You Can’t Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe was severely mistaken.

Of course you can go home. You just can’t expect it to be the way you remembered it. For better or for worse, you can go home with managed expectations.

A bit ago, I trekked home to Rhode Island for a parental Christmas gift. Of course, being the wonderful humans that they are, my parents wanted this homecoming to be a Jenna Trip, instead of an “Our Christmas Gift.” While I don’t go back to New England often (because of COVID and then the sheer bliss of waking up in your own bed at 11am on Christmas Day), this was a trip that I will not soon forget.

In no particular order:

  • My mom and I got to use my CVS Employee Discount. It’s the first time I’ve used it and I helped her choose an absolutely perfect lip stain;
  • My mom and I went to an antique jewelry shop and we got to try on jewelry and it was SPECTACULAR;
  • I got to see my “Dad’s side” cousins and aunt/uncle, which I am so thankful for. We always just pick up right where we left off. I really love them;
  • I got to see my Mom’s sisters and my Uncle, with whom we bonded over books and intellectual pursuits;
  • the freaking food: Real Am/Chinese, Northeast Italian, and home cooking;
  • I got to meet some of my parents’ new friends, and see some family friends that have really taken a good part in our lives;
  • Being able to meet a direct report and a mentee;
  • Seeing the people in CT that have been essential in my life since….2008?

In case you’ve not read prior to this, PIZZA is an art form in the Northeast. Which is to say that it’s freaking terrible where I live. I was blessed enough to meet five friends in New Haven, CT for a delicious lunch. Even better is that we got the best ones on the menu. Anywhere else, take note. See that char? THAT IS HOW PIZZA SHOULD BE COOKED!!!!!!!!!

I’ve worked remotely for the last 7 years, have been on multiple teams in various divisions, and switched companies. That means I’ve never met my coworkers in person. Now that I have direct reports, I figured it was kind of important to take the time to meet one of them. Big D is one of my favorite people ever, and he lives in the PVD. He introduced me to JT and she is my new mentee. We all met for lunch, and it was joyous and delicious. There is so much to be gained from breaking bread in person.

I’m used to exercising every day, so I felt the need to go for a little walk. There’s a wildlife refuge area near my parents’ house, and I decided to explore. Yes, it was getting dark. Yes, it was cold. Yes, I was alone. Yes, I was listening to a true crime podcast. Yes, I have listened to enough of them to scare me. It was totally fine until I got to the “oh this happened in a peaceful little town where it could NEVER happen, and since no one knew where she went walking, her body wasn’t found for weeks.” All that being said, I’m far more concerned about Native American hauntings in this area than a mass murderer. I couldn’t get close enough, but there is a big rock commemorating a massacre in the 1700s, and then I started to see faces in trees. Watching me. I figured enough is enough, and I hightailed it home. (Plus, my fingers were numb.)

If you can’t see the face, you’re lucky. You probably won’t be haunted.

If it weren’t for the pesky traveling part, I’d go home a lot more often. Flying is quite possibly one of the worst tortures known to man, especially if by “man” you mean a tiny Asian girl for whom personal space becomes an option on a crowded plane. Just because I don’t take up the whole seat doesn’t mean you get the leftover space! Otherwise, you totally CAN go home again, and you should.

Why Was The Mushroom a Hit at the Party?


Bwahahahaha, but no ok really.

One of my most favorite memories with my grandmother was taking a walk from my childhood home, and just about half a mile in, we came across what I now know was a massive hen-of-the-woods on the side of a tree. My grandmother ripped the mushroom off the tree and we turned around to go back home. She washed them and cooked the gigantic leafy fungus in a magical sauce, and we ate it on Italian bread.

She was a mushroom genius – this was a frequent occurrence, when walking with her. She knew the right ones to pick and eat, the ones to leave alone, and the ones that would be ok if we just cooked them long enough. She would sneak into people’s yards to take them out of the grass and off trees. And we’d always make them in the same secret sauce, and eat them on Italian bread.

I am truly adopted because I have literally 0 of this talent. But when my good friend, the Mermaid, asked me to go mushroom foraging in a local park near my house….sure! She is just getting really into mushrooming, and fall is the ideal time to go in the PNW. Despite the ominous weather forecast, we grabbed the pooch, what is considered the premier guidebook for mushroom hunting in Washington (below) and headed out into the woods.

