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A Taste of Home

Happy Holidays from Midwesterner in Virginia

A belated Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all from me & John here in Arlington, Virginia!  Thanks so much for continuing to visit this blog & offer your comments. I love hearing from everyone who has Mexico questions, anecdotes, & tips to share.

We interspersed some Mexico into 2011’s Annual Baking of the Cranberry Almond Coffee Cakes.  This is a tradition my mom Marcia started many moons ago (i.e. bake as many cakes as your largest bowl size permits– you will alway be batter-mixing-space limited– and then give them away to a neighbor or two + whoever crosses your path in the day or two after baking).  Since Marcia is no longer with us to celebrate this year (and to remind me that I forgot to put any almonds on the aptly-named coffee cakes BEFORE they went into the oven), I whipped them up on my own with some help from John + brother Tim.

This seemed like a good occasion to break out the Rompope that I spotted at a grocery store in Nebraska & dangerously transported back to DC in my checked luggage.  We discovered this egg nog-like liqueur in Mexico, where we heard it was created by nuns in a convent in Puebla.  So, we took to calling it nun nog.

Cranberry-Almond Coffee Cakes & Rompope....a winning combo. Note evocative nun imagery.

The coffee cakes turned out great, despite their addition of almonds post-baking.  And I offered up a toast to Marcia, who I know would have enjoyed sipping a glass of nun nog with me on a Friday afternoon.  Love you, Mom.  I hope any nuns hanging out where you are give you a sip of their stash.

Is the word “exposé” overly dramatic for a post about avocado prices in Arlington, VA?

Two of the highlights of life in Mexico City that we were the most sad to leave behind were 1) the amazing array of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat available to us at incredibly reasonable prices, and 2) the new world of fantastic Mexican food that we’d discovered (vastly unlike what we’d been exposed to at Chili’s in the Midwest). 😉  While the Washington DC metro area is not one of the biggest hubs of Mexican immigrants in the US, we were pleased to at least be returning to an area with lots of other Latino immigrants (i.e. from El Salvador, Bolivia, etc.).  This gave us hope that we might continue to get our bargain fresh fruit & veg fix at Latino-oriented markets to continue our Mexican cooking efforts, like my favorite smoked tomatillo salsa.  (#2, amazing Mexican food, continues to be a challenge… though our friends at District Taco have certainly done their part to keep us fat & sassy.)

Before we moved to Mexico City, we’d discovered a spot called Glebe Market less than a mile south of us in Arlington, VA.  Both the merchandise and the clientele had a Hispanic bent, and it quickly became our go-to grocery store for picking up ingredients for a nice salsa verde or some tostadas.  As John & I progressed in our Spanish lessons, we also used the check-out experience as an opportunity to nervously test out our Spanish with the staff.  We came to regard Glebe Market as a great source for cheap fruits, vegetables, and meat, but we still usually had to make an additional visit to the default yuppie grocery store (Harris Teeter) for our fancy-pants ingredients like brie, real maple syrup, raspberries, sourdough bread, sushi-grade tuna, etc.

Upon our return from Mexico, we started up this routine again– Glebe for produce, the Teet for spendy Kalamata olives & wine not sold in a jug.  But some of the luster was starting to fade– the dingy building housing Glebe Market was, well, still a little dingy.  Sure, it had a new sign, but it lacked the vibrant energy of the mercados of Mexico City (not to mention the availability of esquites around every corner).  And I was lazy– was it really worth driving to TWO DIFFERENT PLACES that are roughly FOUR WHOLE BLOCKS apart for our grocery run? (sarcasm intended)

What could possibly solve this dilemma, you might ask? Data!!! Since I am a dork with math teachers for parents, I took the receipt from our Glebe Market visit 2 weekends ago and brought it into the Teeter that same afternoon. I jotted down all the per pound or per unit prices of the fruit-n-veg like a total weirdo, and then came home and calculated what we would have paid if we’d bought the same stuff at Harris Teeter instead. (That’s right; I made a spreadsheet.  Analyzing the prices of avocados and more. Yep. Drop it.)

So any guesses what this array of items cost us at Glebe, and what we would have paid at Yuppie-landia?

Here's our fresh produce haul for your consideration. Count everything except the tofu, because I forgot to look its price up @ the Teeter. Nebraska friends-- please look away and pretend you never saw that tofu. It was the first time we bought it. I swear. Usually we just buy hulking sides of beef. Honest.

I know, I know– the suspense is killing you!!  Here’s a preview: avocados at Glebe– $1.59 each…  Avocados at the Teeter: $2.99 each….  What?!?!

Proof of my intense price-comparing efforts. When I go bat-shit crazy & start turning into one of those "extreme couponing" nutjobs, this photo will probably be held up as testimony for when people sensed I first started to go off the deep end.

Drumroll, please.  Glebe Market price: $27.  Harris Teeter price: $50

Teeter patrons are paying almost double, people!  Oh, the humanity!!

While my blog may currently exist on your mental list of “resources to look at when planning a trip to Mexico City,” please go ahead and now add it to your list of “blogs with their finger on the pulse of yuppie America that offer hard-hitting exposes of grocery prices in Arlington, Virginia with the intent of encouraging people to consider shopping at Hispanic-oriented markets that are way cheaper in part because they don’t have a big tray of provolone cheese samples lying out for you 24/7.”

Luckily, I suspect that 2nd list may have some open space on it.

Happy Halloween!

A very Happy Halloween to all those here in the US this evening! Today marks our official re-entry into Normal Life 2.0, as we arrived this evening back to Arlington, Virginia after 2 years and 3 months living in Mexico City. We’ve been on a 2700+ mile road trip starting in Denver, Colorado on October 14, had the chance to see lots of lovely friends & family along the way, met lots of precious new babies/toddlers, and suffered only one car accident– luckily no injuries to anyone except my pretty blue Nissan Altima that my suegra had kept in fantastic shape while we were away. I think the Altima may be regretting his change in ownership… :)

Some dude turning left in front of me at the last minute in an intersection was a most unpleasant turn of events as we arrived into Chicago.

