Travel Tips 2019

I love to travel. Whether it is for vacation or for work, the thrill of visiting a place I don’t call home excites me every single time. It is particularly energizing if I am visiting a new place, because I truly love exploring the unfamiliar. 

As I travel more and more, I increasingly keep an eye out for travel tips. There are a lot of tips out there. Having spent years researching and soliciting tips, and after a fair amount of personal experimentation, I wanted to share what has worked best for me when I travel.

  1. Stay hydrated during your flight. I love coffee and bourbon, but generally avoid drinking either before or during my flight. Instead, I opt for lots of water and electrolytes, and I feel noticeably better if I am thoroughly hydrated. I carry a 9 oz. Swell water bottle with me, which is the perfect size for slipping in a purse, and I often ask flight attendants to fill up my bottle during flights (some are more willing to do so than others). Related to this, don’t wear jumpsuits on planes, even if they are in fashion at this point in time.
  2. Noise cancelling headphones. Dane is particularly tech savvy, and with the amount I fly, he very kindly gifted me a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 II noise canceling headphones. And they changed my life. I never realized just how noisy a plane is until I used these on a 13.5 hour flight to Helsinki.
  3. Load up on all the entertainment. It is hard to remember this when you’re constantly on the move and have a Todoist list like no other, but I am always grateful to past Angela when she remembers to download podcasts, sync music, and get a range of books on the Kindle. I have a broad range of interests, so I have a really difficult time predicting what future, on-the-plane Angela is going to want to do. So, I download everything in advance: serious to frivolous podcasts. New music that I haven’t listened to yet and old favorites. Business and nonfiction to mythology (a standard favorite of mine) and fiction. As I regularly do this, I find that I always have content when I want it. 
  4. Pack light and avoid checking bags. If I can avoid waiting for luggage, it gets me out of the airport faster. I’m also more likely to take public transit if I am not carrying too much, which often gives me a better feel for the city I’m visiting. Dane and I went on our around the world, three week honeymoon (shout out to Kimberly for donating all those miles and to our wedding guests for funding our dream honeymoon!) without checking bags. Having done that, I feel like it would take a very special case to bother checking a bag. 
  5. Try to leave a little room in your luggage. And I say this as someone who generally isn’t interested in bringing tchotchkes, souvenirs, swag, etc. home. But when I do, having this little extra space gives me that option. I also don’t want to put as much care into packing for the return home. I don’t want to neatly fold dirty laundry, so it is going to take up more space. Prepping with a little extra space makes me feel less guilty about squishing my bag on the way home. 
  6. KonMari it. This is a recent discovery and I will never look back. Here’s a video that describes the concept, and what I particularly loved about this is that I could easily see everything I packed and it saved space. Absolutely brilliant, and I’ve taken to arranging my closet at home this way too. 
  7. Pack some staple medications. I always have Advil, NyQuil, DayQuil, Sudafed, Benadryl, and Pepto. These are broad blast pills that even if I rarely use them, when I do need them, I am thoroughly relieved that I have them. 
  8. Don’t get cheap/flimsy bottles for your liquids. Nothing is worse than a shampoo explosion, so investing in the right bottles does make a difference, and they last longer. I bought some at a Walgreens that leaked everywhere. Now I use some heavy duty ones from Sephora.
  9. Sign up for the travel programs. There are many free versions, and while they do add to your email inbox, it streamlines communication between you and the service, you often get some extra bonus items. 
  10. Keep healthy and listen to your body. I often hear statements like “I’m traveling so I can not exercise or indulge in xyz foods”. I’m not saying don’t do that, but if you travel frequently, the exception quickly becomes the rule. I want you to be healthy! Consume all the tasties in moderation, and find opportunities to squeeze in exercise. For instance, when I’m going through the airport for any flight, I walk around the terminal before my flight and take stairs instead of escalators. 

Photo credit, courtesy of https://unsplash.com unsplash-logoElement5 Digital

My latest fascination

As I delve into my photography kick, I am becoming fascinated with light. I stand awkwardly with camera in hand and observe the way light filters through one medium, or is blocked by another. Then, I scrunch my face as I hold my camera up to my eye and futz with the aperture, contemplating how a dial drastically changes what I capture.

I swear I’m fun to hang around sometimes.

In case you were wondering, that’s not a real diamond. It was a gag gift that has served more purpose than anyone anticipated.

Happy Chinese New Year 2019

Happy New Year! According to one legend, Pig overslept on the day of the Jade Emperor’s party, and thus was the twelfth and last to arrive. Perhaps that explains my brother’s proclivity for sleeping in.

On the other hand, my mom insists that since it is the year of the pig, all pigs will bring good fortune, and therefore, I should be nicer to him. Life is full of difficult decisions.

Just teasing. I love you, Ben!

Fire

i do not want to have you
to fill the empty parts of me
i want to be full on my own
i want to be so complete
i could light a whole city
and then
i want to have you
cause the two of us combined
could set it on fire

Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey

I read Milk and Honey on a flight home, and this was my favorite passage. It gave me all the feels.

