Sunday, August 25, 2013

Growing Pains and Culture Shock

Me as a fresher
Cats poop here?

Growing Pains

When I was in high school I thought of college as an escape from the boring 'burbs to my exciting, awesome future life. But as I said goodbye to my mom and sister who came all the way to St Andrews to drop me off, I was totally overwhelmed by the anxiety and panic going through me at the cusp of being all by myself in a foreign country. I knew no one, had no support system, and didn't understand the locals most of the time (still true). After all of that wishing and hoping, I was actually terrified. I clutched them and cried hard

I feel an echo of that at the end of summer - this year more than others. With every September I get to return to people I love and my little country home away from home but this is my last year. It'll all be over in the spring. I feel a different type of driftless - I don't feel home at home and I'm still an alien in Scotland. Where do I belong? Where should I go with my brand new diploma? I have no idea. 

In Minnesota I don’t relate to going up to the cabin, getting pumped for the state fair, being Christian, or Minnesota nice. (Yes, I know all Minnesotans aren't like this - I'm speaking in broad generalizations of the Scandinavian descendants I grew up with) To me, Minnesota is familiar and easy.

Part of moving to the UK after years of dreaming was a huge reality check. I’d projected so much of my boredom and longing into a fantasy about living there that just wasn’t true. Comparing the idealized version of it versus reality made adjusting to college harder.  There are pros and cons of living in either country and its easier to revere the pros of a place from a distance. The grass is always greener, right?

West Sands Beach
Jumping for joy as a fresher, 2010

Culture Shock

On a related note I read a great article in the New York Times that voiced so many things I’ve asked myself about the British. Everything just clicked and I wanted to jump up and yell "THIS IS SO TRUE!" or as they say, "spot on":
Even after 18 years, I never really knew where I stood with the English. Why did they keep apologizing? (Were they truly sorry?) Why were they so unenthusiastic about enthusiasm? Why was their Parliament full of classically educated grown-ups masquerading as unruly schoolchildren? 
Why did rain surprise them? Why were they still obsessed by the Nazis? Why were they so rude about Scotland and Wales, when they all belonged to the same, very small country? And — this was the hardest question of all — what lay beneath their default social style, an indecipherable mille-feuille of politeness, awkwardness, embarrassment, irony, self-deprecation, arrogance, defensiveness and deflective humor?
As someone who's reserved/standoffish for an American but also "stupidly enthusiastic" like a "Labrador puppy let loose in an antique store" compared to the British, I just love this article! Communicating can be so confusing. Because often Brits don't like to "make a fuss" or they're overly polite and conflict avoidant to say what they mean, I don't really know where I stand, which is so frustrating and mystifying! I could write an anthropological study.

I love living abroad for the most part, but small things - communicating, getting from A to B, making appointments - can be daunting. It's like being a child, everyday. Moving away thousands of miles from home as a teenager has been the most difficult and rewarding experience.

What advice would you give to incoming freshers?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pizzeria Lola

I've said that its hopeless for me to try to make equally good Italian food in America or Scotland or anywhere outside Italy without the really really good local Italian ingredients that make Italian food so spectacular. I make pretty good pizza, but there's a huge gulf between solid-pretty-good and close-your-eyes-sigh-reminisce-for-years good.

There are two places in Minnesota that you can get pizza that good: Pizzeria Lola and Punch Pizza. I don't know how that do it... that stuff is goooood.

Say hello to Lola. I LOVE Lola!

There's been a lot of press about Lola since it opened in 2011. Loads of other people have written about it online. That blockhead Andrew Zimmern (the worst) is a fan. It's also been on Dives, Drive-ins, and Dives.

Their menu is awesome and its clear that they've put a lot of thought in it. The Forager, above, is my favorite - crimini, shitake, and portabella mushrooms, taleggio, fontina, tarragon & truffle oil. Its baked in a gorgeous wood fired copper oven that makes charred, crisp, chewy, beautiful crusts. If you love mushrooms, this is just luscious.

I know a lot of people who don't like mushrooms (weirdos) so I'd recommend the the Sunnyside (La Quercia guanciale, pecorino, cream, leeks & two organic eggs sunnyside up), La Creme (Italian red sauce, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, cream, olive oil & basil), or anything really.

Get a pizza, beer, and get your hands messy with the DIY ice cream sandwich. I come here every time I'm home. It makes me kinda mad that I pay the same amount of money (~£10 / $16) for bland pizza in St Andrews.