But you may really be wondering, “Julie, how did you know that you were no longer in Mexico?” I know, I know… it can be tricky to differentiate, but here are a few of the signs:

1) We had to pump our own gas AND wash our own windshield.

This was novel... for like 30 seconds. How can it be that having someone else pump your gas went out of vogue in the US??

2. We got to stand next to someone taller than we are, who also has blonde hair.

Cousin Kami & her darling 4-month-old twins, Lucy & Sam.

3. We were pressured by family members to wear Uncle Sam & Betsy Ross hairpieces/hats.

This was part of our re-indoctrination process, courtesy Uncle Ken & Aunt Kathy

4. We began seeing a lot of mashed potatoes & gravy and fried chicken. Not to mention corn off the cob that lacked a layer of mayo/cheese/lime juice/chile powder slathered atop it.

Obesity problem in America?? What could you possibly be referring to?

5. Cheladas are no longer made by thoughtful bartenders; they are sold in cans in the supermarket.

I was skeptical of this incarnation of the chelada.

6. The frequency of deer-based cured meat products for sale was markedly increased. Frankly, as was the sale of non-spicy sausage products in general.

John demos how the deer in question might have looked prior to death. Additional bonus of cheese curds in the lower right. Thank you, Wisconsin.

7. Speaking of deer, we saw a dead one riding home to dinner strapped atop someone’s SUV.

This is how middle America does "para llevar". ("to go")

In summary, we’re pretty sure we are back in the States, and now begins a couple weeks of intense home improvements to our townhouse here in Arlington. After two years of renting, there is plenty of work to be done– but we received a positive sign regarding our impending home repairs at the Chinese restaurant we stopped by tonight:

My fortune cookie promised us that "You will have no problems in your home." We're also counting on the "tasty fruit" promised in John's fortune cookie after we kill ourselves painting every wall in the place.

Lest you think that I’ve already forgotten the name of this blog, today’s touch of Mexico comes courtesy of my parents back in Nebraska. My Mom passed along the below photo of my Dad, who pulled a full coordinated outfit together for handing out Halloween candy this evening. I can’t wait to hear how it went. :)

El Matematico de Nebraska could easily compete with any professional luchador with this costume, accompanied by the giant rat that is actually a basket for candy. Well done, Larry!!!

Although my favorite part is how his eyes look slightly crazed, I would like to point out that that is due to the unevenly-sized eye holes of the lucha mask, and not because my Dad actually has uneven eyes. Honest. Larry’s eyes could serve as a level for hanging picture frames; that is just how even his eyes are.

Thanks to all for your well-wishes, and more Mexico anecdotes to continue after we get settled in!

Visit to Boston: 1st day highlights

I scheduled a trip many moons ago to finally get back to Boston  (where I lived from 2002-2006) to visit friends & hang around for Patriots’ Day, better known as the day of the Boston Marathon! I flew out of Mexico City on Wednesday at 9AM & got in last nite. Here are a few highlights from the first 24-ish hours (as if to imply that my life is so fast-paced & riveting that you need daily updates):

  • having an Auntie Anne’s pretzel at the Houston airport– touch me salty, buttery, doughy goodness
  • listening to a sales pitch from this Sony VAIO sales rep on the plane:

OK, just kidding; he wasn't actually giving a sales pitch but I have no idea why he was using his airplane seat as a desk

  • randomly ending up sitting next to a guy from Mexico City on my flight from Houston to Boston who turned out to be really nice & friendly, and not only having my first FOUR-HOUR-LONG conversation on a plane, but having my first FOUR-HOUR-LONG conversation on a plane IN SPANISH! Was both very proud of self & pleased to meet total stranger who was amusing to chat with & not crazy (since the risk of a crazy seatmate increases exponentially corresponding to the length of your flight)
  • going to a Wednesday nite show at ImprovBoston, where I used to take improv comedy classes when I lived in Boston. One of the best things I did during my time in Boston, FYI. For any of you out there who haven’t yet heard my “Everyone should take improv classes! Seriously! Even you! No, I promise you will like it & learn amazing new skills! Just do it!” rant, please let me know & I will happily spend 30 minutes extolling the virtues of improvisational comedy.

The stage at ImprovBoston's new home on Prospect Street near Central Square in Cambridge, MA. The props were for the "Magic & Misdemeanors" show put on my one of my former improv troupe cohorts-- see more details at http://magicandmisdemeanors.com/!

  • going to my fav clothes store, Nordstrom, and having the chance to buy a few pairs of shoes from a man with a faux-hawk AND a Boston accent!  (ahhh the memories…)
  • reminding myself that sometimes Macy’s has great deals on really nice clothes, but sometimes, it doesn’t:

This is not the formal dress I will be wearing for my graduation dinner at Thunderbird, in part because I would have had to stitch two of them together.

  • introducing New Englanders to the glory of lucha libre & its ability to strengthen father-son bonds:

You know what they say-- the family that wrestles together, stays together. Here, Matthew & Mike do a valiant impression of a tender moment between Blue Demon and Nacho Libre.

  • and finally, teaching my friend Tanya that the young, cool, hip moms no longer want to be known as the tacky/offensive term “MILF“… Instead, they would like to be known as “MILW”– Mom I’d Like to Wrestle:

You will note that Tanya followed the first rule of Lucha Libre (make sure your mask matches the rest of your outfit). Here, she is shown just after having unmasked her competitor (her 3-year-old son).

It is unknown whether Tanya & her son Matthew were engaged in a mascara contra mascara competition, or the more intense caballera contra caballera battle (review the difference here). I will be checking in the morning to see whether Matthew’s head was shaved as a result of his heartbreaking loss.

A tasty Christmas-y appetizer…

First off, a caveat: this is not a remotely Mexican recipe. :) But it does fit the bill for blog-inclusion by being Midwestern. And more importantly, it is a gooooood recipe, probably because it is endowed with the hallmarks of Midwestern cooking: dairy, dairy, and more dairy, with the occasional smattering of vegetables well-disguised by cheese.

