Forty-eight Hours in Ulaanbaatar

Two mornings ago, Bekah and I flew in to the Chinggis Khaan International Airport and disembarked, breathing in the crisp, dry air. Our visit in Mongolia’s capital city has been a whirlwind since then; involving a staggering amount of jet lag, inordinate amounts of sleep to ease the aforementioned jet lag, the assembly of the bicycles, a trip to several stores to collect the last of our supplies, eating the best Korean food I’ve ever had and planning and downloading the rest of our proposed route.

These events have all been brightened by friendly and helpful people. Even when there was a language barrier, they were willing to go out of their way to help us out. Obviously, I can’t draw any sort of conclusions from the meager amount of time we have spent here but so far my experience in this city of 1.3 million people has been overwhelmingly positive. The staff at the hostel cautioned us about the traffic, mentioning that Mongolian drivers are unused to dealing with bicycles, but so far they seem completely fine to me!

But the time has come to head out of this unique city and into the Mongolian countryside. And what a countryside it is! With the exception of several remote islands, Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. This fills me with varying emotions. On the one hand I am so thrilled to explore the vast expanse this country has to offer, but on the other hand I keep questioning myself: do I really have what it takes to be here and have I really planned enough for this crazy adventure?

I guess it is time to find out.

You can find a link to our tentative route on the Mongolia Tour page.

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The Weight Loss Restaurant

A few days ago I was cooking breakfast at work when my boss came in and started chatting with me.

“You are getting skinny! I wish I had a picture of when you first started working here, you look completely different!” She exclaimed.

“Yeah, my life has changed a lot since then.” I answered.

Then she teased me. “But I wouldn’t want it getting out, a cook who loses weight is bad advertising for our business!”

We had a good laugh together.

Of course, the truth is that working in the restaurant has nothing to do with my weight loss. But the location of the restaurant has everything to do with it.

It is ten miles from where I live. Three and a half years ago, I started working at this small, family owned restaurant and commuting on my bike part of the time.

A ten mile commute really was the perfect distance. Short enough so that it was completely doable but long enough to be a commitment. It forced me into a decision-was I going embrace biking or be annoyed by the time it took out of my schedule?

For awhile, I  was frustrated that biking back and forth to work cut two hours out of my day. As I pedaled homeward, I would think about all the productive things I could be doing if I had sped home in a car.

But as I biked more and more frequently to work, my mindset underwent a shift. I realized that biking, in itself, was productive. I began enjoying my rides back and forth to work immensely and my bike and I became close friends. My motto became,

“It is impossible to waste time on a bike.”

But not only did the frequent bike rides change my mindset, they also started changing my body. I don’t have a scale at my house, but every time I had the opportunity to step on one, I was shocked by the steadily decreasing number. For the first time in my life I was losing weight without changing my eating habits.

The more miles I rode on my bike, the more miles I wanted to ride on my bike. Not for exercise, not for transportation but for the sheer joy of pedaling down the road, for the adventures. And the more active I became, the more weight I lost.

Since I started working at this restaurant in June 2012, I have lost 75 pounds.

Making friends with a bike has changed my life!

 

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On a hike with my family in the spring of 2012

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On a hike with my family this summer

The Best Reason to Drink Just Water

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For over a year water has been my only beverage. I realize this is not exactly normal human behavior but one fact that I have discovered prevents me from drinking anything else.

 

In 2013 I was a your typical twenty-something. In the course of an entire year I drank-

-10 to 15 glasses of lemonade
-10 to 15 mugs of hot chocolate
-half a glass of milk
-3 to 5 bottles of orange soda
-5 to 10 glasses of juice
-some water

That means that in the course of a year I spent quite a bit of money on beverages. Here is my estimate of how much I spent.

-10 to 15 glasses of lemonade (free at work)
-10 to 15 mugs of hot chocolate (gift from Christmas)
-half a glass of milk (drank at my parent’s house after making peanut butter cookies)
-3 to 5 bottles of orange soda (free at work, nice perk, huh?)
-5 to 10 glasses of juice (drank at work, at my parent’s house or while babysitting)
-some water (free from various taps)

So apparently I spent nothing on drinks in 2013, but that is not the issue here. The main point is that I spent 2013 drinking lots of stuff that was not water.