I highly recommend this book just for the photos.
Photo courtesy of

Let me tell you some things about hunting for mushrooms.

  • First of all, you might have better luck getting the nuclear codes than finding hotspots for mushrooms, especially chanterelles. A few hours of searching online left me with little more than a lot of “f you find your own spot!” and “you might want to try somewhere along the 54 mile stretch from your town to the local ski resort.” The good thing is that there are hundreds of parks, trails, and wooded areas, so you can pretty much find them anywhere.
  • Second, there are about seventy bajillion types of mushrooms, including LBMs (little brown mushrooms) that are so infinite in number, you never know if you actually have the right one. Books and apps can only get you so far.
  • Mushrooms come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some even look like rocks, until you break them open.
  • You are not as good at color identification as you think you are. What you think is purple, someone else sees as grey, and what you see as tangerine might actually be more fire-orange to someone else. All of these make a difference in trying to identiify them.
  • You are not as good at shapes as you think you are. Sure, it might be sort of this way or that, but when you’re trying to pick between campanulate and ovate, but it also sort of looks like umbontae, and that will be the determining factor between edible and death, you wish you had paid more attention in kindergarten.
Photo courtesy of

Needless to say, while finding shrooms might be easy, identifying them is certainly not. Nonetheless, the Mermaid and I worked to pick a bunch, and it was quite the experience. It might be due to the rain in the fall in Washington, but these were SLIMY mothereffers. And yes, dirt gets everywhere. It didn’t help that it started to rain (a lot) and we got soaked and covered in mud, but it certainly made for an adventure.

There’s a lot of different fungi out there, and this was one of the cooler ones. In this photo, you can see what sort of looks like cake frosting and the Mermaid trying to scrape some off. There were just so many interesting things – we went about a mile it and took almost two hours, but it was fascinating to see the babies and the big ones, to see how they grow and live off the land, and how different animals use them as food.

Speaking of food, you probably shouldn’t eat them without being absolutely positively positive you can….and even then…

After several hours of traipsing in the rain, and after some very strong hard cider from a delicious local place, we went back to my house to sort, identify, and potentially eat our haul.

It didn’t take too long to discover that we had about 20 different types of mushrooms, and we were only able to identify a handful of them. Most were inedible, or we weren’t willing to take the chance.

Because we had found some edible ones (or so the guidebook and app said), we figured we would eat them. Yes, I can see you rolling your eyes and saying “No Jenna, noooooo” and like this was a bad idea. But what’s the worst that could happen? So the Mermaid washed them off while I heated the pan, and I suspect part of why it was so interesting is that we didn’t clean them as well as we should have. You never know what animal peed on your mushroom…

Dry fry with a little butter

One was ok. In fact, it’s the big parasol one that the Mermaid is licking in an above picture. The other two types were…..slimy? Spongy? I’ve never been a texture person but these were so bad that I spit them out. I can’t say they turned me off of mushrooms, but until I level up to Grandma, I’m not going to be eating things I find in the woods again any time soon. Both the Mermaid and I had the same reaction to them, both during consumption and after. While we didn’t get sick, things weren’t completely right for a bit, and I’m glad we scrapped all the other ones.

I had a great time doing it and definitely would go again, but the eating would take a lot of convincing. Like a seasoned forager will say, “Every mushroom is edible….once.”

Abra la boca!

The final post, and the one you’ve been waiting for.  FOOD.

The Sintra area has some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had in my entire life.  Not even kidding.   It’s got a major seafood influence, but you can get killer salads and pastas without it.  It was perfect for me, since I am pretty sure I could LIVE on seafood alone, but Anna was a little less enthused – shellfish isn’t her bag, baby.  Luckily, the Portuguese are sardine-heavy, and at least she loves those.  The day we left, there was even a major sardine festival beginning.

While percebes were hands down the most…ahem…interesting thing I’ve eaten in a while (read about that here), overall, the Portuguese food was divine.  Even the simplest of things was elegant and amazeballs.