The illustrious Pizza Dip has gained national fame in the US after its appearance at basically every social event that I attended or hosted in Boston & Washington DC. Those who recognized its excellence helped to spread the word; I am told that it swept Bern, Kansas by storm one holiday season. Even my brother, a budding culinard in his own right, is a Pizza Dip connoisseur– most recently making it for a Ninja Turtles-oriented gathering he hosted in Delaware. (BTW, Tim, well done on tying the food into the theme.) 😉 The Pizza Dip is now sharing its love here in Mexico.

Anyway, I pass the Pizza Dip recipe along to you for any upcoming holiday festivities where you’re just not sure what to bring & can’t be bothered to spend more than 20 minutes prepping something. Thanks to Aunt Kathy via my mom, as the original recipe source!

PIZZA DIP

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (a.ka. 2 cups)
  • 1 jar pizza sauce (a.k.a. 14 oz)
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
The Pizza Dip's ingredients, ready for action. The cream cheese/Italian seasoning mixture has already been spread in the pie plate. Note: the Gummi-Bear Vitamins do not play a role in this dish. (But many thanks go to friend Carol for tip off on best vitamins ever.)

The Pizza Dip's ingredients, ready for action. The cream cheese/Italian seasoning mixture has already been spread in the pie plate. Note: the Gummi-Bear Vitamins do not play a role in this dish. (But many thanks go to friend Carol for tip off on best vitamins ever.)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F
  2. Spray a pie plate with PAM cooking spray
  3. Mix together cream cheese & Italian seasoning in a small bowl; spread onto bottom of pie plate
  4. Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella cheese on top
  5. Pour most of the jar of pizza sauce on top of cheese & spread out evenly 

    The Pizza Dip, midway through assembly. Note the usage of dual cheese layers--one beneath the pizza sauce, followed by another layer on top (next pic).

    The Pizza Dip, midway through assembly. Note the usage of dual cheese layers--one beneath the pizza sauce, followed by another layer on top (next pic).

  6. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese on top of sauce
  7. Sprinkle with red & green peppers

    Pizza Dip, fully assembled before baking. I neglected to get a post-oven shot, because this got horsed down by our guests before I could blink twice. ;)

    Pizza Dip, fully assembled before baking. I neglected to get a post-oven shot, because this got horsed down by our guests before I could blink twice. ;)

  8. Bake for 20 minutes at 350F (or until a bit bubbly & cheese is melted)
  9. Serve with Tostitos chips (or something similar)

While this appetizer may not seem particularly trendy or cosmopolitan, I will be so bold as to almost guarantee its popularity. You will win double bonus points by making something vegetarian-friendly (by sheer accident), as well as for coordinating your food colors with the holiday season (during December at least). If you have any lingering concerns, try renaming it something more glam-sounding like “Fromage et Poivron”. This should impell people to taste it just so they can claim to like French food.

Any testimonials out there for the good ol’ Pizza Dip?? There can be no fewer than 300 of our acquaintances who have sampled this at one time or another. In fact, I almost shudder to think how many times I’ve eaten this over the last 10 years… But all that cheese has certainly helped to keep my coat shiny. 😉

**************

P.S. Here is a photo of one of the Pizza Dip’s biggest advocates, showing off a gift he received during a going-away dinner we had for him in our apartment (where we served the very Pizza Dip depicted above!). Note him highlighting the t-shirt’s use of classic government bureaucracy at its finest.

Leadership Tenet #8?? "Follow Courageously". You can't make this stuff up, people. If that's not an oxymoron, I don't know what is. ;)

Leadership Tenet #8?? "Follow Courageously". You can't make this stuff up, people. If that's not an oxymoron, I don't know what is. ;)

A Taste of Mexico in Grand Island, Nebraska

After wrapping up my 3rd semester of MBA final exams this past weekend, I was up bright and early Monday morning to fly to Nebraska for a visit home! Continental Airlines won a few bonus points in my book via a) the ability to reserve exit-row seats online 24 hours in advance (thanks to bro Tim for the tip off on that one) and b) giving me full cans of pop on both flights and a free SMALL SANDWICH, CHIPS, AND MINI-TWIX BAR on the flight between Houston & Omaha! I was shocked and awed, given the recent trend of airlines to offer roughly 5 dry pretzels as a substitute for lunch.

I made it out of the tricky Omaha airport (20 whole gates!) to meet up with my mom for some quick shopping & dinner before making the drive back to my hometown of scenic Grand Island. There have been a few unexpected hospital trips due to Grandma having some trouble breathing the last couple nites (luckily she was looking good today, playing fan-favorite game “Snack Bingo” at the assisted living center). Other than that, we’ve focused on what any good midwestern family would focus on: eating.

Mom tested out the Vietnamese pho (beef soup w/noodles) at Vientiane, which was excellent.

Mom tested out the Vietnamese pho (beef soup w/noodles) at Vientiane, which was excellent.

I was craving some Asian food (Thai? Chinese? Vietnamese?) since there is not much of that in Mexico City , but was a bit suspicious as to what would be available here in the middle of Nebraska. The Grand Island, NE page on Trip Advisor actually mentioned an Asian restaurant called Vientiane; one favorable review from a stranger was enough to convince me to go!! We sat down & perused the menu offering a mix of Vietnamese/Thai/Chinese/Lao cuisines.  I was thrilled to see Crab Rangoons on the menu, which turned out to be the lightest, least-greasy Crab Rangoons I have had in many moons. The Egg Rolls also scored points for flavor & no-grease. I made some recommendations to my parents to test out the Pho and Larb (pork version), both of which were amazing. The Larb has a little spice, but nothing too dramatic for Larry. :) I had the Chicken Pad Thai which was nice but not my favorite version ever, and it paled in comparison to the other two. I would definitely to go back & try the other apps, some pork fried rice, and perhaps a dessert or two.

This will help you to recognize GI's new hot Asian restaurant from afar.

This will help you to recognize GI's new hot Asian restaurant from afar.

