All Good Things

We haven’t been writing much – well, really, at all – these past few weeks.  I started hostessing at a new restaurant; Sean has been busy working the line at the deli; we successfully hosted our first Christmas for my family and Sean’s mom in our little apartment; and we’ve been making a concerted effort to find our new favorite places in our ‘hood.  Busy busy, and we’re happy with our progress since moving here just over two months ago.

Sometimes we’ll look at each other and remember how different things were six months or a year ago.  Our room used to be freezing.  It was normal to not really know what was going on or what to expect every day.  We had lots and lots of free time – and very few responsibilities.  And yet this new American life, so different than what we’ve had for the past few years and even in a totally new part of the country for us, feels so familiar and uncomplicated.  We’ve slipped right back in to America, and it was easier than we expected.

We’ve stepped away from the blog recently to give ourselves space to decide about how to best move forward with it.  We originally started it to document the process and our experience of packing up, moving and living halfway around the world.  But we’re back now, and our daily life is no longer this exotic thing that we really want to document in detail.  Plus, we’ve found that normally blog-able events and experiences are being captured and shared in other ways (Instagram, facebook, twitter, etc.).  Finally, we have the wonderful ability to call, text and email friends and family whenever we want – something I don’t take for granted after our time in Georgia.

With all that, the conclusion might be obvious to all of you:  we’ve decided to stop blogging.  I am so very happy we have a record of the past three years (in fact, one of my favorite rainy day activities is to click “random post” and relive our travels and time in Georgia) and am thankful to all of you that read along.  At times it was all very therapeutic and helped us feel closer to home.  But I don’t like doing doing things if I can’t do them well, and firmly believe it is better to put an end to something when the time is right rather than allowing a slow and painful death.  All good things must come to an end.

Logistically speaking, we’re not going to delete the site; we’ll let it be as-is and perhaps a future Georgian Peace Corps Volunteer will find it useful.  And we’re not ruling out a future return to the blogging world.  We’ll keep seanandmckinze.com (as some of you many remember, it was originally our wedding site); perhaps it will take on some other incarnation in the future.  But for now, we’re saying goodbye to our little blog.  Thanks, world, for reading.

Ringing in the New Year.  Here's to 2013!

Ringing in the New Year. Here’s to all good things in 2013!

The Professional

For the first time in my life, I can say that I am a professional cook.

My “office”

That is to say, I get paid to make food. For other people to eat. It is my job. My profession. What I doLike, for money and stuff.

Let’s not confuse my work with that of a professional chef. No, I am far from the geniuses you see on Top Chef or the millions you never see in the kitchens of your favorite restaurants. (At this moment, I am trying to rescue a pot of black bean chili that has been in the slow cooker all day, and yet the beans are still hard as pebbles. This, my friends, would not happen to a chef.)

When we moved to Portland, I wanted an apartment close to downtown, in a cool neighborhood, and a job working in the kitchen of a restaurant close enough to home that I could easily walk there. I had literally no experience working in a commercial kitchen (except for volunteering at one of the popular places back in Akhaltsikhe). Good luck.

Call it luck, call it will, call it whatever — but both of those things happened. We have a nice little apartment in a truly lovely neighborhood within walking distance of seemingly everything (although I know there is sooooo much more Portland to explore outside of this area). A couple of weeks ago, after putting out several resumes to CraigsAbyss — I mean Craigslist — I got a call for an interview. A couple of hours later, I was sitting in the owner’s office. He was looking for an experienced line cook. That was not me. But by the end of our brief meeting, I had somehow convinced him to give me a shot anyway.

The next day I started.

Over the last two weeks I’ve feverishly been getting up to speed in the kitchen at Kornblatt’s Deli, an old-school New York-style deli on the popular shopping and dining thoroughfare that is Northwest 23rd Avenue. It takes me five minutes to walk there.

We make lots and lots of reubens, hot pastrami, breakfast scrambles, french toast, bagels, lox plates, triple-decker sandwiches, knish, kugel, rugelach, whitefish salad… lots of stuff. And it is genuinely really, really tasty. Our pastrami and corned beef sandwiches are ridiculous. The place draws a huge breakfast and lunch crowd of regulars, tourists and shoppers.