Onto the reviews:

I’ve had octopus in Spain, China, the US, and Hong Kong, but the octopus salad in Portugal was beyond words.  I don’t even have a great photo because I couldn’t stop eating it long enough to take one.  I’m pretty sure Anna wrestled this one away from me to snap a photo.  The octopus isn’t chewy, it’s creamy and soft, like pillows of delicious seafood.  It’s got lime in it, and it’s cooked, but a cool salad that goes great with wine. IMG_20180611_201933

As a pasta aficionado, a pasta dish was pretty iffy for me.  It’s EUROPE, but it’s PORTUGAL and not ITALY, so what to do?  But when it comes with a gigantic prawn on it?  OBVIOUSLY you have to try it.  I mean, if the dish were ONLY giant tiger prawns I would have been happy too, but the pasta was deeeeeeeeelish.


As a side note, like in America, servers will bring you bread, olives, and olive oil.  However, unlike in America, these are NOT complimentary.  You have to pay for them, even though they bring them unasked.  This is a protip that you should remember, because in Spain things were complimentary, but just over the border…they are not.

Anna and I took a trip to a famous pastry shop called Piriquita, and while there are several locations, we (of course) went to the original.  Yes, that is two coffees for me, and EIGHT pastries.  They’re small!  Don’t judge!  The one to the right of the silver creamer is a pastel de nata, or basically Portugal’s national dessert/breakfast/treat.  It’s a rich egg custard that has some cinnamon, and it’s divine.  I even brought some home in liquor form for my parents.


In Sintra, after a long day of hiking and getting lost, Anna wanted to treat me to a snack. It was a lovely charcuterie of meat, Portuguese cheese and sardines with three different marinades.  The sardines are a little bigger than we’re used to seeing in the states, but they are so flavorful and the spices bring out different aspects of the fish.  The bread soaks up the oil and spices and is an amazing part of the snack – and this is from someone that hates bread!  And we had two glasses of Madeira, of course, because you can’t have a proper snack in Portugal without a little something to wash it down.


Obviously my favorite thing was the octopus salad.  I can describe most things, but there are seriously no words to talk about how fantastic it is.  Even if you don’t like squid, it’s worth a try because it tastes like nothing I’ve ever had in my life, and the texture is more of a soft cheese than a chewy rubber band.  It’s melt in your mouth.

Finally, I did eat and drink my way through Portugal, but there’s always room for a little ice cream.


Barnacles are a Girl’s Best Friend

When I was in Spain, there were these weird, dinosaur-finger looking things for sale in the Mercado de San Miguel, and to this day, no random reader has said “Hey, I know what those are!”  They were fascinating to me, and when I was looking up restaurants in Sintra, I found a place that had pictures of the same thing on the menu!


After some digging, I learned they are called percebes, and they are a ridiculously expensive delicacy.  In the states, they are called gooseneck barnacles, and allegedly they are served up and down the Pacific Coast, though *I* have never seen them on any menus.  On our first night in Portugal, I asked Anna if we could go to that restaurant so we could have dinner and I could try them, and as much as she can’t stand shellfish, she agreed.

Upon walking in to Buzio, you see all the fish available for the day on ice, and you pick what you’d like to eat.  Anna was less than thrilled, because she doesn’t love shellfish, but she was going to show me a good time, and the good time included eating these little barnacle thingies.


We got a pitcher of sangria and I ordered the percebes – which are E80/kilo!  I asked for 10 of them, and whatever that weight turned out to be – I think it was like E5, as they are pretty small and light.  They must be steamed or boiled and chilled, because they came cold, but were definitely cooked.  I can’t even explain how excited I was, until I realized I had no idea what part to eat.  They were all kind of stuck together, like fingers on a hand, and just touching it, the texture was not all that appetizing.


It must have been obvious I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, because the kind server had to come over to demonstrate how to eat it.  Hilariously, he did not speak much English, and the demonstration got a little bit awkward.  You rip the single barnacle off the group, and then tear the shell part off the top. Then, you pinch the bottom and roll/slide the black, thick skin off, like you do with clams (or condoms, whichever visual you prefer).  Then you eat this flesh-colored, mildly phallic tube-like worm thing.  Anna was good enough to take a video (sorry, it’s in two parts).