Getting some ricas carnitas (tasty slow-cooked pork) is definitely on the list for my next trip home.

Getting some ricas carnitas (tasty slow-cooked pork) is definitely on the list for my next trip home.

Anyway, you’ll note in the photo above the sign reading “Arroz Chino”, which is Spanish for “Chinese Rice”. This alludes nicely to the easy transition I had from Mexico City to Grand Island. Grand Island has a hispanic population of around 19%, so a number of restaurant and business offerings have sprung up over the last several years. I doubt that I’m alone in saying that growing up here, I tended to ignore ethnic markets whose products/language I wasn’t very familiar with. Coming back here now, after some Spanish training + a year in DF under my belt, it’s a whole different story. Having become such a fan of autentico Mexican food combined with my affinity for all non-chain businesses, I feel the need to pressure my parents to become regulars at any of these spots that are remotely viable. Although a rigorous existing dinner schedule prevented us from checking out any Latino establishments for la cena, I have extracted a commitment from Mom & Dad to go suss out the coctel de camarones (shrimp cocktail) at Restaurante Ario after I leave. And we did manage to make it to El Taco Naco for a snack, arguably the most DF-esque option in town.

Below are a few photos of the sights in GI that looked quite familiar to this adopted chilanga.

My parents will be reporting back shortly on the status of the Coctel de Camarones here at Restaurante Ario. Note that it is "Estilo Patzcuaro", or "in the style of Patzcuaro", the town a few hours west of DF that is the focal point for each fall's popular Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

My parents will be reporting back shortly on the status of the Coctel de Camarones here at Restaurante Ario. Note that it is "Estilo Patzcuaro", or "in the style of Patzcuaro", the town a few hours west of DF that is the focal point for each fall's popular Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

Obviously I forced Mom to come check out Super Acapulco based on the name alone. This large store has been around for 8 years, and has a great selection of groceries as well as a restaurant. I would recommend testing out their esquites/elote (Mexican-style corn) or licuados (blended fruit drinks).

Obviously I forced Mom to come check out Super Acapulco based on the name alone. This large store has been around for 8 years, and has a great selection of groceries as well as a restaurant. I would recommend testing out their esquites/elote (Mexican-style corn) or licuados (blended fruit drinks).

...though if their tacos al pastor are even half as good as the ones I've had in DF, they should definitely be at the top of your list! Amazingly-marinated pork topped with pineapple, cilantro & onion. Mmmmmm....

...though if their tacos al pastor are even half as good as the ones I've had in DF, they should definitely be at the top of your list! Amazingly-marinated pork topped with pineapple, cilantro & onion. Mmmmmm....

Copa de Oro will definitely have to get added to the list for a happy hour next time 'round, if solely to check on the existence of any actual Cups of Gold...

Copas de Oro will definitely have to get added to the list for a happy hour next time 'round, if solely to check on the existence of any actual Cups of Gold...

As soon as I saw this trailer parked in someone's driveway on "main drag" aka South Locust Street, I knew I needed to confirm whether El Taco Naco was the real deal. We stopped for a snack about 2:00 (narrowly arriving within their operating hours of 11AM-2PM and 4PM-12PM)...

As soon as I saw this trailer parked in someone's driveway on "main drag" aka South Locust Street, I knew I needed to confirm whether El Taco Naco was the real deal. We stopped for a snack about 2:00 (narrowly arriving within their operating hours of 11AM-2PM and 4PM-12PM)...

Marcia & I gave a thumbs up to the spicy barbacoa taco topped w/onion & cilantro. El Taco Naco also get points for their trendy name ("naco" in Mexico City is a word that used to mean "unfashionable, ordinary" that has been adopted by DF's hipsters to signify their alternative style so now it's kinda hip... or at least that's my vague interpretation)

Marcia & I gave a thumbs up to the spicy barbacoa taco topped w/onion & cilantro. El Taco Naco also get points for their trendy name ("naco" in Mexico City is a word that used to mean "unfashionable, ordinary" that has been adopted by DF's hipsters to signify their alternative style so now it's kinda hip... or at least that's my vague interpretation)

The crown jewel of my photo safari in Grand Island had to be this gem:

Nope, folks; no photoshopping at work here. That is the hispanic division of Alcoholics Anonymous located strategically next to Ed & Nets bar. Alcoholicos Anonimos must have gotten a smoking-hot deal on that real estate...

Nope, folks; no photoshopping at work here. That is the hispanic division of Alcoholics Anonymous located strategically next to Ed & Nets bar. Alcoholicos Anonimos must have gotten a smoking-hot deal on that real estate...

While I’m at it, let me pass along two final central Nebraska dining tips of restaurants that my parents frequent.

#1) Bullwinkles sports bar. While “gourmet” might be a stretch, their Wednesday night special of a $3.00 burger-and-fries is a pretty damn good deal & the burger is solid. They even have individual TV at each of the booths. But be aware– we are talking like “Beat the Clock Special” kinda hours in order to get a table for this firesale…I think we were there by 5:45PM. 😉

Uncle Glen even made the trek in from the farm to join us for some beef & 'taters! Glen & I went bold with an extra $0.50 for a cheeseburger. ;)

Uncle Glen even made the trek in from the farm to join us for some beef & 'taters! Glen & I went bold with an extra $0.50 for a cheeseburger. 😉

#2) The Farmer’s Daughter. This place is an institution in Grand Island, open every day but Sunday for breakfast & lunch only. We met my Dad for lunch between the math classes he’s teaching at CCC, but he’s also there every Thursday AM to meet a buddy for breakfast where the coffee flows like wine. The owner Deb is your classic diner proprietress who knows the name of 90% of the clientele at any given time. The day we went, specials include some fine-looking Fried Chicken, Clam Chowder, and classic meat salad sandwiches (i.e. chicken salad, beef salad, etc.). But the top draw here (outside of general food, friends and fellowship) is their amazing pies, particularly the meringue-topped options (as confirmed in the Boston Globe back in 2007!). The Farmer’s Daughter makes a mean banana cream, coconut cream, lemon cream, etc. Word on the street is get there before 12:30PM if you want a slice of the best ones.

