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.

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.



One of the reasons Anna wanted to stay in the south of Portugal was because Sintra had been on her bucket list for a long time.  It’s a lovely town with prehistoric roots, Moorish influence, and castles and palaces that housed kings and queens from the earliest eras.

It isn’t a large town, and but it’s mostly uphill, so Anna and I split up – her to take a taxi tour and me to walk uphill both ways following a map to try to meet at the Moorish Castle.

Image courtesy

I, of course, took a wrong turn down a hiking trail (I should have stayed on the road) and after an hour or so of walking in the VERY wrong direction had to beg help from an older gentleman who scolded me for walking on the wrong side of the road.  Aiuta, ayuda, ajuda…you get the picture.  “Help” sounds close enough in several languages to have gotten the point across.  I was lost, and the old man (after explaining at length in Portuguese why I need to stay on the other side of the road) seemed to know the area.  But.  Let me tell you. Speaking fluent Italian does not help you in Portugal.  Luckily, my incredibly rusty Spanish, and his very limited understanding of it was enough to get directions, and I was on my way again.

When we met up at Castelo do Mouras, I was exhausted and my butt hurt.  There’s a lot of uphill.  The number of people that passed me in the busses and taxis was more than I’d like to admit.   It was worth it, however.  The views were breathtaking.


It’s basically what I imagine a 15th century castle to look like – very Disney-esque with the whole turret and stone thing.  I’m glad I finally made it – Anna was getting a liiiittle worried that I died trying to hike up to it.

The next stop was the Peña Palace.  It was gorgeous, colorful ,and even though it was a foggy day, it added to the mystery.  There were intricate carvings and painted tiles everywhere, and the Catholic feel was strong.  I will just let the pictures speak for themselves.


I promise the castle isn’t crooked – the angle was super weird.



Ladies and Gentlemen, I present my new boyfriend.



The End of the World as We Know It

Cabo da Roca is a lovely lighthouse located on the western-most tip of continental Europe.  It also happened to be a very short and easy hike from our hotel.


We got an early start and had some bocadillos from a bodega near the hotel, and set off.  The hike there is along a beach, which has some of the most turquoise water I’ve ever seen.  It was hard to not just sit on the beach and watch the waves all day.  The waves went from deep blue to green to light blue to white, and then back out again.  The salty air was enough to make me fall in love, but if we wanted to get to the lighthouse, we’d have to make at least decent time.

At the end of the beach was a wooden staircase.  We climbed up several flights of stairs among dinosaur footprints, and reached the top.  There was a well-worn path along the top of the cliff, but it was a “proceed at your own risk.”


The well-worn path


There were paths down to various beaches, and we did take a detour (to be detailed in a later entry) for an hour or two, but for purposes of this entry, we pressed on.  The whole time you could see the lighthouse in the distance, and that helped to keep the motivation high.

IMG_20180609_184650Eventually, we made it to the lighthouse, which was swarmed with busses of Chinese tourists.  Can’t win them all, I suppose, but despite them being…well…tourons…it was still a pretty awesome sight.  Once the tour busses were gone, we were able to enjoy the sights.



We spent a few minutes gazing out at the Atlantic, realizing we had gone to a place that only several thousand years ago, Europeans thought was literally the Ends of the Earth.  And we’d done it together.


Praia d’Ursa


Beach of the Bear.  Guess what?  They weren’t wrong.  Getting down WAS a bear.  I mean, sure there was a well-worn path with stairs half a mile from where we scrambled down the side of a cliff, but we aren’t going to take the easy way, are we?

While walking to Cabo da Roca, we spotted what looked like an amazing, secluded beach below us.  Anna and I decided to take the detour, as it definitely couldn’t take that long, right?  The path from the top was not as well-traveled, but it seemed fine….that is, until it disappeared.


It was a wind and water beaten cliff face that we would need to scramble down.  I began to climb on my rear, removing my shoes as I went.  It was only when I was about halfway down that I realized Anna was still on the top of the cliff, close to a panic attack.



I climbed back up (damn you, long fingernails) and we went down slowly, and after a laborious 20 minutes of soothing talking, and butt-scrambling down, we made it onto the hot sand.  She calmed down and went to frolic in the waves while I went exploring down the other end of the beach.

Anna is smiling here, but she is definitely not happy with me. 

Protip:  Nude beaches aren’t always marked.  There was some – ahem – eye candy, and there was also some…less sweet stuff, but it’s true that Europeans are a lot more open.  Also, open containers of beer, wine, spirits, and what-have-you were everywhere.  Trouble happens when you party naked?  If this is how it goes, on a beach with food, friends, and a gorgeous view, sign me up!

After a short break on the beach, I decided to test my climbing skills.  It’s always a good idea until you realize you have to climb back down, and I am pretty sure I’ve perfected the spider move.


When it was time to get back on the path to the end of the world, we noticed a family with several young children.  There was no way they came to that beach the way we did, so we decided to follow them back up.  It was then that we found the actual entrance path, and felt like morons.


Back on the top of the cliff, we took one last look at Praia d’Ursa and continued our trek to the lighthouse.

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.


When I lived in China in 2006, the World Cup was happening in South Africa.  My friend Linda was a staunch Portugal supporter, and so I learned a few Portugese chants.  “Vamos ganar!  No vamos faltar!”

ca. 2006 with Cristiano Ronaldo

Anna would be in the area for a conference, and while chatting and wining one night (wine, not WHINE), and she drunkenly invited me to join her for a small vacation.  Linda’s chants came flooding back into my head, and that’s all I could think of to say.