They are rubbery, and there’s still traces of salt water inside the tube, so you have that salty flavor as you’re chewing what looks like a 2” micropenis.  The flesh itself is sort of sweet though, which is an oddly nice combination with the salt, despite the texture being a hard swallow for those that aren’t used to the feel of steamed clams or overdone calamari.  As I ate a few more, I got better at cleaning them, and got used to the taste, and the texture bothered me less and less.  By the end of the plate, I actually liked them!

Not to be outdone, Anna faced her fears (a theme for this trip) and tried one.  Needless to say, I was a bigger fan than she, but we both agreed that it was a good thing we had plenty of sangria to wash them down.

Hokkaidoooo Panda

Apparently Japanese pandas are a little more aggressive.

RC has a job in which she travels back to the Motherland via Japan, Taiwan, or Korea at least a few times a year.  Lucky for me, she brings me back lots of goodies, including Japanese libations, stickers, and yes, EVERYTHING panda.  One of the most recent presents included what would be an aggressive, green, puking panda.

It definitely says “Come on Baby.” 

Since my Japanese isn’t nearly what it used to be, trying to figure out what this flavor was proved to be a bit more difficult than I wanted it to be.  The back of the package was no help, but I did manage to sound out a few words, including “meron” “gumi” and “gumikiyandei.”  That’s all I got from the Katakana, and there’s a lot of “kudasai” in Hiragana, which is a polite command….what they could be commanding you to do (“come on baby?”),  I have no idea.  Take that, four years of Japanese….


To my surprise (even though “meron” should have given it away), they were little round gummy discs that taste like melon.  Not honeydew (filler fruit!) but the Asian melon flavor that is so prevalent everywhere.  They are unfortunately super easy to just pop in your mouth and eat, so you’re lucky you got a shot prior to consumption, because I ate the whole bag in a sitting, without realizing it.


All in all, thanks to RC for bringing me back a tasty Japanese treat!  Anyone who wants to send me weird food presents from afar, just let me know.

Spamalot <3

Here’s a pro tip about Hawaiian food: it’s not all Spam. While Spam is delicious and a staple food, it’s not all the islands have to offer.

Personally, I think musubi is a delicacy and should be offered in all 50 states.  I realize this puts me in the minority, but during the trip I went to Kawamoto Store twice and spent about $50. On Spam. (OK fine, also on fried Ahi and Korean Fried Chicken, but also on musubi).


During a lazy Saturday morning, a venture into Hilo led me to a farmer’s market.  I picked up a few things, including an unidentified fruit and an avocado the size of my head.  The farmers markets are big, hot, crowded, and a tropical dream.

There are (obviously) tons of fruits and exotic items you’d never get on the mainland, but there are also giant bouquets of flowers, clothing, arts and crafts, and ready made food.  One thing to note is that the fruit is definitely larger than it is at home, which means be prepared for a massive pineapple and a banana the size of….well….you know.



Rambutan, two mangoes, the giant avocado, and the other thing…..

There’s a heavy Korean influence (at least in my humble opinion) and so another meal got me some short ribs, with egg and potato/macaroni salad. Things tended to be either grilled or fried (nothing in between), so pace yourself accordingly.


In a moment of weakness, I did hit a Costco in Kona.  They have tremendous poke, slabs of sashimi, and tasty nigiri for pretty cheap, and it was all super fresh.  It was a nice surprise, and now I want that poke in my Costco at home.  Because who doesn’t need an industrial sized package of fatty tuna for their next party?



Hawaiian food is something of an anomaly.  While I couldn’t identify anything distinctly “Polynesian” or “native island,” what I did see was a melting pot of East and Southeast Asian, VERY American (hello again, Spam), with a splash of local delicacy (fish and fruit).  It’s an interesting thing to get used to, but if someone told me I had to live in Hawaii, at least I know I’d love the cuisine.

Crazy Cuisine: Hong Kong Edition

When in Hong Kong, you will have only Chinese food, right?  WRONG.

Culinarily, Hong Kong is a mirror of the many cultures that live and work there, influenced by the Chinese and a thriving expat community longing for a taste of home.  Yes, I had dim sum, but I also I ate Korean, burgers and fries thrice fried in duck fat, baked Alaska, honey mustard chicken, and Indian.