On your next road trip through Nebraska, jump off Interstate 80 & hit the Farmer's Daughter for a quick breakfast & caffeine boost for the rest of your trip. And no one will look at you askance if you pick up a few pie slices for the road at 8:00AM....

On your next road trip through Nebraska, jump off Interstate 80 & hit the Farmer's Daughter for a quick breakfast & caffeine boost for the rest of your trip. And no one will look at you askance if you pick up a few pie slices for the road at 8:00AM....

Final Wedding Flashback: the big day

Let us cut back once more to a little over one year ago, to the big day in Glasgow when Julie & John officially became “The Talls”. (Official wedding day blogging delayed by higher priority anniversary vaca + subsequent MBA class prep…) :)

The day before the wedding, we suggested a day trip to Edinburgh to our guests, sending them on their way with one of my favorite Popout Maps of both Edinburgh & Glasgow. John & I remained in Glasgow to relax & finish final wedding-day prep activities, i.e. a hasty table plan + a last minute decision to get my dress steamed. That evening, I arranged to meet the bridal party at my favorite Glasgow pub (Ben Nevis) for a quick prep discussion & perhaps one cheeky pint. Famous last words.

For those of you not familiar with Tanya's patented game of Dance Ball, one person does a dance move then "throws" it to another person, who then has to repeat that dance move & introduce a new one. Note: this does not go over well at pubs where "dancing" is not socially acceptable... but it is freaking hilarious. As you can see, I am not a good dancer.

For those of you not familiar with Tanya's patented game of Dance Ball, one person does a dance move then "throws" it to another person, who then has to repeat that dance move & introduce a new one. Note: this does not go over well at pubs where "dancing" is not socially acceptable... but it is freaking hilarious. As you can see, I am not a good dancer.

You always hear stories about the brides who go on crazy diets for the month before their wedding and/or wouldn’t dream of ingesting any fatty foods or alcohol in the days before the event, lest they puff up like a tick for the big day. Well, my “last meal” as a singleton was a fried fish supper from the chippy down the road, followed by an impromptu near-bachelorette party drinking numerous pints of lager until midnight and playing an intense game of Dance Ball (not appreciated by our fellow middle-aged Glaswegian pub-goers). And it was fantastic. Some additional Carmanns even made an appearnance. :)

The girls drinking healthy, nutritious Kronenbourg 1664's to cleanse our systems before the wedding day.

The girls drinking healthy, nutritious Kronenbourg 1664's to cleanse our systems before the wedding day.

The Carmann brothers joined in the festivities as well!

The Carmann brothers joined in the festivities as well!

Our festivities were accompanied by a fantastic live session in the corner.

Our festivities were accompanied by a fantastic live session in the corner.

The boys + a few of the ladies had a similar pre-wedding get-together at my 2nd favorite pub, The Goat. However, I do not believe it entailed any Dance Ball, which I can only assume made it inferior to ours. 😉

The crew gathers for a group pic as the night winds down outside of The Goat. Who's ready to get married tomorrow???

The crew gathers for a group pic as the night winds down outside of The Goat. Who's ready to get married tomorrow???

Needless to say, the evening offered just the calm, relaxing experience traditionally hoped for before a wedding. :) The big event was held at House for an Art Lover in Glasgow, an amazing facility designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (excellent Scottish architect who is somewhat Frank Lloyd Wright-esque). Located in beautiful Bellahouston Park, we chose it because of its unique design, gorgeous setting, and super-tasty food. We held the ceremony as well as reception there, thanks to the support of the fantastic Pastor McNally that my mom found at St. Columba’s Lutheran Church. All went smoothly, thanks to great support from Gillian & James @ HAL, Ken Thompson of Team Thomson Photography, and wittily-named ceilidh band Ceilidh Minogue, who talked all of us novices through some very fun Scottish highland dancing. Anyway, enough chit-chat; here’s a few favorite pics courtesy Ken!! (click on individual photos to enlarge a bit)

the last-minute hand-made programs with my new favorite font, Mackintosh

Thanks for letting me take a quick trip back to our fun times in Scotland last May! We will now return to your regularly scheduled programming of Mexico, so expect a post on our recent anniversary trip to Huatulco this week… honest… 😉

Flashback to Wedding Week in Scotland, Part 2

We tried to reenact the scene from Titanic as the boat pulled out of the harbor on Loch Lomond...
We tried to reenact the scene from Titanic as the boat pulled out of the harbor on Loch Lomond…

Let us continue on our Mexico detour begun yesterday with our ambitious bus trip into the Scottish countryside! As part of of dragging our family & friends over to Glasgow for our wedding, we wanted to make sure they saw a sufficient smattering of the things that make Scotland so amazing. Obviously that list could get pretty long, but we pared it down to lochs, whiskey, and castles. In a truly fingers-crossed moment that Tuesday morning one year ago, John & I both heaved a sigh of relief as the bus we’d hired blindly from the US rolled up in front of our hotel right on time. We had a tight agenda planned & no time to waste!!

The Carmann crew pre-boat cruise and pre-Herickhoff addition. ;)

The Carmann crew pre-boat cruise and pre-Herickhoff addition. ;)

First it was off to lovely Loch Lomond for an hour-long boat cruise on the Astina. We were there early enough to secure basically the whole front of the boat’s open upper deck for ourselves, and we proceeded to bask in the sunlight while circling around the loch. (Check out the song immortalizing this Bonnie Loch here on YouTube.)

All our schoolkids eating their cold lunches on the grounds of Glengoyne distillery!

All our schoolkids eating their cold lunches on the grounds of Glengoyne distillery!

Next stop: Glengoyne, Scotland’s “Most Beautiful Distillery”! Clearly no trip to Scotland would be complete without a whisky tour!! We took advantage of the beautiful scenery and ate our bagged lunch on the grounds around the distillery buildings. Cheers to Seb’s Cafe in Glasgow for packing us AMAZING mediterranean lunches to go, with freshly-baked bread & tasty spinach/feta pastries. Sooo tasty.