So much love for Lola. Best pizza around.

5557 Xerxes Ave SMinneapolis, MN 55410
Phone: (612) 424-8338
Opening hours:
Sun - Thurs: 11am – 10pm
Fri & Sat: 11am – 11pm

Monday, June 24, 2013


Roma!!! Pasta, vino, sun, and all that color!

I liked it very much as you can see...

Oh my god. The carbonara at Ai Balestrari was simple, rich, and sooooo good. It doesn't look like much but I could barely finish it on a empty stomach. This is the kind of pasta that I couldn't make at home because it wouldn't be the same. Italian food in Italy just tastes better than anything else.

M was busy with finals so I gorged and saw the sights by myself. I had lunch alone at Ai Balestrari twice in a row. I was self conscious at first but no one cared. They were busy living their own lives. A lot of my time in Rome was enjoyable alone but I would have loved to have a friend or lovah for company. It struck me how much I appreciate a traveling companion - someone with you to wow over the Pantheon, share gelato, and take dorky tourist pictures with to show your family.

It was the first time I've been all by myself in a foreign city (not counting the UK). To be honest, being alone and lost in a scorchingly hot city where you don't know the language made me really anxious. I'm not a zen, go with the flow person at all... but however nervewracking and lonely it was sometimes, it was probably a good experience to have. 

Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta), a Roman specialty at Ai Balestrari. I preferred the carbonara.


Ai Balestrari
Via dei Balestrari, 41, 00100 Rome, Italy
- Once again, I really recommend Ai Balestrari for a good, affordable lunch. I spent €25 on a starter, pasta, and a fourth of a liter of wine. I skimped the next day and spent about €12 on just pasta and water.

Fatamorgana Gelato
Via Laurenia 10 near the Spanish steps
- Amazing, creative gelato. Noci e miele (basil, walnuts, and honey) was beautiful (can you use that to describe food?) although I usually stick to the plain stuff like pistachio and chocolate. It was really affordable especially for an artisanal gelato place near a touristy site. I got three flavors in a cone for €3. I'm definitely going back next time I'm in Rome.

- I hit up all the tourist sites (the Colosseum/Forum/Palantine Hill, Pantheon, Trevi fountain, Spanish steps, etc). I really recommend getting the Colosseum/Forum/Palantine Hill ticket online so you don't wait in line like I did. It took ages to get in and I honestly could have spent that time doing better things like eating and drinking. I thought the Colosseum looked more impressive from the outside actually.

- I used Parla Food as my main source of food and drink recommendations. You should too!

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Third year at St Andrews ended with spontaneous walks on the beach, picnics, and BBQ under that Scottish summer sun that never fades. I almost always wear a waterproof layer when I'm out so when I finally get the chance to let my skin breathe, it's joyous. Its like everyone is buzzing on that shared relief - to be outside, in the sun, exams behind us. Everything comes alive and it's hard not to be happy.

I was sad and reluctant to leave, but I had important business - visiting my best friend in Italy. Oh, my life!!

First off, Florence. I touched down in Rome just long enough to eat M's food and drink her wine. We left really early in the morning for our journey to Florence. With my 2 euro water bottle and an overnight bag, we boarded this sleek, modern train.

After a peaceful hour and a half we made a quick stop for a breakfast of espresso and cornetto taken standing at the bar like proper Italianos. I was so excited for some blazing summer sun that I only packed shorts and sandals. It didn't take long for me to get cold and develop blisters all over my feet. Bad idea!! 

I apparently brought Scotland's dreary weather with me on our first day. But Florence didn't look so bad did it?

We wandered round and round the center of town. I was surprised by how small it seemed. Even after a day and a half I felt like we had walked around the same streets repeatedly.

We climbed the tower next to the Duomo. The climb was steep, narrow, and kind of scary. The passage really only allows a single file line so passing others going in the opposite direction on the twisty stairs freaked me out.

I admired Florence's faded yellow buildings and orange rooftops. Such a change from St Andrews.

The other part of the adventure is discovering unpleasant things you're not used to, like the constant smell of sewage. With the cold and my very blistered feet along with the constant wafts of sewage in my face, I definitely was out of my comfort zone. I blame not liking Florence mostly to extraneous circumstances, cause I'd visit it again. Although I don't like cities, I feel guilty ruling out a place entirely after only two days in it.

I had the best meal of the trip at Trattoria Mario. One of M's friends raved about his last time here many years ago... and now I totally understand. 