The top three things I tried in Hong Kong were:

Snake Soup – an expensive dish found only in the most traditional restaurants. It had mushrooms, abalone, and thinly sliced smoked snake.  I wasn’t thrilled with the flavor – I liken it to something between salty fish and a pink taco, but at $35 per bowl, I ate it.


Street Food – No, you might not always know what you’re eating, but I promise it’s worth it.  Hong Kong is famous for its street food life.


Fruitips – These are some of the most addicting little gummy candies I’ve ever had.  I bought over US $30 worth, and ordered some from Britain when I ran out.


I ate like a king.  My waistline concurs.

Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend

I like baseball. Games are fun, there’s great team spirit, and as we have all learned from Season 2, Episode 1 of Sex and the City:


Deep down, I’m still an East Coast girl, and so I like the Red Sox. And living in Washington, it’s obviously that the Red Sox are barely a concern to the Mariners fans (and vice versa). The Seahawks-Patriots hate is an entry for another day, but safe to say, I can wear something that has the “B” or something that says Red Sox on it, and not feel the hatred of a thousand suns when I go to the grocery store.

By a stroke of luck, I managed to get myself invited to a Mariners game, with some friends, of whom we will call Sandwich, Louboutini, and Sandlot, Sandlot’s dad, and Sandlot’s dad’s boss.

Eat it up, bitches.

Because they were from work, the tickets were for the Diamond Club. These aren’t the box seats, high above the third base line; these are seats directly behind home plate, with a special tunnel access to an open bar, a giant buffet with breakfast, lunch, and all the typical ballpark snacks you can imagine. It was a gorgeous day, they were playing the White Sox, and I had great seats!


There’s nothing like a sunny summer day at the ballpark.  Safeco Field is by far one of the loveliest I’ve ever been to; it’s clean, well designed, and easy to navigate.  The baseball diamond elicits a feeling of familiarity for every red-blooded American, and the Mariners even won!

I don’t remember how much I ate and drank, but I’m sure my nutritionist-RN friend would not have approved. There were hotdogs and sausages (and we tried out the Silicon Valley Season 4 Hotdog-Not-A-Hotdog app), Ezell’s Famous Chicken (SO overrated), burgers, roast beef, nachos, a giant tuna carving station, salads, pastas, an omelette bar, fruit and pastries, regular sandwiches, and all sorts of candy.




And Cracker Jacks. Because no ballgame is complete without peanuts and Cracker Jacks.  And beer that you can drink at two in the afternoon without judgment.


Crabbing, Canoeing, and Coconuts, oh my!

If you’re from New England, it’s a good bet that you have gone crabbing at some point (or at least know people who have participated in this fond past-time). You tie a bit of raw chicken/fish to a string, throw it out into some brackish water, and wait for the string to pull taut. You then slowly pull the string towards you, lest you frighten the crabs, and when you can finally get it high enough (they are piggy scavengers – they don’t notice if they are being lifted in the water as long as they are being fed), you take a net and scoop it out of the water as fast as you possibly can.

My uncle lives on a canal where he can dock his boat, and the dock also makes an ideal place to crab. Gem and I had nothing to do on our last day, and we called to see if we could hang out and try our luck with the nets. We did not fare so well, but we did catch a few!

The first victim.

After a few hours of no bites (literally), my uncle suggested taking the canoe out. We soon discovered that a canoe’s turning radius is only slightly less than a semi-truck, and if we are wrong and you can actually turn a canoe on a dime, well then, we are just bad at turning. My uncle had suggested rowing up to a few neighbors with the mango, lemon, and avocado trees and asking for some, but we had a hard-enough time going straight and not crashing into the retaining walls that managing to get to a dock might have been more of a challenge than our sunburned bodies were ready for.




We did manage to pick up a few coconuts that had landed in the water (after several unsuccessful attempts), and I was super excited to open it and see what was inside. Seriously, the coconut trees are awesome, but if they fall off onto your head, they can kill you. So, when we managed to grab one from the water, it was a treat! It was, unfortunately, waterlogged and inedible, and made a nasty brown mess on the driveway. (We did get one that my dad managed to peel – yes, peel – the next day.)