 

Several happy whisky-tasters assessing Glengoyne's finest!

Several happy whisky-tasters assessing Glengoyne's finest!

After our lunch break, we headed in to meet the Glengoyne folks & kick things off with a whisky tasting! (Well, at least everyone who had fully recovered from the night before…) This was followed by a brief tour of the whisky-making process, where we were amused several times at the lack of overly-anal safety precautions that one might expect in the US (i.e. go ahead & touch the 500-degree copper cauldron if you’re stupid; be our guest!). Eventually we dragged everyone out of the overly-alluring gift shop…

Tanya tried to hang back to sneak a taste straight from the copper stills...

Tanya tried to hang back to sneak a taste straight from the copper stills...

Posing with a few sacrificial barrels outside the distillery

Posing with a few sacrificial barrels outside the distillery.

Our first view of Stirling Castle towering over the countryside!

Our first view of Stirling Castle towering over the countryside!

And the final stop on our bus tour: the imposing Stirling Castle, located about an hour north of Glasgow in Stirling. As per the website, “It towers over some of the most important battlefields of Scotland’s past including Stirling Bridge, the site of William Wallace’s victory over the English in 1297, and Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce defeated the same foe in the summer of 1314.” Quite a storied past!! I think good times were had by all wandering around the amazing stone buildings & taking photos of each other looking quite majestic. :)

The happy couple inside the Castle

The happy couple inside the Castle

One of the many amazing views from atop the Castle

One of the many amazing views from atop the Castle

We even briefly got to be King & Queen inside the Great Hall...

We even briefly got to be King & Queen inside the Great Hall...

The Scottish appeared to have chosen a sufficiently-rugged spot to build a castle on...

The Scottish appeared to have chosen a sufficiently-rugged spot to build a castle on...

EVERYTHING in Scotland is sooo green, with purple heather scattered about.

EVERYTHING in Scotland is sooo green, with purple heather scattered about.

Here's me trying not to fall down as bus driver Andy whipped around the curvy roads of Scotland, while sharing riveting comments with the first 4 rows that could hear me

Here's me trying not to fall down as bus driver Andy whipped around the curvy roads of Scotland, while sharing riveting comments with the first 4 rows that could hear me

The bus tour turned out to be a wild success, with all our visits running smoothly & offering much more relaxation than driving a rented car on the wrong side of the road! We returned to Glasgow for dinner in Merchant Square, a fun pseudo-courtyard that once held Glasgow’s Fruit Market and now is home to a number of bars & restaurants. A few ambitious folks finished up the night at Blackfriars, an excellent pub offering numerous beers on tap + cask ales as well as live music. More to follow soon! (And thanks to Marcia/Larry/Heidi/Scott for some of the above pics!)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming…

…to bring you a flashback to one year ago today in Scotland! I realized that I never really shared many of the pics from our wedding in Glasgow or the pre-wedding-week activities, so I thought we’d take a quick departure from Mexico across the pond over to Scotland!

Note to self: if you ever want to get a big group of guys into a dance club, have them wear the coolest Scottish hats ever.

Note to self: if you ever want to get a big group of guys into a dance club, have them wear the coolest Scottish hats ever.

First, the precursors: John’s Bachelor Party in Washington DC, where the boys all donned the famous “See You Jimmy” Scottish hats.

 

 

 

Yay for candy necklaces and tiaras!!!

Yay for candy necklaces and tiaras!!!

And Julie’s Bachelorette Party in Boston where we dined like queens and drank with all the tacky bachelorette accoutrements a girl could ask for. :)

80% of the bridal party has arrived! And yes-- my cousin is even taller than me!!

80% of the bridal party has arrived! And yes-- my cousin is even taller than me!!

 

 

But the official festivities began on May 18 with a welcome dinner at The Firebird gastropub in Glasgow’s West End. We had a fantastic welcome dinner of pizza, pasta, salad and hearty Scottish beers. I had the opportunity to wear the girl-kilt that John’s grandmother passed on to me, made of the family’s Farquharson tartan! Very exciting.

Here's the crew trotting through Kelvingrove Park to the university.

Here's the crew trotting through Kelvingrove Park to the university.

Monday morning we were up bright and early (most of us at the bargain-priced Sandyford Hotel) for a tour of the University of Glasgow, kindly arranged by our lovely friend Emily. GU is where I studied abroad my sophomore year of college, after which I was hard pressed to return to life in possibly-less-exciting Ames, Iowa. The university itself dates back to 1451, and the campus is a stunning mix of green spaces and gothic architecture.

The entrance to the university tower staircase gives you a feel that this was not meant for Carmann/Herickhoff-sized people...

The entrance to the university tower staircase gives you a feel that this was not meant for Carmann/Herickhoff-sized people...

We were lucky enough to score tours of both the University Tower/Main Building and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh House, one of my personal favorites. The Tower offers great views of the whole West End of Glasgow– if you are able to survive the 236 steps of the winding stone staircase to get to the top! Check out some of the city views from the Tower below & other shots of the university. (You will note the amazingly clear skies we were blessed with the entire week–not a drop of rain until the day AFTER our wedding. Needless to say, do not count on this if you take a trip to Scotland!!)

A view of the Kelvingrove Musem & park in Glasgow

A view of the Kelvingrove Musem & park in Glasgow

The Carmann & Herickhoff crew enjoying the breeze after a sweaty climb up...

The Carmann & Herickhoff crew enjoying the breeze after a sweaty climb up...

Birdseye view of the cloister courtyard of the university's main building

Birdseye view of the cloister courtyard of the university's main building

More of the lush green parklands around the University...with the convention center in the background, affectionately known as the Armadillo

More of the lush green parklands around the University...with the convention center in the background, affectionately known as the Armadillo

What is a trip to the UK without a photo with the red phone booths?? :)

What is a trip to the UK without a photo with the red phone booths?? :)

Here's the stunning University Chapel, where we briefly considered tying the knot

Here's the stunning University Chapel, where we briefly considered tying the knot

Off to squeeze ourselves onto the miniature subway of Glasgow at the Hillhead stop!

