible and probably no one really liked me). It’s some kind of strange, unwritten suburban girl rule of conduct: thou must compliment each other upon every meeting–and if there’s nothing to say, make it up. Playing the “let’s see who can be the cutest today” game gets old after awhile, though. And all that fake, forced smiling is probably the reason I have progressed crow’s feet in my mid-twenties.

(That’s not to say that all the compliments were insincere, of course. But it was forced in the sense that most of the compliments came out of feelings of jealousy or competition–and that auomatically makes for an uncomfortable interaction.)

I’m actually a little bit in awe of these people who open up, because it’s something I have trouble with myself. I feel like I’ve been putting on an everything’s fine front since I was about twelve, and it’s hard to start tearing down that wall now. But it’s so much healthier to be able to confide in the people we care about. It humanizes them, and it humanizes us. And, little by little, maybe we’ll all start realizing that we don’t have to be perfect.

I feel like every time someone lets me in, it in turn helps my own wall break down. And every time I confide in someone else, another brick crumbles. It’s funny, because I don’t know what’s on the other side, but I keep visualizing rays of golden sunbeams bursting through the chinks, and I think there are tall trees with wide branches and green, green grass. And every time I feel those sunbeams I feel a little lighter and a little warmer.

So I’m genuinely grateful of having people in my life who trust me enough to confide in me. And who, conversely, also want to share with me when they’re on top of the world. Being there for the lows makes watching them at the top that much more rewarding. Because they will get back on top.

That I’m sure of.

Welcome to New York: Watch the Gap

I moved to Woodside, New York, (i.e. Queens) twenty-five days ago. Of those twenty-five days, eight (plus a few nights and traveling) were spent in New Jersey, four were in Massachusetts, one was at Six Flags, and for three of them I had guests. That leaves about seven days in total of time at my new apartment, with no more than two or three consecutive nights at a time.

So I guess you could say I’m still settling in.

I haven’t stopped moving in about two months. And in some ways, my mind hasn’t caught up to my body. I’m beginning to think that I left it somewhere in the alleyways of Prague or in one of the seemingly hundreds of planes, trains, cars, buses, and taxis I’ve taken in that time. One would think that I would be looking forward to rest, and silence, and routine. But I’m becoming afraid of what’s going to happen when the lights stop blurring and the floor stops spinning and everything around me is still. (Ah, reality. It’s like a harsh slap of sunshine the morning after a one-night stand: unexpected and unwelcome.)

In some ways I still feel like I’m living in a foreign country. My neighborhood in Queens is primarily Hispanic and Asian—I don’t think I’ve bumped into a single other non-Hispanic white twenty-something in all the time I’ve been here (which, as I just recounted, is not that much time I guess). I’m starting to think I should dig out my old Spanish textbooks just so I can order takeout without repeating myself a dozen times. I hear Spanish music at all hours of the night; I don’t recognize half the brands at the grocery/convenience stores; there are shops under the expressway on Roosevelt Ave that make me feel like I’m back in Beijing—they sell nothing but cheap goods like Hello Kitty backpacks and knock-off Nikes, which they wrap in paper-thin, dusty black plastic bags.

Conversely, I haven’t seen a Starbucks in days. Or a CVS. Or an Au Bon Pain. Or any chain that you could name, for that matter. And that is unbelievably refreshing.

New York exudes excitement. You can feel it every time you walk out the door. The noise, the lights, the traffic, the people…it’s trite but true. And it’s beginning to hit me that I’m really here and a part of it now. On 9/11 I was returning from Six Flags with a few friends, and as we crossed the bridge from New Jersey to the city we had an unbelievable view of the twin blue lights shooting up from Ground Zero into the darkness of a clear, low-cloud night. As we got closer you could see just how strong those beams were—I’ve never seen anything like it. It was so eerie. When I got home I ran in to tell Helen, and we went up to our roof deck so she could see it. Standing there, looking out at the lights over Queens towards the Manhattan skyline, I thought to myself: “this is my home now.”

Yesterday I walked from the R to my apartment without even noticing—I just looked up and I was there. And on the phone today to Chase Bank, where I now have an account, I rattled off my address without having to mentally flip through two or three before remembering the right one. So I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on myself that there are still pictures to hang and dishes to sort and the only things in my fridge right now besides condiments are garlic, onions, pineapple chunks, week-old spaghetti sauce, and a solo Amstel Light that’s not even mine.

