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Food!

I leave England, school and having a flat to hit the road and to parts and plans unknown once more. It was fun to be in one place for a bit, to have friends and a neighborhood again. I miss the road and an opportunity to drive across America came up. I’ve been meaning to do this ever since I drove across Vietnam. Why am I driving across another, albeit much smaller, country instead of my own?

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“What’s in the large bag?” is a fun question to come up with answers that don’t let the baggage person know it is a bicycle. I think “kinetic natural art sculpture” is my favorite answer so far.

I landed in New York just in time to celebrate the Superbowl and Chinese New Years on the same day. This is my yearly or bi-yearly dose of snow that did make me wonder if two Californians would be ok driving through the northeast during a blizzard.

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Because none of my friends live in Manhattan anymore, I get a great view of the island from Queens.

Luckily the northeast and the eight states we shot through went by real quickly and we hit the south for barbecue and warm weather galore. I’ve driven from Chicago to Los Angeles before but mostly missed the south that time.

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We stayed on a plantation our first night, already out of the cold and across six states in one day!

My friend and I would marvel at how many states we drove through. The west coast is not that fast to shoot through so many small states. My European friends were confused that I could drive a whole day and not leave the state

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The lovely car that someone let me drive getting our car mishaps out of the way early on the second morning. We kept the nail on our dashboard as a good luck charm.

The destinations we stopped by were picked by a mixture of places I wanted to eat, national parks my friend and I wanted to see and cities I’ve been meaning to check out to see if they might be a good fit for living in in the future.

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I missed good barbecue… and ridiculous American portions. Food comas during driving are hilarious.

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Seriously though, I would not mind owning a rig to smoke meats this big one day. #LifeGoals

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Outside a small batch whiskey distillery in Nashville. I was here for the hot chicken, design and to be one of those LA people possibly moving to Nashville.

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If I had a bumper sticker, it would say, “Will stop for gravy, biscuits, chicken fried things, really anything you would put gravy on.”

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The famous Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans for beignets and chicory coffee at all hours of the day and night.

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How could you not love the wide open road surrounded by endless sky and water topped with many layers of dreamy clouds.

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We stopped at a gator rescue. This involved getting to hold adorable baby gators. One of two times the trip involved critters on the road not for eating. The other was also in the bayou and involved a black pig ambling across our path at dusk. Somehow I missed going pig hunting in Austin AND getting roadkill pig, but alas, it’s not my car.

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Not quite the season to do all the beautiful art and earthworks scattered through the southwest but we did stop in Marfa. I did not know everything is shut down Monday through Wednesday so we mostly got to see this.

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Well, we also stopped to try to see the missing encounter or alien like lights that are supposed to be visible in the area. With views like this, you do kind of feel unearthly.

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The twisted path down to the Carlsbad Caverns. Or hell. Whichever you want to imagine.

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We zig zagged across New Mexico looking for everything that could be found with the infamous Hatch chiles. A former roommate from New Mexico instilled a love of these particular chiles that the state is so rightly proud of.

This included a stop at Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences. There’s something charming about a former hot springs town that was fading into the dust near a bunch of military complexes. The addition of an abandoned recently built spaceport that was supposed to be the first consumer space flight port only makes it better. The poor disinterested worker there was much more excited to tell us about where to get a great hatch cheeseburger.

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Chile relleno in a burrito, hatch chiles in a burger, Christmas style sauces (both red and green) on enchiladas, I could wax Dr. Seussian about hatch chiles forever. That tiny cup in the lower left corner from Horseman’s Haven was the real killer though. One drop burned my mouth to tears. Worth it.

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We got to the Grand Canyon just in time to see both snow and clear skies for their one hundredth anniversary. Happy birthday canyon!

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I will also always stop for roadside fried foods. This is one of my favorites, known as Navajo fry bread. You can get it topped with butter and honey or with taco fillings.

Nothing like a good road trip to end having a place to live again. Do I want to live on the road in America? I’m not quite sure yet but I certainly keep falling in love with all these places.

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My favorite city in Europe on my backpacking trip was Sarajevo and I was thrilled to be able to visit again with a friend. We came back to explore the claim someone made when I visited last time that one could ski an Olympic mountain for $10. It’s jumped to 18 euros now, but that’s still pretty darned good and a great excuse to visit.

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My favorite thing to do a lot of places. Wandering the quiet streets in the morning or late at night when everyone else is asleep.