Off to squeeze ourselves onto the miniature subway of Glasgow at the Hillhead stop!

The remainder of our Monday afternoon in Glasgow was at our guests discretion. Some did the open-top bus tour, some visited the Glasgow Cathedral, some experienced the Glasgow Underground system (better known as “Clockwork Orange” for its bright hue & its circular layout).

John took advantage of the night out to get a few final kisses in before the big day.

John took advantage of the night out to get a few final kisses in before the big day.

After a brief rest, many of us ventured off to Ashton Lane, a fantastic wee strip of bars & restaurants just west of the University. We started off at favorite Irish pub Jinty McGinty’s, and then moved on to Bar Brel for tasty Belgian beer offerings.

Stone-cold sober, this crowd, folks. Stone cold.

Stone-cold sober, this crowd, folks. Stone cold.

Here is the Scooby Snack, hiding in its lair.

Here is The Maggie's finest: a Scoobie Snack, hiding in its lair.

Although there was initial talk of moving onto a club due the early closing time of pubs in Scotland, John & I wisely managed to steer interest away from more drinking and instead towards the best drunk food you may ever find. We slowly herded cats towards a vending truck known as “The Maggie” parked at a nearby busy intersection (Byres Road & Great Western Road).

Warning: Eating a Scooby Snack may cause tears of joy or horror, depending on how cognizant you are of what you are ingesting.

Warning: Eating a Scoobie Snack may cause tears of joy or horror, depending on how cognizant you are of what you are ingesting.

The Maggie is famous for its Scoobie Snacks, a creation that consists of 6 items: a hambuger pattie, a sausage pattie, bacon, a fried egg, cheese, and a potato scone, all stuffed into a bap (aka bun). Needless to say, this is the epitome of the “Seemed like a good idea at the time” food genre. :) But regardless, all diners were pleased and clearly agreed with us that this is a “must do” on any visit to Glasgow.

Nothing says "classy wedding trip" like gathering around the back end of a food truck for a photo of you & several wedding party members eating your weight in grease.

Nothing says "classy wedding trip" like gathering around the back end of a food truck for a photo of you & several wedding party members eating your weight in grease.

Tune back in tomorrow for further reenactments of John & Julie’s Wedding Trip to Scotland, one year ago this very week!

¡Obámanos!!!

So we saw him!! Eeeee! Know that I sacrificed the chance for a handshake in favor of “The President is only 4 feet away!!!” photo attempts, realizing that the memory of a handshake would be less effectively conveyed via a blog. 😉  John almost managed to get a hand in, but was foiled at the last minute by a secret service agent who was pushing his way through the crowd paralleling Obama as he walked along the perimeter shaking hands.

The entrance to the hotel + intimidating warrior.

The entrance to the hotel + intimidating warrior.

The festivities were held at the Presidente InterContinental Mexico Hotel in Polanco, conveniently located within walking distance of our apartment, where Obama spent the night. The area around the hotel had been on near-lock-down for the two prior days, so the walk to the hotel was intriguing as we passed hundreds of armed local police/army (which for whatever reason, doesn’t make me feel particularly “secure” here in Mexico…). One stat we heard was over 3,000 local police were on the scene, but total security was probably well over that between police + army + Secret Service + whatever other organizations were out and about.

Here’s a photo overview of our experience with ¡Obamanos! ’09, followed by some additional commentary regarding his visit.

We passed dozens of parked buses/trucks/jeeps that had brought in the hundreds of police/army members to secure the area around the hotel. Once you got within a few blocks, all streets were barricaded & heavily armed dudes were hanging out everywhere.

We passed dozens of parked buses/trucks/jeeps that had brought in the hundreds of police/army members to secure the area around the hotel. Many buses were still filled with snoozing police. Once you got within a few blocks, all streets were barricaded & heavily armed dudes were hanging out everywhere.

The barricades directly around the hotel were lined with hopeful Obama-watchers & photographers, all of whom I believe were disappointed by his arrival through the hotel underground parking garage.

The barricades directly around the hotel were lined with hopeful Obama-watchers & photographers, all of whom I believe were disappointed by his arrival through the hotel underground parking garage.

Entering the hotel entailed passing through metal detectors, I'm sure to the delight of any hotel guests who were unfortunate enough to have chosen the Intercontinental for their Thursday night stay.

Entering the hotel entailed passing through metal detectors, I'm sure to the delight of any hotel guests who were unfortunate enough to have chosen the Intercontinental for their Thursday night stay. We also had to turn on all phones & cameras to verify they were real & not secret bombs.

 

Unsurprisingly, we were not the first folks from the Embassy to arrive at the hotel to get in line. Apparently over 800 workers + family members had tickets for the event.

Unsurprisingly, we were not the first folks from the Embassy to arrive at the hotel to get in line. Apparently over 800 workers + family members had tickets for the event.

Our initial point in the *lengthy* line was conveniently next to one of the hotel restaurants, so we were able to have a brief sit.

Our initial point in the *lengthy* line was conveniently next to one of the hotel restaurants, so we were able to have a brief sit.

I was pleased to see one of the Presidential Bomb-Sniffing Dogs on the alert in the hotel lobby.

I was pleased to see one of the Presidential Bomb-Sniffing Dogs on the alert in the hotel lobby.

During our walk to the hotel, a bird made a "deposit" on Mark's arm, which is supposed to signify good luck. This theory was proven tru, as he managed to get a handshake with El Presidente himself.

During our walk to the hotel, a bird made a "deposit" on Mark's arm, which is supposed to signify good luck. This theory was proven true, as Mark managed to get a handshake with El Presidente himself.

As we wound through the hotel in line, we passed this storefront with a security guard MANNEQUIN in the window. I was intrigued as to both a) how many robberies this fake cop deters, and b) why a store selling *property* (arguably something that can not be stolen from your storefront) would feel the need to add this extra layer of highly effective security...