A house doesn’t become a home overnight. And a city isn’t yours until you’ve thrown up on the subway at least once.

p.s. If this video doesn’t get you excited about New York, I don’t know what will.

Arrivederci…

Today I learned of a death in the family. It seems somewhat selfish and/or childish of me to even be writing about it, but it’s shaken me up more than I expected and I just need to think for a little bit.

She was old, but not unhealthy. She died suddenly, but not of a heart attack or anything one might expect–she was in a car accident, and because of police negligence (or so we think, at this early stage) her family didn’t even find out that she was in the hospital for twenty-two hours.

She has two older sisters, both of whom are alive, and that breaks my heart. One of them is my Nana, who is currenly alone and disoriented in her assisted living quarters, which also breaks my heart.

This was a woman who has spent the last few decades of her life volunteering at church, helping to take care of her grandchildren (three of whom are boy triplets), and generally spreading good will to everyone around her.

She had a triple wedding in Cambridge with her two sisters and their young husbands. I wish I had that faded black and white picture now. All three of them with their long trains and veils, petite Italian women with thick eyebrows and wavy dark hair. Their husbands looked young and jovial–they didn’t know what they were getting into. To everyone’s great sorrow, her beloved husband passed away when he was very young, and she’s spent the majority of her life alone. But there wasn’t an ounce of bitterness or resentment in her blood.

I’m going to boil a cup of hot water to help me swallow my grief, and then  I’m going to make a sauce that I’ll be able to feed myself and my friends with. And maybe even send them home with more.

Because that’s what Auntie Lillian would have done.

Follow every rainbow…

Sun! Sun! Thank you, Maria, for answering my prayers! I knew you wouldn’t let me down.

The Panorama van putters up the driveway ten minutes early. Thankfully, I’m already there; I was afraid that something like this would happen. It takes us to where the big red bus is parked, already full of tourists. It leaves fifteen minutes earlier than advertised. I guess I’m farther from Italy than I thought.

I peer around the crowded bus. Do these people love The Sound of Music  as much as I do? Will they sing with me?

They better.

Our tour guide is a tall, well dressed Austrian man with salt-and-pepper hair and a hearty laugh. He’s perfect.

The tour takes four hours and covers a fair amount of terrain, so it’s actually a nice way to see some of the countryside and the city. He starts by pointing out some city landmarks, cracking a few corny jokes along the way. It’s impossible not to laugh. I’m surprised to learn that Salzburg is known as “the Rome of the North” and is still over 90% Roman Catholic today. Some of the grander buildings in Salzburg were built by cardinals back-in-the-day as houses for their mistresses or (multiple) wives. He makes a few jokes poking fun at Catholics, and a Southern woman I hadn’t noticed before, with big bouffant hair and an outift worthy of a Ya-Ya, says loudly, “Excuse me. Excuse me. That’s enough.” When we unload at our first stop, the Hellbrunn Palace (which is now owned by Harvard–how unfair!), she’s unleashing her tirade on her exhausted husband, who is following a few steps behind her, carrying her bag: “I will say something. I don’t care. It’s uncessesary, that’s what it is. And I won’t stand for it.” Someone needs to get her a mint julep to shut her up.

No one is allowed in the gazebo these days, since a woman fell and broke her leg a few years ago jumping from bench to bench pretending she was Liesel . Oh well. It’s thrilling enough to be outside its glass doors. The lake is where they filmed the scene with the children falling into the water. When they first filmed it no one knew that Greta couldn’t swim–she sank to the bottom like a rock.

There are three Australian girls on the tour who have been planning on making a Sound of Music music video to Do-Re-Mi. They’ve been telling this to people all over Europe, so the pressure’s on. I help them shoot some video and they take pictures of me. It’s a fair trade. Two of them are sisters, Jane and Jeannie, and Charlene is their friend. I like them right away–they’ve even brought costume changes! Anyone who likes Sound of Music as much as I do is  A-OK in my book!