 

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One of the things I loved most about Sarajevo the first time was waking up to a melange of church bells and prayer calls. It’s still pretty magical.

 

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Sometimes there’s an adorable mosque kitty too.

 

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The first time I mostly remember the war roses, the bomb holes filled with red cement that hadn’t gotten paved over since. This time it was the building decay and bullet holes.

 

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I couldn’t leave Sarajevo without having as many burek as I could fit. Still delicious.

Among the amusing and delicious food finds was a great little cafe hidden on a back street where the young owner and chef regaled us with the differences with former Yugoslavian punk rock and modern Bosnian music. After celebrating new years at a local university craft brew pub, we headed into the mountains to go skiing. There’s a few places one can ski and we hit Jahorina. It ended up mostly being one really long run without the best snow the first couple days, we were a bit early in the season.

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When you think the blanket may be older than you and it’s all the more charming for it.

We stayed at what was the official Olympic hotel full of Bosnian families. The terrible buffet and decor were all I could have hoped it to be. I don’t know that I would recommend anyone go there who isn’t stunned by this.

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Now that I haven’t been traveling for a year, I was not landmark fatigued and made it to some more historical things my friend wanted to go to like the war tunnels. Claustrophobic much? Just in time for the 25th anniversary of the war.

I decided to go to Christmas markets in Dusseldorf and Bath. I wondered if Christmas outside America was equally a commercial affair out to get people to buy stuff. Everything is so global it can be hard to tell, as American Christmas music blasted out in Germany. I did realize how many of our traditions are probably from German or English traditions. After buying a few ornaments and handmade presents for family and friends I moved on to the most interesting part of the markets for me, all the food.

The first night involved train station market potato pancakes and mulled wine before heading off to a local brewery.Brauerei Schumacher, what a spelling, releases their extra rich latzenbier three times a year that used to be reserved for monks and the wealthy. We accidentally showed up on the right day to try it.

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An excellent place to dive into the big meaty portions I associate with traditional German food. I saved the schweinshaxe for a later meal on this trip.

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They mark the number of beers on your coaster, the big Russian dude next to us had 18 marks when he left.

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As far as I can tell, Christmas markets are as full of bars as the are stalls for anything else. This meant a lot of hot chocolate, spiced cider and mulled wine to warm us up.

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A whole wheel of deep fried camembert and forest mushrooms with a remoulade type cream dipping sauce from the same stall. Two of my favorite things at one stall, be still my now artery clogged but excitedly beating heart.

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Mettwurst! Now to find an excuse to make a mett hedgehog. 

Ok this was the local market and not the Christmas market but I finally got my mettwurst sandwich and ate half before remembering to take a picture. A friend in Berlin originally suggested it at 5 pm at a market that had it premade or from the supermarket. Even I have limits for raw meat. This one came from gesturing wildly at the very crowded butcher who had me walk across the aisle to the butcher before returning. Many thanks to the people next to me who helped me translate.

At one point I wandered off the very ornately designed tourist markets that they put on a nice map for you into a random local market. Gone were the hand carved wooden everything replaced by mass market produced cell phone covers and plastic toys. It felt like a street full of mall kiosks. The potato pancakes and bars were still there. While I’m usually sick of Christmas music and commercial decoration it was fun to check out all the different variety of Christmas markets.

 

How could I pass up a misconception about JFK proclaiming himself to be a doughnut? Alas, I don’t have many photos of Berlin so it will look like I ate a lot, perhaps not untrue either. It was also full of wonderful bicycle rides as we visited a friend who lived here. Seeing a place with a friend is mildly different than the general wander that I do. I enjoy seeing the place through their lens as a local and wonder what I would’ve seen myself. My friend did decline coming to the currywurst museum with me. I do wish I had gotten some pictures as Tempelhofer park seemed to be full of every type of possible strange human conveyance, but it’s hard to capture a guy racing by on a wind skateboard unicycle.

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Why, it wouldn’t be German to me without a schweinaxe and woodsorrel beer.

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The East German crosswalk symbol has his own snack food and store dedicated to his iconic look.

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Communist parks and abandoned amusement parks made for great bicycle rides.

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More pork and beer, this time fried. Well, not the beer.

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An old chunk of Berlin wall showing the city’s diversity?

Far from the many spring breaks I spent in Mexico, I decided to take this year’s as a sort of creative working holiday.