As we wound through the hotel in line, we passed this storefront with a security guard MANNEQUIN in the window. I was intrigued as to both a) how many robberies this fake cop deters, and b) why a store selling *property* (arguably something that can not be stolen from your storefront) would feel the need to add this extra layer of highly effective security...

Finally! We have reached the 2nd set of metal detectors right before entering the official ballroom.

Finally! We have reached the 2nd set of metal detectors right before entering the official ballroom.

Inside the ballroom, we noted two more interesting tidbits. 1) Somebody must have spent *a lot* of hours/dollars on that super-special "Welcome to Mexico" sign in the back... 2) What is the deal with the FIVE American flags vs. ONE shorter Mexican flag on the stage? Are we trying to remind the Mexicans of US dominance (+ height)? This seemed a bit misplaced to me, but perhaps there is a deeper meaning of which I am unaware...

Inside the ballroom, we noted two more interesting tidbits. 1) Somebody must have spent *a lot* of hours/dollars on that super-special "Welcome to Mexico" sign in the back... 2) What is the deal with the FIVE American flags vs. ONE shorter Mexican flag on the stage? Are we trying to remind the Mexicans of US dominance (+ height)? This seemed a bit misplaced to me, but perhaps there is a deeper meaning of which I am unaware...

So we basically stood in that room for 1.5 hours, pressed against all the other embassy employees to get as close to the podium as we could. Rough estimate of number times John & I received comments about how we were lucky to be tall: 27. Number of bitter comments heard about our height from people behind us: 13.

So we basically stood in that room for 1.5 hours, pressed against all the other embassy employees to get as close to the podium as we could. Rough estimate of number times John & I received comments about how we were lucky to be tall: 27. Number of bitter comments heard about our height from people behind us: 13.

Yes!!! Finally Obama arrived!! Here he is waiting while the Chargé de Affairs Leslie Basset gave him a 10-second introduction.

Yes!!! Finally Obama arrived!! Here he is waiting while the Chargé de Affairs Leslie Basset gave him a 10-second introduction (the brevity of which he appreciated).

Obama spoke for about 90 seconds, basically thanking everyone for their service to America. He commented that the use of diplomatic power is just as important as the use of military & economic power. It was perhaps a bit shorter of a speech than we had hoped, but I guess his impending dinner date with Mexican President Calderon *may* have been more important than chatting with us at length...

Obama spoke for about 90 seconds, basically thanking everyone for their service to America. He commented that the use of diplomatic power is just as important as the use of military & economic power. It was perhaps a bit shorter of a speech than we had hoped, but I guess his impending dinner date with Mexican President Calderon *may* have been more important than chatting with us at length...

Then he was ushed over to the left for a photo with all the kids over 6 years old, (who a few Embassy employees had managed to keep entertaining/still for at least an hour-- well done). I trust the official photos are less blurry...

Then he was ushed over to the left for a photo with all the kids over 6 years old, (who a few Embassy employees had managed to keep entertaining/still for at least an hour-- well done). I trust the official photos are less blurry...

Obama was merely feet away from us at this juncture, all the while carefully monitored by Señor Secret Service behind him.

Obama was merely feet away from us at this juncture, all the while carefully monitored by Señor Secret Service behind him.

Another close-up as he made his way along the crowd of raving fans.

Another close-up as he made his way along the crowd of raving fans.

The furor of cameras was intense! This was just before he held two lucky babies (who I guess now will never have leprosy).

The furor of cameras was intense! This was just before he held two lucky babies (who I guess now will never have leprosy).

And like that, our brush with fame was over. Here's John & Sergio on the walk home, flanked by one of the many readily-armed security forces... Definitely doesn't make you nervous in the least... ;)

And like that, our brush with fame was over. Here's John & Sergio on the walk home, flanked by one of the many readily-armed security forces... Definitely doesn't make you nervous in the least... 😉

And so ended ¡Obamanos! 2009. It was a lot of standing & waiting, but it was definitely cool to see our new President in person, who seems like such a normal, down-to-earth, smart guy. Although his talk was very brief, his ease and comfort as a public speaker, ability to think on his feet and to get a quick laugh from the crowd were plainly evident.

For additional photos from the day, check out these photo galleries from El Universal newspaper here in Mexico City: security pics, Obama pics. In general, Mexicans seemed excited about his visit, though most of the press skewed more towards “Thanks for coming but we’re not holding our breath that you’re actually going to do anything for us since you Americans have so many problems back home these days.” One El Universal headline read “Obama abre los brazos pero comprete poco“, or “Obama opens his arms but commits little.”

One of the many current US/Mexico hot topics is the assault weapons ban. Obama essentially told Calderon that he supports it, but lacks the political capital to get it through Congress right now & will instead focus on enforcing existing laws. I am not remotely an expert on gun laws nor am I naive enough to think that the drug cartels wouldn’t get their weapons elsewhere if we made it harder to get them in the US, but reading the spate of recent articles on this topics certainly makes you wonder, “Could it be any EASIER for the narcos to buy assault weapons from US gun shows?” (at gun shows, unlicensed sellers can sell from their “personal collections” to any buyers without a background check).

Anyway, some other random facts from Obama’s visit!

  • When Obama stays overnight on his travels, he is accompanied by over 800 people (Secret Service, White House staff, members of the press, Congressional delegation, etc. etc.)
  • The White House flew down the 2 armored limos, armored SUVs, and multiple (~5) helicopters that Obama was transported in while in Mexico City.
  • Terminal 2 of the Mexico City airport was shutdown for the arrival of Air Force One around 1:30 on Thursday, affecting the departures/arrivals of about 40 flights.
  • El Universal highlighted that “Obama did not walk on any street of Mexico City during his visit.”  As though this is a great surprise…  If Mexicans thought security in Polanco was crazy for this visit, can you imagine if they tried to coordinate him going for a stroll down Reforma???
  • Alas, no opp for a height-comparison photo, but hopes are high for a return Obama visit during our time here in Mexico City!!!
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