We finally get to listen to some of the soundtrack as we drive up and up, over  hillsides so green they can’t be real. My chest swells as the opening notes of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s overture begins. The mountains in the distance are snow-capped and breathtaking, each little chateau/ b&b more charming than the next. I think my heart might burst with happiness.

We travel from sight to sight–the Leopoldskron Palace, the Nonnberg Abbey–snapping photos and basking in the sun. In between, we get to listen to the music. The Aussie girls and I sing quietly in our separate rows. No one else is really singing besides a German woman directly in front of me, who turns to us and pretends to orchestrate, goading us to sing louder. We do. Jane is sitting behind me, and she has a beautiful voice; she used to act in musicals and sing in a chorus, I believe. I’m embarrassed of my voice, which is so out of use these days that I can barely control it. I remember when my cousin Michael used to make me belt “the hills are alive” on command, purely to entertain his friends. I couldn’t do that now if I tried.

The first few lines of my “confidence” song come on, and it’s been so long that I’ve actually listened to the soundtrack or seen the movie that I completely forgot the beginning. I always sing the end of the song, when she’s convincing herself that she’s going to impress them. Somehow I forgot that it starts with her being nervous and afraid:

What will this day be like? I wonder…

What will my future be? I wonder…

I have always longed for adventure,

To do the things I never dared,

And here I’m facing adventure–

So why am I so scared?

We stop for lunch in the adorable town of Mondsee, after passing through Fuschl, a lakside resort town with some of the most expensive hotels in the world. I can see why. The sunlight glitters off the lake, which is nestled in a valley of brilliant blues and greens. No motorboats are allowed, and the waters are still except for the sailboats skimming along its surface. I wish I could get off the bus and stay here all day. Mondsee Church is where the wedding scene was filmed, although in reality they were married at Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria really lived before going to work for the Captain. (Ah, Christopher Plummer, how I love thee.) I eat lunch with the Aussie girls–a ham and cheese sandwich and apple strudel with “vanilla sauce”–then wander around the shops.

Back on the bus, everyone seems a bit livelier now that their bellies are full and it’s afternoon. The German woman turns to me and asks: “Did you have a good sing?” As if she were asking me how my meal was. We listen to the soundtrack as we continue through the picturesque landscape. Mother Superior’s voice comes over the sound system. Oh, no. I’m gonna lose it.

Climb every mountain,

Ford every stream,

Follow every rainbow,

‘Til you find your dream,

A dream that will need,

All the love you can give,

Every day of your life,

For as long as you live…

I wish my sisters were here, singing with me. I can hear Cheryl to my left, singing the loudest. Meredith and Lillian use fake-operatic voices behind me, stopping to lean forward and giggle intermittenly, embarrassed but having fun. I choke up as I sing along to the verses, remembering the lyrics

16 going on 17, or 26 going on 27...?

and suddenly feeling very connected to the song in this moment. Maria found her dream in taking care of seven children who needed a mother. What’s my dream? I guess that’s partly why I’m here, halfway across the world, trying to figure things out. By the second reprise I am seriously crying–I can’t even sing along. But I don’t know if it’s because I’m sad and lost or so happy to be here on this beautiful day with this bus full of people singing The Sound of Music as we drive through the alps. Maybe a little bit of both? If Jen had come with me, she would be crying, too. Then I wouldn’t feel like such a dork. I’m glad there’s nobody sitting next to me.

We end the tour at the Mirabell Gardens, where Do-Re-Mi was filmed. The stairs aren’t nearly as large as they seemed in the movie. That’s Hollywood, I suppose. I wander around with the Aussie girls, dragging my backpack along since I’m headed to the train station shortly. They invite me to go with them to a beer hall the tour guide told us about, but when we get to the train station all the lockers are full. I can already feel a bad bruise developing on my shin from where my laptop bag is hitting it, so I decide to just wait the hour to the next train. When we exchange names and emails they ask me where I’m staying in Vienna, and it turns out it’s the same hostel they booked. Somehow, at this point, I’m not surprised.

When the Lord closes a door…somewhere, somewhere he opens a window.

(Ok, maybe I shoould stop living my life as if it were a musical…but where’s the excitement in that?)

*For all of you not on Facebook, you can view my photos from Salzburg and the SOM tour here.