(Currently) Favorite Eggplant Dish

Dear Dad,

I am truly sorry for costing you years of eggplant dishes. I could chalk it up to being young and not knowing any better, and at the time I honestly thought I didn’t like eggplant. It’s still not right, however, that every time mom served an eggplant dish, I would whine and grumble and pout and protest and throw shade on such a lovely, well, nightshade fruit. To the point where mom stopped cooking eggplant all together, even though we all know how much you like eggplant.

Once could argue that I am a bad egg(plant).

I have seen the error of my ways, and have spent the summer cooking and eating eggplant in delicious penance. When we see each other next, I owe you this meal. 

Love,
Angela

It’s a true story. I abhorred eggplant and would refuse to eat it, and I was a very willful and stubborn kid. It is not clear to me what changed (with respect to eggplant. I’m still rather willful and stubborn) or even when, all I know is that eggplants of all varieties now top my list of summer food experiences, right up there with all the tomatoes and stone fruit. 

This was my favorite recipe this summer, adapted from NYTimes Cooking: Eggplant with Lamb, Tomato and Pine Nuts. Three large eggplants worked for me, although you might need more or less, depending on how eggplant-y you want your meal, the size of your eggplants, and what you can fit in your pan.

Ingredients

3 large, firm eggplants, cut into 1/2-inch slices 
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
Garlic*
1 lb ground lamb
Optional: monukka raisins (I had monukka on hand, sultanas would also be delectable here)
1 (28 oz) can of tomato sauce
Handful of fresh tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup pine nuts, carefully toasted
Cinnamon*
Nutmeg*
Cumin*
Oregano*
Basil*
Parsley*
Olive oil*
Salt*
Optional: splash of robust red wine
1 cup thick, plain yogurt (I like Siggi’s Icelandic-style)
Feta*

*This is why I cook more than bake: I’m a firm believer in cooking to your tastes, and rarely measure! I tend to like big flavor profiles, so I inevitably add more spices than recipes typically call for. Just be careful not to overwhelm your dish and seek balance – for instance, too much cumin can easily throw a dish, but a dash is magic.

  1. Rev up your broiler, and line some baking sheets. I adore my silpat baking mats for this kind of job! 
  2. Very lightly oil your eggplant slices on all sides (careful not to use too much oil as eggplant absorbs oil better than your quality sponge) and salt and pepper both sides. Arrange slices on baking sheet, and broil in batches, flipping once halfway through, about 5-7 minutes on each side.
  3. While you are working on the eggplant, combine your tomato sauce and tomatoes in a saucepan, and set to medium heat. Add a pinch of salt, and some oregano, basil, and parsley. The goal here is to cook any tinny-ness out of your tomatoes, and to mellow any acidity. Stir frequently and let it come to a gentle boil. Turn the heat off, but cover and let it stew.
  4. If you are using raisins, nuke a cup of filtered water. Then, toss the raisins in and let them rehydrate a bit. When they look a little plumper, drain and gently squeeze out any excess moisture. 
  5. When you are finished broiling the eggplant, adjust the oven to 375 degrees with the rack positioned in the center. 
  6. In a large skillet, heat around 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, around 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ground lamb and break the meat into very small pieces. Before the lamb is completely cooked through, add salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, oregano, basil, and parsley, and, if using, a splash of red wine. Let the wine cook off, and if you are using them, toss in those raisins. Sauté until the meat is just cooked through. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
  7. Grease a 13x9x2 inch baking dish. I forgot this step, but it still came out beautifully 🙂 
  8. Layer! Spread 1/2 cup of tomato mixture on the bottom of the dish. lay 1/3 of the eggplant slices in a single layer over the sauce, covering as much surface area of the bottom of the dish as possible. Spoon half the meat evenly over eggplant. Pour 1/3 of the remaining tomato sauce evenly over meat. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the pine nuts. Layer again with eggplant, meat, tomato sauce and pine nuts. Finish with a layer of eggplant and cover with more tomato sauce, sprinkling top with pine nuts. Cover the pan with foil, and poke a few small holes in the foil so that the dish can steam.
  9. Create a little ambiance in your stove, by which I mean, a little steam. I put an oven-safe ramekin with about a cup of water in the bottom rack of my oven.
  10. Bake your eggplant creation for 1 hour, 45 minutes. 
  11. While your dish is baking, mix yogurt with crumbled feta, and perhaps add in some herbs you like. I added parsley, a drop of lemon juice, and some salt. You might even make some sort of grain to go with your eggplant. As an afterthought, I cooked a little pearl couscous, and it was an awesome pairing.
  12. Serve eggplant warm, on top of your choice of side dish, and with a bit of the yogurt/feta mixture on top. Revel in the glory that is savory summer fruit melting in your mouth.

In addition to being very comforting comfort food, one of the best things about this dish is that it reheats so well. I made this on a Sunday and happily ate it for lunch that whole work week. Happy eggplanting! 

Bonus: do you know why eggplant is called eggplant? Hint: do an image search for growing eggplants!