The trattoria was small, humble (backless stools, bathroom-like tiled walls), and crowded full of Italians. I hadn't done much research about where to go in Florence so I didn't know what to expect. And wow. This is the kind of extraordinary meal that you travel to Italy for. Juicy, succulent, perfectly cooked veal chop followed by strawberries in white wine. 

M took this picture of me as I tucked into the veal chop. I had no idea until she showed me later. It says everything.

My phone died on the second day so I don't have any pictures of Ponte Vecchio or the pretty streets we wandered.

Via Rosina, 2, 50123 Florence, Italy
- Far and AWAY the BEST meal I had on this trip. Out of my taste test of everyone else's lunch, which included roast chicken (best chicken skin I've ever had), steak, risotto and pork chop), M and I declared the veal chop as the best.

Via Porta Rossa, 58, 50123 Florence, Italy
- I had pizza margherita - pretty good, not great in comparison to Trattoria Mario. Kind of disappointing based off the things I'd read. Someone else got the wild boar salami pizza and that was AMAZING. SO GOOD!! Order that instead.

Piazza Danti, 19, 06123 Perugia, Italy
- I got the mushroom truffle ravioli. Pretty good, not great. It was beautiful the second day. I recommend sitting outside and people watching with vino della casa and proscuitto and buffalo mozzarella.

We stayed at Plus Florence Hostel in a private twin room. The main areas looked pretty nice for a hostel, so I was underwhelmed by the room's spartan, utilitarian feel. Not sure if I'd recommend it unless you're just looking for a place to crash. It was €34 euro each.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Country bumpkin, realized

I'm back home in America, finally. This last month has been crazy.

In May I was busy with revision and exams - a pretty uninteresting and cooking-free time of my life. It's been my best semester academically which has honestly been a relief on my ego. After three middling years in the English department (with yo-yoing dedication), it's pretty true that you just have to know what your tutors (professors) want to hear.

I spent a week in Italy after exams. It's weird what you expect to take away from traveling and what you actually do. I expected to frolic over the cobbled streets of Rome and Florence drunk on excitement and house wine, which I did, but more importantly I fully realized that I kinda hate cities.

my dream home

When I was 13 I visited my sister who was living in NYC at the time. It was right before high school. I had bangs and aggressive acne. It was the best five days of my life. My super cool city slicker sister was my biggest hero (and still is). I was gonna be a kick ass, globe trotting, successful independent woman living it up in the big city when I grew up. Totally glamorous. Totally cool.

Now I'm 21 and I cringe at the smelliness, dirtiness, crowdedness, and expensiveness of big cities. I get overwhelmed and tired at parties. I didn't like Paris that much. I'd rather stay in and cuddle on Friday night. In a sense I was more cool when I was 18 and that was only three years ago. How did I get so lame??

On the shuttle from Edinburgh airport to St Andrews, my heart squeezed at the sight of rolling emerald fields, their huge swaths of electric yellow wildflowers, and the rugged stone squat hobbit houses of Fife. I breathed in the clean, coastal air of St Andrews. My huge relief to be back was powerful and unshakable. It struck me again that I've become someone more introverted and domestic than I could have predicted. And I've really come to love and prefer a slower paced, small town life. I feel more at home out there than anywhere... and it genuinely makes me happy.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Life lately: happy Saturday


Can you believe this bouquet?!! It was the first thing I saw at the farmers market this morning. I love, love, love ranunculus flowers. Plus this entire bouquet was only £3! A STEAL. I couldn't buy it fast enough. It had to be mine!! I'm still sick from May dip but I can still catch the smell of the narcissuses. The fuschia-tinged ranunculuses at the bottom were purchased a few days ago from one of the local florists. I can't have too many ranunculuses or peonies. I adore their fat, fluffy, lush petals more than anything.

I'm admiring the new blooms and fresh air from my duvet cocoon. I've been locked up in my bed, feeling bad and whining about it for days. But today I'm taking action. I'm going to shut off and hide my laptop until I've gotten some good revision locked down... and then I'll marathon Happy Endings.

This weekend I'm having leftover sausage, sweet potato, and lentil soup; braised spinach; and buttermilk roast chicken. What about you?

Back to gazing at my flowers...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Potluck Party

a rare, fancy breakfast

Good morning.