Now compare this to last year, in which I drank only water. My life completely changed beverage-wise. Why the change? How could I suddenly quit drinking everything besides water?

Thank you for asking. One day I  suddenly  discovered a fact that changed my life forever. After my realization I will never go back to my normal beverage-guzzling habits.

The fact I discovered is that water is the only thing I like to drink.

So simple, yet so profound. I decided to take a stand, from this time forward I resolved that I would only drink what I wanted to drink and I only want to drink water. Why all the beverage hate? Let’s do a quick rundown.

Lemonade: Great until I realized that I prefer to eat a slice of lemon dipped in sugar.
Fruit Juice: Usually too sweet or doesn’t really taste like the fruit specified. Why drink juice when fruit itself is so awesome?
Soda: I realize that it is super healthy but it burns my throat and mouth.
Tea: Yuck.
Coffee: People take perfectly good water and then turn it a nasty, bitter brown. This is the definition of water pollution.
Hot Chocolate: I can never figure out a good temperature to drink it at. It is always too hot or too cold.
Milk: I only want to drink it after eating peanut butter cookies, and when you really think about it drinking plain milk from a cow is kinda gross. I just remembered that dairy farms are an important part of my local economy. I love milk, I just don’t choose to drink it. Got milk? Get some more.
All other beverages: I don’t care if I never tried you, I don’t like you, deal with it.

You probably think I am a really picky person but that isn’t true when it comes to food. My food hate list is short it includes only liver and blue cheese. Anything else that I have eaten I would eat again; chicken feet, squid and bone marrow are great.

Away I go through life, a twenty three year old who loves food but despises drinking anything besides water. This should be interesting.

What a day!

I woke up this morning instantly thankful for three things.

1. We once again have a substantial layer of snow on ground and it looks beautiful.
2. I get to spend the day cooking at my parent’s house.
3. Yesterday.

I had a really fun, really full day yesterday. If I spent every day in a similar fashion I would be extremely happy but also extremely tired. My brother is currently home from Colorado so I am spending as much time as I can with the family, I have been here since Monday night.

I woke up in the morning on a mission. My mission? Homemade ravioli. I love making ravioli but it is very time consuming, so I only make it a couple times a year. Please excuse my horribly subpar photography skills, I simply had to share these pictures because ravioli makes me so giddy and happy and bubbly and smiley and I will stop embarrassing myself now.

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Flour, salt, egg yolks and water about to be turned in a sticky mess.

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Sticky mess of dough.

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Ten minutes of intense kneading produces silky smooth dough.

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Rolled that dough until my arms were aching, does anyone want to buy me a pasta machine? You will receive instant best friend status.

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64 sausage and spinach stuffed raviolis

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The end result after boiling in salt water and dumping in marinara sauce.

To round out the meal I made two loaves of savory monkeybread and a marinated Italian salad.

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I invited my grandparents to come up and eat with us and as soon as they arrived and my brothers came back from basketball practice we all sat down together to eat. I love making food for anyone and everyone but there is a special joy that only comes from spending all day in the kitchen to create food for the people you love most.

Right after we ate, my brother (the one home from Colorado) and I headed out to do some babysitting. He had no idea what he was getting himself into. My three little friends jumped on him, poked him in the eye, begged him to do games over and over again and were their adorable, high-energy selves.

Putting three children to bed is always a challenge especially when two little boys share a room and do everything in their power to keep each other awake. I ended up sitting on the floor between their beds telling them a long story until they couldn’t keep their eyes open anymore. Telling stories to children until they fall asleep is one of the best things ever.

Then my brother and I hung out, laughing at stupid TV shows until their parents came home. It was great. I finally fell asleep at 12:30, super tired but super happy.

Well I have another day of cooking ahead of me, I better get a move on it! Have a great last day of 2014!

Here are the recipes I used.

Savory Bubble Bread
I doubled the amount of cheese and spice mixture, my family loves extra flavor. I don’t have a bread machine so I used my normal technique for making rolls.

Spicy Italian Salad
I used red wine vinegar because who keeps tarragon vinegar in their house? No one. I also threw everything except the romaine lettuce in the dressing early on in the day so it could get some nice tangy flavor throughout.

Ravioli
I always end up using more eggs yolks then this recipe calls for but it explains the process very well.