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Full of narrow streets, bridges and hills, Lisbon reminded me a lot of San Francisco. 

 

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I spent most of my time near the beach working, enjoying fresh fish and cold wine. Excuse the extreme exposure coming in from the sea and sun.

I left the west coast sea after a surf lesson and some delicious seafood to go check out Evora, hub of delicious wine, cheese and meat products.

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The megaliths outside Evora as shown by the most enthusiastic young archeology professor who helped write the interpretive text for all the sites. 

The tour guide of the megaliths explained surprisingly to me that when Portugal lost all its colonies in the 70s the countries sent all the Portuguese back to Portugal. As the children of immigrants, I can’t even imagine being forced going back to a country I had possibly never visited. The population of the country doubled in one year and every room in every hotel in Lisbon was packed.

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I probably spent most of my time in Portugal wandering narrow alleys and gawking at the architecture.

 

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I’ve wanted to see a bone church ever since hearing about one in Prague I didn’t have time to go see. Well, there’s on in Evora.

On my way out, I emptied everything in my suitcase into a tote bag and shoved my entire suitcase full of wine, olive oil, ham and cheese. I may not be staying in Portugal but I would take as much of it with me as I could. If only I could’ve taken the climate too.

When I was a freshman in college, my roommate would suggest that we drive into ethnic parts of town and try a random restaurant.  This worked better in Thai Town than it did when we ended up with extremely gamey offal and blood sausages in Koreatown.  Alas, although I’ve known to go to Jitlada, Pa Ord, and Sapp Coffee House for a while, I haven’t explored the rest of delicious Thai Town.  My recent time in Hollywood has reignited my interest to get into the weirder nooks.  I know I’m not done exploring yet but this is certainly a start.

I think Ruen Pair is actually the first restaurant in Thai Town I went to ever, the one in college.  The papaya salad was tasty and a bit big of a portion for one.  The morning glory was delicious but the crispy pork was a bit stale.  I've tried crispy pork with holy basil at Pa Ord many times as well, and always find it much less tasty than chicharrones.

I think Ruen Pair is actually the first restaurant in Thai Town I went to ever, the one in college. The papaya salad was tasty and a big portion for one. The morning glory was delicious but the crispy pork was a bit stale tasting. I’ve tried holy basil crispy pork at Pa Ord multiple times and find it much less tasty than chicharrones.  I guess I don’t like Thai crispy pork and won’t need to try the next door AYCE Crispy Pork Gang.

While I’ve tried Pa Ord and Sapp Coffee House for their boat noodles, both being delicious, I never get very far past that at Sapp Coffee House.  I haven’t been in years though so I did go back and try the boat noodles, still delicious and I mildly prefer them more than Pa Ord’s.  I can vouch that Pa Ord, who may or may not have three locations now, does do plenty of noodle dishes and tom kha kai well but is less spectacular for the rice dishes.

I've never gone past the boat noodles at the early closing Sapp Coffee House.  The jade noodles are beautiful to look at but I found the meats overwhelming and the overall effect a bit fishy due to the crab.

I’ve never gone past the boat noodles at the early closing Sapp Coffee House. The jade noodles are beautiful to look at but I found the meats overwhelming and the overall effect a bit fishy due to the crab.  Maybe it would be better “wet” with soup, but likely not.

For all my time in Thailand and Thai Town, I really haven't eaten very many curries.  I usually leave that to Jitlada's delicious mouth killing spiciness.  This is the red curry from Yai Thai, a northern specialist.  I believe curry is from the east, but this was pretty good with the mound of sticky rice.

I used to think Thai food just meant pad thai and curries.  For all my time in Thailand and Thai Town, I haven’t eaten very many curries. I usually leave that to Jitlada’s delicious mouth killing spiciness. This is the red curry from Yai Thai, a northern specialist. I believe curry is from the east, but this was pretty good with the sticky rice.

I spent most of my time in Thailand in the north so I have fallen in love with khao soi.  That is a khao soi on the right that tastes like nothing I had in Thailand, but is still pretty tasty.  On the left is a delicious flaming tom yum soup.

I spent most of my time in north Thailand so I have fallen in love with the curry noodle soup, khao soi. That is a khao soi on the right that tastes like nothing I had in Thailand, but is still pretty tasty. On the left is a delicious flaming tom yum soup.  There’s some sort of unlimited Thai iced tea cup you can order here.

