July 20, 2013

An ending and a beginning

Even an ending is a beginning. As I wrote in the previous blog post, I'm amazed by how little of the future we can imagine, even if we try to know as much as possible beforehand. Greg did a ton of research before we decided to move to Fort Collins. When he got the job at Poudre High School, we knew that we were finally moving back, even if all the pieces weren't perfectly put together. The pieces almost never truly align anyway.

Before we moved to Munich, we didn't fully understand what living a European lifestyle really meant. We didn't know what it would be like to be living in a country without knowing much of the language. We didn't know how open other expats and teachers would be to accepting us into their lives, or to what extent the Germans could be both reserved and enthusiastic.

Before we moved to Quito, we didn't really get what it meant to be in a developing country. We didn't realize how incredibly lucky we were to have well-paying jobs (by Ecuadorian standards) and be able to take vacations and see the country. It was a privilege that not many in that country have. We didn't understand real poverty until we went there, but we also didn't understand how people with so little can be so helpful and kind. At the same time, we didn't expect Ecuadorians to be so shy about making friends with foreigners.

Of course, it hasn't been all uncertainty. But there is a big difference between what you know ahead of time and what actually greets you upon arrival and how it fits into the grand scheme of things in a country. Moving back to the US will be easy in some ways, but very difficult in others.

I don't remember a lot of thoughts and details I had before we left for Germany, but one thought stands out vividly. It was the idea that I had that we would not truly understand what was going on around us for a long time. That thought turned out to be so true. It came out in daily frustrations and funny mistakes alike.

Even with my level of Spanish, I know now I can never truly assimilate into another culture. It takes so much more than just language, or even just having strong relationships with locals. You really cannot re-learn a whole mindset. But the good news is that any experience is always your own, even when you share it with others.

This may not be our last blog post, but it will be one of them. This blog hasn't always been easy to keep up. Many times though, we both felt so excited to share our experiences with you all. I cannot tell you what a comfort it has been to have you guys out there reading, responding, and supporting us in our journey overseas. Thank you very much!

July 17, 2013

Our New Apartment

I'm writing this from our new apartment in Fort Collins. An apartment that I did not even know about or could have imagined when we were packing our suitcases in Quito and saying goodbye to good friends there.

Here is what I can tell you: Fort Collins is green. Both in the eco-friendly sense and in the foliage sense of the word. Most of Colorado around this time of year is brown, beige, and yellow (trust me, we just saw this scene last week when we flew in). But Fort Collins feels like a little oasis. There are streams and rivers in the city. Huge trees line many city blocks. Even in our new apartment, we've got a huge green lawn that we look out over. Scoots keeps watch over the numerous dogs that frolic in the backyard.

The apartment we choose is by far the smallest place we have lived in together. It's a one bedroom on the ground floor with a patio that lets us walk out on to the lawn. It is cozy and peaceful. I'm unashamed of my love for the dishwasher after two years of hand washing dishes almost every single day. We are right next to an organic grocery store with reasonable prices, a vet, a pet food store, and a little neighborhood coffee shop.

This apartment will be our transition place to a house as we get to know Fort Collins and potential neighborhoods we'd want to live in. We already have bikes and Greg is going to build a bike trailer that we can take to run errands and more. We still hope to live without a car, although we are seriously considering an ELF. So many people bike here! There are nice wide side streets and bike lanes as well as beautiful trails along rivers.

I hope you all will hear more about our new location, but maybe this time in person rather than through the blog!

June 27, 2013

What Living Abroad Has Taught Me (Ayelet's Perspective)

As you all know, we've lived abroad for four years now. We've each learned our own lessons about living in new places. Greg will write his own perspective later, but for now, here's what I've learned in our last four years.

Talking to Strangers
Asking questions of people you don't know is not something I generally had to do a whole lot of in the US. What I've learned is that people love getting asked for directions, recommendations, etc. You just need to meet them halfway there - know the actual name of the place you're trying to get to or give them something to go on if you're asking for a recommendation (e.g., don't just ask for a restaurant for example - ask for a vegetarian-friendly restaurant). The more sheepish or helpless you can look, the better!

The ones who don't like your questions aren't worth talking to anyway. 

Being Resourcefulness
One area where I have had to be incredibly resourceful is the food department. We can't find all the ingredients of dishes and desserts I've wanted to make here. I'm always on the lookout for recipes I can make or that I can find simple substitutes for. This type of resourcefulness extends to making things that I could buy, but don't want to get rid of when we leave. 