I’m learning a lot and doing a bit of everything: prepping ginormous bowls of potato salad (after peeling 50 lbs of potatoes); making lots and lots of eggs, cooked every different way, and lots and lots of omelettes, and lots and lots and lots of sandwiches; slicing, dicing & chopping; taking orders; washing dishes; stocking the walk-in fridge; cleaning the stove; emptying the trash. Everything. Making countless mistakes, burning myself, cutting myself, spilling things, breaking things… And I’m totally digging it. The people I work with are unbelievably patient, supportive and good at what they do.

When I interviewed, the owner just didn’t understand what I was doing there. Why did I want a job like this, with my background in marketing, with my previous experience running a theater, with my MBA, with my Peace Corps service. Why did I want to shift gears at this point in my “career” and do something in the food business? Didn’t I know that it was a ton of work, that the hours sucked, that the pay sucked worse and that it was stressful? Why? Why?!?

Because I thought it would be fun, that’s why. And it’s experience I’ve always wanted to have.

And ya know what? It is fun.

I spend so many of my waking hours in a kitchen, either at work or at home. We’re making so much of our food from scratch these days. I cook something every day. The freezer is filling up with homemade stocks to use in soups and stews later in the year. The fridge’s “inventory control” is so precise that virtually nothing gets thrown out, nothing goes to waste. McKinze is baking all of our bread; we haven’t bought a loaf since we moved in. I dig it. I really, really dig it.

Life in Portland is great so far. So great, but so different from our lives a few months ago, camping across the country… or a few months before that, bouncing around Turkey… or the years before that, living in the country of Georgia…

Because of those differences, we wonder what sort of a role this blog will play in our lives in the weeks and months to come. We honestly don’t know.

When we were overseas, this was a great way to keep in touch with everyone at once, with limited internet access and so many “exotic” adventures and quirky cultural differences to share. Now that we’re back in the land that most of you readers are familiar with, surrounded by WiFi Everywhere All The Time, each of us with a new iPhone 5, we still have so much we want to say and share… but we find ourselves turning to things like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram more often than the blog. We don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

Where does that leave us? Well, the blog isn’t going anywhere; it’ll still be here. What direction it takes from here… well… give us time. We’ll figure it out. In the meantime, you can find us on Facebook (Sean / McKinze), Twitter (Sean / McKinze) and Instagram (Sean / McKinze).

The Oregon Coast

A few weeks ago – as in, before we went back to Iowa to load all our stuff into a moving truck – we visited the Oregon Coast.  We tried to go there during my first trip to Oregon in May 2011, but as some of you may remember, we ran into a little hiccup:

Since then I’ve been looking for opportunities to visit.  I love the water and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the coast itself and the towns that line it.  So when we heard the news that our old, dear friend Reid and his ladyfriend were not only coming to visit Portland but also wanted to hit up the coast, well – we were all about it!

It’d been far too long since we’d seen Reid.  He was our neighbor in our Georgian village during training and quickly became one of our dearest friends in Peace Corps. We had some good times with Reid (see here, herehere and here)…

…so when he left Peace Corps in May 2011 to return Stateside for family reasons, we were disappointed (although totally understanding).  Our reunion, then, was 1.5 years in the making!

Reunited, and it feels so good!

The coast (specifically, we went to Cannon Beach) was really pretty, albeit windy and rainy.  The drive there too was autumnal and gorgeous, although you’ll have to take my word on it since I was too busy chatting up our long-lost friends to take pictures.

We also strolled through the town, which was touristy in a cute way.  Coffee shops, candy stores, used booksellers…you know the place.  Still, we had a great day with Liz and Reid and even managed to try some local beer and other delicacies.

Raw oyster shooters!

Reid and Liz are considering a move to the West Coast after their wedding next year.  I’m pushing for Portland.  (Let’s be honest, I’m pushing for everyone I know to move to Portland!)  Good friends are too hard to find.

Bread Challenge

Anyone who has spoken to us in the past two weeks can vouch for me when I say that we are so very happy to have our own place.  Especially our own kitchen!  We have been reunited with our pots and pans, knives, baking dishes and even my beloved KitchenAid.  And it is lovely.

During the days of longing for our own kitchen, I came up with the goal of baking our own bread.  Not that I’ve baked much bread – I’m more of a cake-and-cookies girl – but I did hone my kneading skills in Georgia.  Now that we’re actually in our own apartment and unpacked enough to have a working kitchen, I decided to give it a try – at least through Christmas.