It's been a while. The last few weeks I've been cooking my dependable standbys that get me through busy, tiring days - fettuccine alfredo, beef burritos, ciabatta pizza (something I'll post about later). They're starchy, meaty, and delicious. But that gets SO old, so when I came up with the idea to have a potluck dinner with my graduating friends I decided I'd go for something that says SPRING

I had to cook without meat, dairy, or gluten because of my friends' restrictions. I spent ages considering meals that had expensive ingredients that would require me to buy things from the health store that I'd never use again. So I settled for fancy salad - a time consuming potato salad that had me do two things I'd never done before - pickle and blanch vegetables. I think a good barometer to see if a dish is worth the fuss is whether you would sacrifice a beautiful spring day to make it. In this case, not worth it. It was a pretty good salad, although you wouldn't have known I spent so long making it.

For drinks and dessert I made Magic Juice and a gluten free chocolate cake. They were pretty effortless. I used my favorite gin, Hendrick's (Scottish of course), and mixed it with freshly squeezed lemonade, an orange, strawberries, cucumber, and mint. Fruity, addicting, and pretty even when served in an Ikea tupperware. Sooooo sophisticated.

Have you ever baked a gluten free cake before? I was wary about the texture as I used ground almonds instead of flour. Having slightly underbaked it too, it came out fluffy, almost like a chocolate marshmallow. 

You can see my friend's showstopping meringue with peanut butter sauce next to my humble cake. Isn't it so pretty? I loved it. S also made a fresh salad with roast vegetables. I covered M's harissa stir fry over both salads. We had Parisian rose tea with the cakes... beautiful. It was a seriously light and gorgeous meal. Thanks to you both.

It was really important to me to bring nice things for my friends (pictured below) as they're two of the five people who read this site. In St Andrews it seems like friend groups are solidified halfway through first year. Past then it's hard to make new friends or become apart of different groups. It sucks. Strangely, I met these two at the start of my third year and we hit it off. And frankly, I think they're great. The three of us, along with S' flatmate, had a fabulous night. I was there for hours, talking and laughing and gorging.

At one point I laughed so hard I cried. It was because of this heathen:

That night was the night of May dip, that weird tradition where we run into the frigid North Sea at sunrise on May 1 to 'cleanse' ourselves of our academic sins. I wavered about doing it again but eventually decided to. IT WAS SO COLD. I've been recovering from my bed since, all stuffy and sniffly. I've lost two days of revision to May dip. So dead.

Read more for the recipes...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pudding & Perthshire

credit: my friend, C

Hey guys. I went away this weekend. I was going STIR CRAZY so I ran away with one of my best friends here at uni. We jumped in her car and booked it out of StA as fast as possible and didn't stop til we got to the highlands. The air was fresh, the weather questionable. We didn't go far but it was a shock to the system just to be outside of St Andrews for a little while. We walked together and talked together all weekend. It was so good to get away. Good for the soul.

This is in Dunkeld, a small town at the edge of the highlands. We wandered over its banks and hugged its trees.

credit: C

credit: C

credit: C

I'd never heard of stovies before this weekend. After ordering one from a local pub, I'm not sure I like them. I'm totally sure that I didn't like this one. It was gross as hell. Imagine mushed up, over-boiled potatoes in the texture of chunky porridge. 

But I flapped and clapped my hands when I was served sticky toffee pudding. My adoration for sticky toffee pudding and banoffee pie goes deep, real real deep. They're the rich kind of desserts that coat your stomach and warm your soul. This one was gorgeous and lavish with its treacle and cream, just how I like it. I was humming with happiness with pudding in my belly and beer in my hand, chatting with my friend as we watched the river swim by. 

The next morning we explored more of Perthshire...


The Hermitage in Dunkeld

The roads in rural Scotland are crazy twisty and narrow. I honestly have no idea how cars don't crash every second on these roads. It's impossible to tell if a huge bus is about to emerge from the next corner. I suck my breath in and unconsciously lean in the other direction when that happens. Hats off to everyone who can drive safely and deftly out here. I couldn't do it. 

It was a joy - although sometimes nervewracking - to be in a car running along the rolling hills of the country.

Loch Tay

I had a great, lush carrot cake from Hettie's, a Pepto Bismol colored tea room in Pitlochry. I didn't think to take pictures (the pink walls are seriously garish), but if you like a generously sized, almond carrot cake, this one's for you. 

And when our legs wore out we marathoned Sex and the City episodes, drank our complimentary wine, and meticulously painted our nails. All in all, a good weekend.