For example, instead of buying a bunch of frames or bulletin board to put photos up in my studio, I created a makeshift picture holder with wire hangers and clothes pins, and I figured out a way to put it upwithout having to drill into the concrete wall either. It's awesome and I love to look up from my designs to see my family, friends, and inspiring pictures looking down on me.

Living Simply
Like I mentioned in a previous blog post, we are going to come back with three suitcases, two carry-ons, a backpack, and a cat pack. That's not a lot of space, which is good in a way. It means that anytime I think about buying something, I think to myself "Will this be one of the few things that makes it back with us?" If I know it won't, I don't buy it.

That means that what I do buy here are things that I truly love and want to have in a future home. I hope I can extend this mindset when we have a home to settle into.

Doing Without a Car
If you told me five years ago that we would go this long without a car, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Europe was extremely easy to get around without a car and in Quito, it's easier to travel around without a car than with one. It would be nice to have a car here for weekend trips, but we've found car rental services for those rare getaways. 

It may be harder to get groceries to our home and sometimes that means the trip will take longer. But benefits to my health has been huge. Before I left the US, my doc told me that I had high triglyceride levels (aka bad cholesterol; it runs in the family). But since we've been without a car, it hasn't been a problem. I also feel stronger, more able to stand for long periods of time, and more willing to be active in other ways because we don't have a car to rely on. I feel more connected to my community and the neighborhood we live in because of it, too. 

We hope to go without a car in the US so we're not tempted to rely on it - Fort Collins looks like a great place to bike and use mass transit. 

Learning the Language
I can't even begin to express exactly how much easier and better the overseas experience is when you know the language. I hear a lot of frustrations and bitterness among the teachers and other friends here who don't know Spanish. And I'm so thankful that my Spanish is good enough that I understand what people are saying. I still have grips about things that relate more to society, but that also has been a great experience.

It's easy to think that things could be better if only they did it like they do in the US or if only they did this instead of that. But another country isn't the US and never will be. And that's the whole reason why we came overseas - to see a different culture and try our darnedest to understand why things are the way they are here. It would take years to really, truly understand the culture and society.

I'm sure there is much, much more that living abroad has taught me - it may only come out when we return to the US in a week and a half. Stay tuned!

June 11, 2013

Quinoa Burgers

Once upon a time, we attempted to make bean burgers. Those sloppy-joe-like patties were not making the cut. Then we evolved to mushroom burgers. These were great, but did not offer the variety we sought. Finally, we have settled on the quinoa burger. This tasty item is the perfect blend of for any diet. They are easy to make. Best of all, they freeze better than most foods and are reheated to perfection in less than a minute.

So, without delay, I give you the quinoa burger...or at least the steps for you to make them.

Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes (unless you use more pans)
Makes 24 burgers

1 Pound Quinoa
2 Cups Water
1 Onion
5 Cloves of Garlic
1 Carrot Shredded
1 Zucchini Shredded
1/2 Pound of Mushrooms
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Cumin
1 Tbsp Paprika
2 Eggs
1 to 2 Cups Bread Crumbs
Veggie Oil for Frying

Note that all items should be diced into very small cubes for easier burger shaping. You can also substitute other veggies as long as they do not get too wet while cooking.

Step 1:
Start boiling the quinoa in the water.
Fry the onion until brown.
Add the garlic.
 Step 2:
Add shredded carrot and cook for a few minutes.
Then add shredded zucchini.
These items help to bind the burgers.
Step 3:
Finely dice your mushrooms.

 Step 4:
Check that your quinoa is cooked and has very little liquid (about 20 minutes).
Then transfer your cooked veggies from the frying pan to quinoa.
Fry your mushrooms. Drain excess liquid if needed.
Step 5:
Add the mushrooms, eggs, salt, and spices to the mix. Stir this together.

Slowly add the bread crumbs until the mixture is dry enough to handle but still holds together. When making burgers, you hands will get some of the mixture on, but it should not be too sticky.
Step 6:
Patty up the burgers (to the size of your anticipated buns) and fry in oil on medium heat. Fry each side for 3-5 minutes.

Step 7:
Flip your burgers.
Step 8:
Cook both sides until they are dark brown.
Step 9:
Stack up burgers on a plate to cool.
We like to top our burgers with tomato, rucola, cheese, ketchup, and mustard. I usually consider this one of my traditional American meals.

If you are feeling like making this an all home cooked meal, then I suggest making a focaccia while you cook. You can use the dough from my next post, stove top pizza, for the focaccia.

Remember to freeze all of those extras for quick lunches. Enjoy!

June 8, 2013

On the Subject of Food

The moment you leave your neighborhood, food can start to look, taste, and smell a bit different. Four years ago, Ayelet and I jumped an entire ocean that forced us to rethink our 3 daily meals.

Over those four years, we have broadened our palettes with new flavors, meals, fruits, and vegetables. Many of our favorite new foods were cheeses or desserts. But one thing we quickly realized was that being vegetarian in a foreign country and with a foreign language can be tricky, especially right when we arrived in a new place.

Ironically, we assumed so much about food before our moves to Germany and then Ecuador. And the great part was that we got everything WRONG! Germany, we assumed was meat-centric and that we would be stricken to a pretty poor selection of veg. We were pleasantly surprised in the first days of going out. Every beer garden always had those huge pretzels we loved and the local restaurants served my favorite kasespatzle.

Then, we moved to Ecuador. We figured that as a developing country, with farming produce as a main industry, going out for food as vegetarians would be even easier. We were going to get the freshest ingredients in the world at every restaurant. It did not take us long to figure out that going out to eat was a luxury here for the average person, and that most of the Ecuadorians are not vegetarians. However, we still had personal access to all of that fresh produce so our own kitchen became our cooking school.

I think these types of situations are what we have cherished most about living abroad. We have had to be open to breaking our assumptions completely. Our lives were pretty routine 4 years ago (and still are in many ways), but we have been challenged in the most basic daily needs: food.

So, with that in mind, I would like to share two of my recipes we have really enjoyed over the past two years. I sometimes wonder if we had stayed in the U.S. if we ever would have tried so many new things. In my next two posts, I am going to branch away from pure travel and show a few of our home-cooked favorites. ¡Buen provecho!

June 5, 2013

Llamas Yamas!

I'm not even going to write that much in this post. I just wanted to show you all the amazing llamas we were surrounded with when we were at the Black Sheep Inn. They acted as the inn's natural lawn-mowers.

Beautiful creatures and these were actually friendly! Greg got a lick on the hand from one of them. Another one was chilling outside our cabin on Saturday morning. Enjoy!

"Good morning" says the baby llama

June 2, 2013

Check out This Big Ol' Hole

The view from our cabin
Last weekend we road tripped to Chugchilan and the Quilotoa crater with two friends for the long weekend. Ecuador celebrated an important independence battle on May 24th, so we took advantage and checked off one more trip on our bucket list. This will  be the last new trip of our time here and it didn't disappoint. It was easily one of the best trips we've done here.

Glass bottle wall at the lodge - one way to build
 in an eco-friendly and beautiful way
The Black Sheep Inn is an eco-lodge set about 4 hours away from Quito - the last two hours were rough riding, but we made it fine! After lunch at the lodge, Greg and one of our friends went on a hike, and myself and our other friend stayed in the hammocks in their sunroom and took some naps.

We really had the hard life because after a nap, we all checked out the wood-heated sauna and hot tub until dinner. There were many interesting expats and tourists at the lodge so our dinner discussions were extra fun.

We must have come on the Jewish weekend or something because at least six other Jewish people were there that weekend. After all this time of barely knowing any other Jewish people, it was funny we got to know so many others on this trip.

The next day we went to the big ol' hole, aka the Quilotoa crater, for a day of hiking and picnics. It was basically a volcano that exploded long ago and its top fell in to create a giant lake. We got lucky because it was bright and sunny in the morning when we got there. But it was cold. Hat, gloves, warm layers, and windbreakers were all needed! Later in the day, as we were leaving, a thick fog rolled in and you couldn't see more than 100 yards in front of you.
Countryside we passed through to get to Quilotoa
The lake itself  - the dark spots are cloud shadows

All ready for the cold and wind!
Greg along the ridge
There was the possibility to hike down and back up, or hike about 5-6 hours around the crater ridge. We opted to hike around the ridge until we got tired and turned around. I'm glad we didn't have to hike through the fog because it would have been all pain and no gain since we wouldn't have seen anything.

Yellow flowers along the ridge
Close-up of the flowers
Passing along the ridge, you have the crater on one side and beautiful rolling hills and fields on the other. These bright yellow flowering bushes were in bloom and it was a beautiful contrast to the blue-green color of the crater lake. I told Greg I hope we can plant some of these flowers in Colorado one day and have ourselves a little Ecuadorian alpine garden.

We dubbed this pup Poop-Face because he had poop on his snout.
Poop on the snout or not, he was super cute and got food out of us.
You can see the fog that's starting to roll in to the left there. It was pretty cool to watch.
Back at the lodge, we soaked in the hot tub and read for the rest of the afternoon. At night, we scrounged up marshmallows, biscuits, and chocolate for makeshift s'mores. They were delicious. I wish we were still at the lodge - it was a beautiful trip!