We worked the trip to be immediately after I finished my last final of my first year of grad school (due Sunday, turned it in Wednesday and got an A, bitches!), and I flew out that weekend.  She offered to pay for the sightseeing and Ubering that she’d be doing anyway, and all I had to do was pay for half the ticket, and any souvenirs.  She also sweetened the already amazing offer by saying she’d pay for all the wine over the four days.  Protip – you want me to come visit, promise me wine.

Most people think of Porto or Lisbon, but we’d be staying near Sintra.  It’s an old historical town with seafood galore, uncrowded beaches, and a rich history.  It had never been on my radar, so this trip was going to be fabulous vacation, venturing into the unknown, and time with Anna, who at this point, I had not seen in six years.


It was a trip of firsts, including my first flight from YVR (WAY better than flying from SEA – international airports are so much easier), my first layover/touchdown/time in Switzerland (I’m not sure I can afford to breathe there), my first time traveling with Anna despite two decades of friendship.  I ate things I might never have tried otherwise, spent time in TWO European castles, and by God, the wine there is so much better.  We accidentally drank three bottles one night, and had no hangover the next morning.  It’s magic, I tell you.

Who am I kidding?  The WHOLE trip was magic.  Most of it was the company, but a small part of it was this amazing country.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, I’m off to the Emerald City.

To be fair, I cried for something like four months straight when I moved here.  That being said, it was November of one of the rainiest winters they’d had in quite some time, and I had just moved from a sunny, 85* city where people tend to be friendlier (the Seattle Freeze is real and is NO JOKE) and I had a big group of friends.

However, once summer rolled around, I realized Washington is a fantastic place to be, and I loved it.  I hadn’t spent much time in Seattle, since the traffic there is about as much fun as having your fingernails ripped off with rusty fork tines, and the PNW smells (including unshowered hippies and low tide) get worse as you get closer to the city and can be a bit overwhelming.

Lt. Dan had moved to Seattle with Granola, and they planned a fantastic day for me to experience it like a local.  The back roads with no traffic, the secret paths, and hole-in-the-wall eateries.

First stop was Alki Beach.  It’s popular, but on a sunny December weekday, it was not crowded and the light sparkling on the water was just lovely.


Mind you, this was my first WA beach with REAL SAND so I was beside myself with joy.  You can’t shake the sand from my soul, and feeling the soft grains between my toes brought me back to a simpler time.

The second stop was Diagon Alley  from Harry Potter.  Really.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.  I have not been to Harry Potter World, nor the Harry Potter Studios, so this was the closest I’ve been.


Finally, we saw the Fremont Troll and Gas Works Park.  And okay, they’re not exactly off the beaten path and they’re pretty famous.  But was awesome to go and see them in person.  The first time I saw these things was in 10 Things I Hate About You, where first Cameron and Bianca are talking about going into Kat’s room, and then where Patrick and Kat had the paintball fight.  (Go ahead, go look it up on YouTube).

The troll is kind of covered in graffiti now, and you certainly can’t have a paintball fight in the park now, but 20 years ago, imagine how great it could have been.  And the extra plus to the park is that it provides a view of a stunning sunset.


Park It

If you want the “Hawaii movie experience” you need to stay on the Kona side.  The white sands, the warm aqua waters with big, yet gentle waves, the dolphins and fun snorkleing…Hilo was definitely not that.  It was like a completely different island, just an hour’s drive away.  Yes, that means Big Island is bigger than Rhode Island. And Delaware.  Combined.

If you do happen to find yourself on the Kona side and want to see a bit of how it used to be, head over to Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau park.


The entrance was a bit tough to traverse, but once in the parking area, I was able to truly enjoy “Hawaii” that was closer to the movies than anything else.  There were lava walls, statues, huts, tools, boats – everything to take in about how the natives lived so many years ago.

The statues carved from what looked like solid tree trunks were impressive.  I am guessing they are protection gods, since some were in the water, facing the water, and so forth.  The amount of detail, especially given how they are so exposed to the elements, is really something to behold.




I am not sure what the large triangle hut is, but it was too big and exposed to live in, so I assumed it was a shelter for a boat.  Cue Moana song. It’s okay.  I’ll wait while you sing along.

Inside one of the (actual) huts, there was an example of how the native dressed and lived on a day to day basis.  I’m sure they did tons with coconuts, because they were EVERYWHERE.  I’m also pretty sure there were gigantic edible mulberries, but seeing as I only had a few days left in my vacation, I didn’t want to end up in Poison Control while trying to channel my inner hunter-gatherer.


If the little dish on the left is a serving plate, I’d be bikini ready in no time.

My favorite was walking along the beaches to more secluded spots.  The sand is HOT, you sink like crazy (hello, leg day!), and it’s a really killer walk along the shore to get to various parts of the park.  Some of it is over lava rock, so be careful because if you slip, it will hurt.  Ask me how I know.


After a slightly treacherous trek, the beach narrowed to about four feet wide.  It was going to be either sharp rocks or a thicket.  Why not ford ahead?  Well, in these historical parts, you have to be cognizant that there might be other visitors.  Like, big, thousand-year-old ones that stare at you like you’re taking up their sun.  If you do meet a turtle, it’s best to snap a really quick photo if you can, from a safe distance and keep walking.  They were here first, after all.


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.