Now that I’m starting Week Three, I thought it was time for a progress report.

Week One: Honey Oat Pain de Mie Bread

Week Two: Hearth Bread

Week Two: Italian Braided Bread

Week Three: White Pain de Mie Bread

While I think we’re off to a good start, I haven’t been in love with every loaf.  My Hearth Bread was…boring?  Lacking in flavor?  Same with the braided loaf.  (After consulting with my mom – an excellent bread maker – I need to add in a bit of sugar to amp up the yeasty flavor I want.)  The last loaf was underdone, even though I followed the directions perfectly.  That’s what being too lazy to use an instant-read thermometer will do!

But I think it’s a starting point.  I love my Pain de Mie pan – the one with a lid that results in the awesome, square sandwich loaves – and I’m getting better at keeping my yeast happy and rising.  I’m also convinced that anyone, with a few tips, can bake their own bread.  (Let me know if you want to talk bread!)

Bottom line?  I’m sticking with this, because an apartment filled with the scent of freshly baked bread is the best.

First Weeks in Portland

Oddly enough, I am writing this post about settling in to life in Portland from Iowa City, Iowa.  Yep, we’re back in the Midwest – more on that later.

We’ve spent the past three weeks living with Sean’s very hospitable aunt and uncle, in a suburb rightfully dubbed as “the Gateway to the Gorge” (the Columbia River Gorge).  They sweetly cleaned out the closet and dresser in their spare bedroom, had keys made for us and generally gave us the run of the kitchen and the pantry.  As I told Sean’s aunt on our first night there, it was really great to have a soft place to land.

We tried to show our appreciation to Sean’s aunt and uncle by cooking and baking. I made the dough and Sean made the toppings for a BLT pizza.

And since then, we’ve been doing our best to acclimatize – quickly – to our new city.  Learning which interstates, generally, go where.  Scouring craigslist for jobs and apartments.  Looking up neighborhood names and their corresponding streets.  Getting local phone numbers.  Checking out new grocery stores and popular Pacific Northwest brands of, well, everything.

We found a winner in WinCo. For the Iowans out there, it’s a Food-4-Less style store, so the shopping experience isn’t luxurious. But for the price…!

While there are definitely moments where we feel overwhelmed, far from home (wherever that even is for us anymore!), or just a little out of our comfort zone, we have been reminded, often, of all the reasons we really like Portland and are excited about building a life here.  It’s a really cool city.

Oregon is known for its microbreweries and overall great beer.  This place is right down the street from us!

We also have to remind ourselves that starting over is not a easy thing; to remember, all we need to do is to think back to our first months in Georgia.  So the moments of oh-my-god-what-are-we-doing-here, or oh-I-feel-so-out-of-place-here, we tell each other, are totally normal.

But outside of the minor freak-out moments, we like to think that Portland loves us.  Why else would our first two weeks in the city – an known for his rain and fog – be 70s and sunny every day?  Why else would we have daily, clear, gorgeous views of Mount Hood (a rarity)?  And, best of all, why would we find an affordable, historic, perfect-for-us apartment in our ideal neighborhood, on just our first full day of apartment- and job-hunting?  Yep, we feel like Portland is doing her best to win us over.

Hi, Mount Hood! Sean grabbed this shot on our way back to his aunt and uncle’s suburb from downtown Portland.

Which brings me to why we are here, in Iowa, and not living it up in our new ‘hood.  We took possession of our tiny (but cute!) apartment on Sunday.  We basically dropped our bins and hopped in the car to check out the Oregon Coast with friends.  We spent Sunday night on our loaned air mattress, happy to finally – after almost three years! – be in a place that was ours and ours alone.

We’re in apartment #104 – which also is the street address where I grew up. Another sign? I think so!

And by Monday, we realized that camping chairs and loaned sheets just weren’t going to cut it.  Originally we’d planned to return to Iowa over Thanksgiving, but seeing as neither family is big on that holiday and we have yet to find jobs in Portland…well, no point in twiddling our thumbs.  So at 6:51 a.m. on Tuesday, we were back on a plane to Iowa.

We’ll be loading up our moving truck over the weekend and heading out for our second cross-country road trip this fall on Monday.  This one, however, isn’t going to be leisurely – nope, we’re planning knocking it out over few 8-10 hour days.  By Friday night should everything go according to plan, we will be in our apartment with all our things, ready to really settle down in Portland.

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