While we lost a good six crabs to our solidly poor netting skills and the fact that they are just crafty creatures – they pretty much give you the finger when you get them to the surface, go to net them, and then they let go of the bait and spread their legs like they just did a mic drop – we ended up with five of them. When we got back, my mom had arranged for a cookout with the family, and also steamed our catch for the day. We were munching on salad, rice pilaf, and crab, and talking, telling stories, and laughing while the sun set. It was a perfect last full day in Florida with the fam.


Backdoor Dragon

I am always in awe of those food challenge people.  You know, Adam Richman, the Man v. Food guy,  or even the stuff that comes up in the news, like the Super Bowl of Pho.  There are also the spicy challenges, which seem like a form of masochism.

Not to be outdone, my people decided to create their own challenge:  The Samyang 2x Spicy Noodle Challenge.  Okay this is not officially a challenge, but still.  I saw a video on YouTube about it, and when I found them in the store, I knew I had to try it.

She’s a wuss, right?  She can’t handle the Korean fire, right?  Well, we shall soon see…

I found them in a store near a bar I happen to enjoy, and of course I needed to buy them.  Before you ask, we’d not even gone in the bar yet!

Dinnertime rolled around the next day, and while I wasn’t super hungry, I figured it was now or never for the fire noodles.  I warn you, all the photos from hereon out are unedited for lighting or making me look better.  There was simply no time.  My mouth was dying.


I mean, the packaging is so unassuming!  Cute, even! Yes, it says 2x spicy, but there’s a pirate chicken throwing bombs and lightning bolts!  How bad can it really be?  Leave it to the Koreans to make something terrifying look adorable.


I was pretty skeptical.  I accidentally had a bit more water than the directions called for, and instead of leaving it plain, I added some shredded lettuce, egg, furikake seasoning, and a bit of old grilled chicken.  It was dinner, after all!  (Also, as a PSA, spicy, soggy lettuce does NOT taste good…)

I did put on a lipgloss protectant with soothing aloe and other things to make chapped lips feel better prior to eating.  You’ll see how well it helped…


First bite!  Here we go!  Okay, it’s not so bad…a little sweet even!  I notice a lot of people don’t actually chew ramen, so I made it a point to chew it like I would chew any normal food…wait…omg, my lips are tingly!  Delicious tingles..wait no, definitely not delicious.  My tongue feels like it’s swelling.  The fire is going straight to my sinuses.

Have some milk!  Okay, we’re okay now.  No biggie, it’s….wait the milk is gone and I’m still burning.  It is like licking a hot cast iron pan…

Another bite and my lips are scalding hot.  Not just the part that is touching the noodles, but it’s spreading! I am surprised I’m not blistering!  Maybe I am, I feel like anything that’s touched the sauce is 2x the size (maybe that’s what they mean by 2x?) I quickly slurp up more noodle, and it splatters onto my chin a bit!  Damn!  now my chin is a bit tingly!  Oh man, gotta keep going!  We can’t waste it!!!


My nose is red, and running profusely.  My lips are red.  The red “aura” around them is the burn.  Notice that the “protectant” didn’t work at all.  (It did serve an unintended purpose, however.  It kept them from chapping from the heat!)  My eyes were watering, and I felt like every exhale was going to light something nearby on fire.  This must be what those Game of Thrones dragons must feel like.  What a bad way to live!…and this was three bites in.

With a rating of 8400 Scoville units, it’s about the heat of a jalapeño (you know, the hot ones, not the lame regular ones).  I routinely eat jalapeños, and enjoy them, so it shouldn’t be that bad, right?  I mean, those aren’t all that spicy, right?  WRONG.  It’s HOT.  Like really hot.  Imagine not one but a bunch of them, mashed up, seeds and all.  And then you eat it with a spoon.  It’s so hot, if you get it on your skin, you will break out in a rash.


I thought I could handle it.  I thought I would be fine.  Nope.  A full glass of milk later, it burns.  Ice cream, ice, anything you can think of, and it still burns.  The “extras” were no help, either.  They just absorbed the hot oil, and it was like eating spicy everything.  Even this morning (it’s 8:51 and I ate it at 18:30 last night), there’s still a faint tingle on my lips.

But what I’m more concerned about is when it’s time to come out the other end.  While I was breathing fire before, I might be shitting fire now.   Let’s hope I drank enough milk to negate it…only time will tell.