This is the khao soi at Pailin Thai.  Still not quite the same as I remember but much closer.  Their bamboo salad, northern and Issan style sausages, and  nam ngeao, a red curry fermented rice noodle soup full of offal, are all delicious.

This is the khao soi at Pailin Thai. Still not the same as I remember but closer. Their bamboo salad, northern and Issan style sausages, and nam ngeao, a red curry fermented rice noodle soup full of offal, are all delicious.  The Thai iced tea is pretty good as well.

Khao man gai, quite similar to Hainanese chicken, is an obsession I picked up from a food truck in Portland.  It involves poached chicken, rice cooked in chicken stock, fat, and garlic, a clear brothy soup, cucumbers, and a fermented soy dipping sauce.  This one is from the late night Sanamluang Cafe.  It was a bit dry particularly compared to the fancy sous vide version I had at Sticky Rice in Grand Central Market the week before.

Khao man gai, quite similar to Hainanese chicken, is an obsession I picked up from a food truck in Portland. It involves poached chicken, rice cooked in chicken stock, fat, and garlic, a clear brothy soup, cucumbers, and a fermented soy dipping sauce. Hainanese chicken involves a chili laden soy sauce and ginger oil sauce.  This khao man gai is from the late night Sanamluang Cafe. It was a bit dry particularly compared to the fancy sous vide version I had at Sticky Rice in Grand Central Market the week before.  Being able to get it at 1 AM makes it pretty great though.

I found Siam Sunset while looking for some Chinese/Taiwanese breakfast items I love and stumbled upon this amazing two page menu.  Where else can you eat a full non-fast food menu for under 5 bucks?  There's even mildly terrifying fried mussels on the other page.

I found Siam Sunset while looking for some Chinese/Taiwanese breakfast items I love and stumbled upon this amazing two page menu. Where else can you eat a full non-fast food menu for under 5 bucks? There’s even mildly terrifying fried mussels on the other page.

A congee chock full of delicious poached egg and super soft pork ribs washed down with a fresh coconut juice.  The Thai guy next to me got a whole coconut, mine comes in a cup with the flesh pre scooped out for me.

Siam Sunset’s congee (rice soup) chock full of poached egg and super soft pork ribs washed down with a fresh coconut juice. The Thai guy next to me got a whole coconut, mine comes in a cup with the flesh scooped out for me.

I could pretend I'm somewhere else or another meal, but this is totally still the same meal at Siam Sunset.  Stubby Chinese style donuts with condensed milk and dou fa, soft tofu in ginger sauce with fried bits.

I could pretend I’m somewhere else or another meal, but this is totally still the same meal at Siam Sunset. Stubby Chinese style donuts with condensed milk and dou fa, soft tofu in ginger sauce with fried bits.  So despite ordering enough for more than one, I still want to go back to Siam Sunset to try their khao man gai and the $3.95 menu.

I also explored the markets of the area.  Bahn Kanom Cafe has a delicious array of desserts and snacks of both hot, cold, and pre-packaged varieties.  They just got mango sticky rice in stock which comes with a whole mango and coconut milk in a separate container.  They are also open until 1 or 2 am, which is wonderful.  Of the two supermarkets, I prefer Silom Supermarket over Bangkok Market which is a little further out of Thai Town.  The deli hot foods, curry pastes, and noodle selection at Silom were much better at this bigger store.  I did not check out the much smaller Bangluck market.

After three months in Vietnam, I know I didn’t try everything available so I know I must’ve only scratched the surface after a month in Thailand.  I’m glad I get to explore some of those options in Los Angeles.

It’s been a couple of months of settling back into my first city, Los Angeles.  It is not your average skyscraper filled city and is more of an endless sprawl hiding an assortment of surprises.  I love the city because it feels like there are always whole neighborhoods left to discover just around the corner.

It's nice to come back to some beautiful landmarks.

It’s nice to come back to some beautiful landmarks.  Staying in one location for a bit longer means friends can visit and I can show them around.

Los Angeles has a district for everything, from pinatas to flowers to fish.  This was my first time in the vibrant flower market.

Los Angeles has a district for everything, from pinatas to flowers to fish. This was my first time in the vibrant flower market.

This was found in the flower market but I'm more used to seeing it in Venice.  Maybe there are just some flower "vases" I don't understand.

This was found in the flower market but I’m more used to seeing it in Venice. Maybe there are just some flower “vases” I don’t understand.

In a move most people here find odd, I’ve taken to using a bicycle as my primary means of transportation.  The part where this is a sprawling city overtaken by cars makes that more difficult than it should be.

The Ballona Creek biking and walking trail goes all the way out to the ocean.

The Ballona Creek biking and walking trail goes from the middle of the city all the way out to the ocean.

Luckily the Los Angeles metro transit authority has had a lot of billboards and signs about bicycling rights and safety.  The situation has improved a lot since I lived here last.  There’s even an anti-harassment lawsuit so that any cars that pass too close or honk can be brought to court.

It looks better on a street sign than a bus that cuts me off.

It looks better on a street sign than a bus that cuts me off.  The billboard/bus campaign is still nice though.

The hierarchy of movement extends further down in West Hollywood.  This sign tipped me off that the city of LA and West Hollywood made it ok to ride on sidewalks.

The hierarchy of transportation extends further down in West Hollywood. This sign tipped me off that the city of LA and West Hollywood made it ok to ride on sidewalks.

Of course, you really can’t ignore that at the heart of the matter, Los Angeles is still a car city.  Sure the light rail/subway is being expanded but we are still in the present.

The very awesome Metropolis II sculpture with lots of loud moving car parts and architectural elements from many places.

The very awesome Metropolis II sculpture at LACMA with lots of loud moving car parts and architectural elements from many places.  Much more impressive than the Levitating Mass I was originally antsing to see.

At one point I headed up to northern California by the slower route of the 101 to check out the Santa Maria oak pit barbecue scene.  I completely failed both on the drive up and down to find anyone that had an oak pit firing at lunch but stopped at a few places for decent meat.

Jocko's is said to have the best steaks in the state with some serious old person bingo hall decor.  Alas they don't fire up the oak pit at lunch so I settled for the awesome placemat and bumper sticker.

Jocko’s is said to have the best steaks in the state with some serious bingo hall decor and a bar full of old people throwing back martinis at noon. Alas they don’t fire up the oak pit at lunch so I settled for the awesome placemat and bumper sticker.

Luckily I don’t need to leave town to find some old favorites.  When I was abroad I was always asked if I missed American food, like burgers and pizza.

Burgers?  Sure I love burgers, but what I really miss is Mexican food!  Hooray for the LA Taco Fest and this delicious fried shrimp taco and ceviche from Mariscos Jaliscos.

Burgers? Sure I love burgers, but what I really miss is the variety of ethnic cake.  I particularly mised Mexican food! Hooray for the LA Taco Fest and this delicious fried shrimp taco and ceviche from Mariscos Jaliscos.  I don’t think I’ve seen a whole avocado on my plate in or out of the country.

I’m not sure if most people in small towns abroad quite grasp what Californian food looks like, as even the burgers and pizza generally get a fresher take.

Hooray I came back just in time for squash blossom season.

Hooray I came back just in time for squash blossom season to join this delicious burrata.

While I did enjoy eating in the markets and on the street abroad, that is just never the best place to get vegetables anywhere in the world.  Luckily Californian fare is bountiful and something great is always in season.

April is grilled cheese month.  It is well celebrated in Los Angeles by the awesome Clementine cafe and the Grilled Cheese Invitational.

April is grilled cheese month. It is well celebrated in Los Angeles by the awesome Clementine cafe and the Grilled Cheese Invitational.  Melty cheese should always be celebrated.

While I’m still not settled into a home of my own, it’s still time to get back to eating some more home cooked meals instead of living off the street carts.  The cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables is best explored in the many year round farmer’s markets to be found in different spots all over town every day of the week.

The Hollywood farmer's market is one of the largest in town.  This is Hope, a blind goat owned by animal rescue and delicious goat cheesemaker Soledad Goats.

The Hollywood farmer’s market is one of the largest in town. This is Hope, a blind goat owned by animal rescue and delicious goat cheesemaker Soledad Goats.

Just because I’ve stopped being on farms does not mean I’ll stop seeking out adorable farm animals.  At the moment my adventures are more about exploring the interests I’ve had to a while that I could not necessarily try while traveling.  Sure, it’s less about milking goats these days, but it helps to try a few things for longer.  Maybe stop motion animation or baking will lead me to another farm one day.  Who knows what adventure is next or where.