Day two in Austria

My second full day in Salzburg I wake to the sound of pouring rain hitting the half-open dorm room window. I shower and tip-toe my way around as I get ready, but my head feels heavy with sleep still and my eyes are so red and dry that I can barely get my contacts in. The combination of only a few hours of sleep a night and extensive travelling is starting to catch up with me.

I make my way to the cafeteria, where the hostel serves a complimentary buffet breakfast every morning. I help myself to sliced ham and cheese, yogurt, toast with thick blackberry jam, and a steaming cup of kaffe. (Yesterday I made the mistake of coming down in the last half hour of breakfast service, and the pickings were slim. I’m not about to let that happen again.)

I sit across from a Spanish man with a curly head of hair tied back into a ponytail and a thick black beard. He looks even more exhausted than I feel. He is very friendly, though, and we chat as we make it through a second cup of coffee each. It turns out that he is a Spanish high school teacher who also taught at Wheaton College for awhile, so he has been to Boston before–and everywhere else, it seems. He spends every summer travelling extensively, and he was happy to hear that I was out travelling about on my own. He waves and calls “Ciao, Adrianna!” from across the room when he leaves.

It occurrs to me that I might be able to change my reservation for my Sound of Music tour, so I ask the receptionist to call Panorama Tours for me.

“You’re all set,” she tells me after a few quick sentences exchanged in German, “they will pick you up here tomorrow instead, at nine.”

Danke! Danke!

I decide to tackle the HohenSalzburg Fortress instead, even in the rain, as now the S.O.M. tour will take up my whole day tomorrow before leaving for Vienna. I walk through Mozartplatz to the “funicular railroad,” a tram that goes up the side of the moutain to the fortress. Once on the grounds, I follow the crowds, sloshing through the mud and gravel in a gradual incline. Normally, there would be vendors and performers crowding the pathways. Not today, though. I pay for my entrance fee and an audio guide tour that takes me through the galleries on the way to the observatory tower, which is supposed to have the best views of Salzburg. Two minutes in, though, I’m already bored by the audio, which is slow and dreary, and you can’t fast forward. So I ditch it. The view from the top is impressive if cloudy, since it’s still drizzling.

I spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around downtown Salzburg again, stopping in at the Dom to light a candle and later staring up at the Glockenspiel, which plays tunes by Mozart three times a day. I have to take another turn down the Getreidegasse to window shop, of course. I resist the urge to go into the “Christmas in Salzburg” store again–it’s just too tempting.  I spend a few minutes people-watching at the Festspielhaus, the complex of three major concert halls at the base of the Monchsberg below the fortress. There must be a matinee starting soon, because I watch car after car stop in front of the hall and unload men and women dressed in expensive suits and gowns, even mink coats since it is so cold and dreary today. Those not in cars walk briskly in their black pumps under large umbrellas, trying to shield their up-do’s from the rain. When they reach the safety of the concert hall awning and meet their friends they stop to kiss both cheeks, close their over-sized umbrellas, and shake away the raindrops. They are truly elegant.

I cross the Salzach again and walk by the Victorian mansions that line the river on Giselakai. They used to be owned by some of the wealthiest families in the city; now they are mostly owned by banks and businesses, as all things are. By now, the drizzle has turned to genuine rain, and my jeans are soaked through to my skin and my teeth are chattering. I set out to find some place warm to have lunch and dry off (funny–a few short days ago I was passing by restaurants advertising that their AC is on, and now I’m looking for places with heat). I choose a cozy beer house, the Gablerbrau, on Linzergasse, and order coffee and sausages with fries, which are really more like hot dogs. My legs stick to the high booth and begin to feel itchy. I can tell my toes will be pruned when I take off my socks later.

I opt for a quiet evening at the hostel, where I can change into dry clothes and plan the next leg of my trip. I know my body well enough to know that if I don’t take it easy tonight these sniffles will turn into a genuine cold. Plus, I have to wake up early to check out and be at the front gate by nine for my tour. I say a special prayer to Julie Andrews, asking her for sun so I can wear my green and white dress I dragged from the States solely for this purpose. As I fall asleep I imagine that I’m nestled in her thick, silky duvet from the movie.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad…