Two Weeks in Germany with the Timbuk2 Aviator

Here’s a post-trip followup to my earlier post about packing the Timbuk2 Aviator.

I was very happy about my decision to take a backpack instead of a rolling suitcase.  After our flight, we had a train journey with three transfers going from Frankfurt to Berlin – and that was just our first destination. Rolling a suitcase through stations and down the train aisles would have been frustrating.

My Timbuk2 Aviator in the train station

Unlike some other huge backpacks I’ve worn, this one didn’t stick out far enough to make me feel like I was going to knock people over. When I first saw it, it was taller than I expected (extending above my shoulders), but it’s a good tradeoff for a slimmer pack. The backpack was comfortable and distributed the weight nicely on my shoulders; I never pulled out the hip straps.

I brought a small purse for everything I needed at constant reach – passport, wallet, phone. Like other backpacks I’ve owned, there’s no easy way to reach inside the backpack while you’re wearing it. Had it been cooler, had my clothing not suffered from minuscule female pockets, or had I been willing to wear one of those passport holders around my neck, I probably could have forgone the extra bag, but it was small and convenient, and I needed to bring one for day trips anyway.

Timbuk2 Aviator in Action

The packing cubes worked perfectly, and I packed well for an unpredictable trip which ranged from 50 degree rain to 90 degree blazing sun. As we traveled, we picked up some souvenirs along the way – beans from Bonanza Coffee Roasters, some spirits from Dr. Kochan Schnapskultur… even with heavier bags, we still were able to hike to the top of the Flak Tower in Humboldthain before our train out of the city.

We’d also packed a collapsible zippered shopping bag from Target. I picked it up in Portland OR last year and it’s fantastic, because it has more structure than most collapsible bags and folds flat. Before we left the country, I put my packing cubes in the folding tote and stuffed my backpack full of delicious German groceries – dark chocolate spread, Haribo gummies, dessert wine, chocolate bars, even my favorite fizzy vitamins. I zipped away the backpack straps and checked it on the way back – it weighed in at 13kg. The backpack provided good structure and protection, and our fragile goodies arrived unscathed.

Packing for a 2-week Trip with the Timbuk2 Aviator

When we booked a 2-week trip to Germany, I needed to replace my broken old backpack. Timbuk2′s Aviator backpack (the smaller, non-wheeled version) caught my eye. I liked how the front fully unzipped so you could pack with full access, just like a suitcase. I also liked the subtle design and black color; it’s more of a city bag than something you’d take on a camping trip.

The reviews were perplexing - some said it was perfect for a weekend trip, some for a week or two. The inner dimensions of the bag weren’t published, so I thought these photos might be helpful to others.

Here’s what I’m packing. It helps that we’ll be in an apartment with a washing machine during the first week.

Clothes for a 2-week trip to Europe

  • 2 dresses
  • 1 skirt
  • 2 pairs of leggings (1 black, 1 gray print)
  • 2 pairs of tights (1 black, 1 gray)
  • 1 cardigan (gray)
  • 4 tanks (black, gray, blue, green)
  • 1 collared sleeveless shirt
  • 1 light, short-sleeved sweater
  • 1 pair running shorts
  • 1 pair sneakers
  • 1 pair flats
  • underthings
  • sleepwear
  • scarf
  • rain jacket
  • on the plane: jeans / tshirt / hoodie

I bought the slim packing cubes from eBags and luckily they fit perfectly in the backpack. Everything except the shoes and rain jacket easily fit into 3 packing cubes.

I packed these in the main compartment along with 1 pair of shoes, an umbrella, a rain jacket, and a hairbrush. I stacked them on their short edge to make more space, but if I didn’t have much else in the main compartment, I would have laid them flat.

The top compartment of the bag will fit my glasses, chargers, and a bag each of liquid and non-liquid toiletries. I like this clear quart bag by Flight 001. I felt frivolous ordering it but I’m so tired of sandwich bags that disintegrate halfway through a trip.

The backpack zips up nicely and cinches on the sides.

That’s it! I’ll tell you how it goes.

Mardi Gras Dinner Party

For the past few years, I’ve looked at the calendar the night before Mardi Gras and swore that the next year, I would remember to invite people over for a dinner party. This year we finally did.

Our menu:

Muffaletta Spread  *  Fried Peanuts  *  Pickled Okra
Raw Oysters  *  Grilled Oysters
Jambalaya (with andouille, chicken, and shrimp)
Bananas Foster  *  King Cake

(Who doesn’t want two desserts?)

This was a low-stress meal. The jambalaya comes together in under and hour and requires no fussing or fancy plating; I did the chopping ahead of time and started cooking while we drank cocktails and ate snacks. Our guests brought a ton of oysters and a pitcher of hurricanes.

Recipes:

See-in-the-Dark Mac and Cheese

My refrigerator’s produce drawers have been heavy with winter vegetables from our produce share.  Marveling at the beautiful orange of my beets and carrots, I did what few childless cooks do – sneakily hid vegetables in mac and cheese!  I would go so far as to say they were completely undetectable.

I like to bake my Mac and Cheese, but this is also good served out of the pot.

Recipe: See-in-the-Dark Mac and Cheese

Summary: Staunch Velveeta fans will have no idea how many vitamins they’re consuming in this tricky, bright orange Mac and Cheese.

Ingredients

  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 1 large golden beet, roasted and peeled
  • 16 oz elbow macaroni
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 6 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheese
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • salt and seasonings

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400, start heating your pasta water, and butter a large souffle dish or rectangular baking pan.
  2. Slice the carrots and barely cover with water in a saucepan. Simmer until quite soft, about 15 minutes.
  3. While the carrots are cooking, start the sauce: melt the butter in a large saucepan, whisk in the flour, and add the milk.
  4. Bring the sauce to a boil while stirring, then lower to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. In a food processor, puree the carrot slices and diced beet with enough cooking liquid to make a baby food-like consistency. Make sure it is really, really, smooth, stopping to scrape bits off the side if necessary. (I processed for 3-5 minutes).
  6. Stir the bright orange puree and cheese into the sauce, stirring until the cheese is melted. Season with salt and other seasonings if desired (I used a dash of garlic powder and cayenne). Don’t skimp on the salt.
  7. Cook your pasta according to package directions, drain, and toss with the sauce. Pour into the prepared baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, and bake for 30 minutes.
tape

Cassette Memories

I’m not going to tell you about my first* or second** cassette, but the third – it has stuck with me all these years.

I was 10, running an errand with my parents at Caldor, when this caught my eye on the cassette rack. Maybe it was the red foil writing, the (strangely inverted) lightning photo, or the confidence that I could pay for it with three of my own crumpled dollar bills.

hid
Image from this Ebay auction, in case you’re in the market for a cassette

When I popped it in my pink Sidestep radio and the first Black Sabbath song came on, my mind was blown. And three and half minutes into the song, I felt like I was listening to something from outer space. (The Alice Cooper song was even weirder. The irony is that both of these bands were probably on my parents’ record shelves, but children always have to discover things for themselves, right?)

I found myself wondering where this music came from. It was a different world than the insipid love songs on the radio. It made me feel uneasy, yet resonated within me like something I had heard a million times. I was hooked.

Every time I hear Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, I am ten years old again, kneeling on the green carpet of my bedroom, mind blown. It’s a feeling I’m happy to keep.

*Dionne Warwick’s Friends
** Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl
(I was 9, OK??)

 

My Favorite Pizza Dough Recipe

Making pizza can is fun and tasty. And especially if you make your own dough, it’s cheap. My go-to dough recipe is by Anna Maria Volpi and I recommend her helpful step-by-step photos for beginners. The dough is easy to handle and I use it to make three thin pizzas. My abbreviated version is below.

Also, my number 1 tip for making CHEAP pizza dough is to buy yeast in bulk. I did the math and the little 3-portion packets in the baking aisle at the supermarket are – wait for it – 20 times more expensive than the $4.39 2 pound package I bought at Sam’s Club.

Recipe: Pizza Dough

Summary: Adapted from Anna Maria Volpi’s Recipe to use a stand mixer.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups 110 degree water
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • healthy shake of garlic powder (optional)

Instructions

  1. Measure the warm water in a measuring cup, sprinkle the yeast on top, stir, and let sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Sift the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer (like a Kitchen Aid). Stir in the garlic powder.
  3. Make an indentation in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the olive oil and yeast/water mixture.
  4. Mix with the beater blade until all the ingredients are combined, then switch to the dough hook and allow the mixer to knead slowly for 3 minutes or so. The dough should hold together nicely and not stick to the bowl. The proportions are usually perfect for me, but you could sprinkle in a bit more flour or water if it’s too wet or dry.
  5. By now the mixer bowl is basically clean, so I remove the dough, rub the inside of the bowl with olive oil, return the dough, flip it over to coat it all with olive oil, and make a cross in the top with a knife.
  6. Cover the bowl with a damp, clean kitchen towel and allow it to sit until doubled, about an hour and a half. I usually put my oven on the lowest setting (170) for a couple of minutes, turn it off, and then put the bowl in the slightly warmed oven to rise.
Beer Tasting Sheet

A Home Beer Tasting

My husband and a friend decided  to have a beer tasting to celebrate their birthdays, which are a week apart.  What a good excuse!

With all the beer lovers we know, it was difficult to keep the guest list small enough to fit in our dining room, and we wanted to try a somewhat serious sit-down tasting. We ended up with just short of 20 guests and asked each to bring a 750ml bottle of beer, which works out to a little over an ounce per person. We even ordered a case of beer tasting glasses and I designed a beer tasting sheet (PDF).

Since this was our first tasting, we decided not to specify a style or to taste blind. When guests arrived, we grouped their beers into themed flights. We spontaneously paired these groupings with the food – recipes are at the bottom of this entry:

  • Paler ales and soft pretzels (our first time making them!)
  • Belgians and Liege waffles
  • IPAs and buffalo chicken dip
  • Porter with meatballs
  • Dessert-type beers with stout brownies

We also had plenty of snacks on hand, including sriracha popcorn (pop and toss with sriracha and melted butter), bacon caramel popcorn, cheese plates, hummus with vegetables, and an assortment of chips and nuts.

If I had to choose a favorite beer from the night, it would be the Collaboration No. 3 – Stingo, a joint brew by Boulevard and Pretty Things.

Recipes:

  • Bacon Caramel Popcornbacon caramel popcorn recipe
  • Soft Pretzels: via Tasting Table. I let the dough rise all day at room temperature.
  • Liege Waffles: used the recipe on the package of Lars Pearl Sugar because it was so much simpler than others I found. I let it rise 3 hours or so, longer than recommended
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip: Pressure cooked 5 skinless chicken thighs on high for 15 minutes in some Franks’ Red Hot sauce. Shredded and mixed with a package of cream cheese, 1/2 cup mayo, 1/2 cup Frank’s Red Hot, 1 cup shredded cheddar, season to taste and add more hot sauce if desired. Filled in ramekins, sprinkled with blue cheese, baked at 350 until bubbling.
  • Stout Brownies: I used this recipe but wasn’t too happy with it. It tasted great (how could it not?) but it completely stuck to the foil and was a total mess.

Photos from Quito and Nono Ecuador

Here are some photos from Quito and Nono Ecuador. I have yet to finish editing our photos from the Galapagos – soon!

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<p>&quot;Brugmansia have also traditionally been used in many South American indigenous cultures in medical preparations and as a ritualistic hallucinogen for divination, to communicate with ancestors, as a poison in sorcery and black magic, and for prophecy.&quot;<br />
<br />
When we were in the village of Nono, north of Quito, we saw these flowers and our guide told us they were often used to drug people and steal from them - it basically puts you in a conscious but nonresistant state, like date rape drugs.<br />
<br />
Turns out it is the same drug I was wearing on a patch behind my ear for sea-sickness (Scopolamine).<br />
<br />
This might explain why I hallucinated several times when I woke up in the middle of the night. Hilariously, I hallucinated Galapagos animals. A penguin by the doorknob, sea lion climbing the door, iguana on the lamp. Otherwise, no side effects.</p>

Brugmansia

"Brugmansia have also traditionally been used in many South American indigenous cultures in medical preparations and as a ritualistic hallucinogen for divination, to communicate with ancestors, as a poison in sorcery and black magic, and for prophecy."

When we were in the village of Nono, north of Quito, we saw these flowers and our guide told us they were often used to drug people and steal from them - it basically puts you in a conscious but nonresistant state, like date rape drugs.

Turns out it is the same drug I was wearing on a patch behind my ear for sea-sickness (Scopolamine).

This might explain why I hallucinated several times when I woke up in the middle of the night. Hilariously, I hallucinated Galapagos animals. A penguin by the doorknob, sea lion climbing the door, iguana on the lamp. Otherwise, no side effects.

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Lessons from an Adult Learner

After a couple of years in graduate school, I wish I could go back in time and retake my undergrad classes. How did I ace all my statistics exams in grad school when I almost failed the class as an undergrad? Why did I pull so many all-nighters in college when I had few time commitments outside of class? Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned by going back to school as an adult:

1. Stay organized from day one.
I’ve been taking 2-3 classes a semester while working full time, so it would be easy to miss a deadline. As soon as I get my syllabi, I put class dates and important deadlines on a “school” Google Calendar. It shows up in bright red and sends me reminders – just the kind of subtlety I need.

2. Read smarter.
As an undergrad I’d do my reading, then later return to study it. Now, with less time, I immediately identify the important concepts and either outline them or, if I will be tested, create flash cards (I use studydroid.com to enter cards on the web and study on my Android phone). This boosts my comprehension while reading and saves hours of preparation during final exams.

3. Keep it all in one place (preferably online).
My notes, assignments, papers, and readings (if possible) are all in Google Drive. If I have an insight when I’m away from the computer, I can access and edit from anywhere. I’ve eschewed heavy textbooks for e-books and Kindle editions so I can sneak in a chapter of my reading in a waiting room or on the bus.

4. Put away the stopwatch and think outside the paper.
As an undergrad, I’d sit in front of a blinking cursor for hours to satisfy some masochistic requirement of “hours spent writing a paper.” As an adult, I realize that offline planning can skim hours off that paper, and it’ll be a much better one too. This week I planned papers in the shower, during a run, as I was cooking dinner…

5. Create weekly study sheets for non-humanities classes.
For classes like statistics and accounting, I got a feel for the scope of the material each week and then broke it down into smaller parts. Each week, I made myself a study sheet with formulas and the various types of problems along with the steps necessary to solve them. This helped me identify the concepts that needed more practice and was so valuable for review at the end of the semester.

Studying Statistics on a Road Trip

6. Make room for school, but don’t put your life on hold.
I ended up practicing statistics in the passenger seat of our anniversary weekend road trip…on a Dunkin Donuts bag. I read e-books on planes and took online quizzes over hotel wifi. The past two years have been filled with school but also fun and adventure. Keep enjoying your life or you’ll get burnt out. If I had been stuck at home, I probably would have been listlessly staring at that blinking cursor.

Houses of the Holy

Sudden memory – it is 1992 and I’m on the phone with a t-shirt company whose ad I saw in Circus Magazine, trying to order an iron-on back patch for my black bomber jacket. I’m leaning towards Led Zeppelin but I can’t remember what the Houses of the Holy album cover looks like, even though I’m pretty sure it was on my parents’ record shelf all along.

I ask the woman on the line and she starts describing it to me: “It’s, like, this big pile of rocks and there are a bunch of naked kids climbing up it. I’m not really sure if they’re boys or girls.”

These things we did before the internet sound like a dim, ancient fantasy, right?