#8 – Visit the FBI Headquarters in Quantico. Check.

Had you told me two summers ago that traveling with the FBI to Washington DC was in my future, I wouldn’t have believed you. At that point, I had randomly run across an application for our local county’s Sheriff Citizen Academy and didn’t even know an FBI Citizen Academy existed.

But now the week is over and I can say I’ve been to the mothership – and it was pretty cool. Unfortunately for you, I wasn’t allowed to take hardly any pictures. I guess you’ll mostly just have to take my word for it.

Everyone kept asking, “What are you going to DO in Quantico?” and I really didn’t have an answer. I replied, “It’s classified.” Ha. So here’s how it all went down:

1. We boarded a bus in DC and drove the 45 minutes to Quantico, where we spent a lot of time waiting while they checked our names on the list. I took this photo from the bus, and probably wasn’t supposed to (shhhh!).

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2. We were greeted by a super friendly and knowledgeable guy who led us along the firing range and some of the more tactical training areas. We saw helicopters, trucks of all sizes, dune buggies, snowcats, backhoes, you name it. It was kind of like going down a toy aisle for grown-ups boys. I think he said they fire 1,000,000 rounds a year. Or was it a week? Who can remember?

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A dumpster full of casings

3. We walked through a full enclosed warehouse where agents train for more strategic ventures, complete with a fully suspended airplane cabin and multiple concrete rooms set up like a maze. While walking along a 2nd story grate, I watched two guys wrestling below. One got pinned while the other yelled, “I’m gonna shit down your neck!” Then they both laughed.

4. After a long, hot outdoor tour, we went inside for several presentations about how agents get recruited and apply, as well as their training during their 20 weeks at Quantico. We also heard a lot about the curriculum they receive in academic classes. Basically, it’s really freaking rigorous. And then they get maced in the face and have to fight. No whiners here!

5. For lunch we ate in the glamorous dining hall and then got a tour of the FBI laboratory, with a chance to see their library of 7300 different kinds of guns (some pretty old and some pretty famous), as well as an up close and personal bomb tech presentation. Again, it was like a boys’ toy aisle, but for real.

6. We wrapped up our tour with a walk down Hogan’s Alley – a completely fake little town (where a surveillance happened to be taking place), and then a trip to the FBI employee store.

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All in all, it was a very full day – and it really connected all of the pieces I have learned about the FBI over the last year and a half into one big puzzle.

BUT WAIT – THERE’S MORE!

We also visited the FBI Headquarters in downtown DC (although I have zero photos of that experience). While the building itself was pretty boring (the tour guide described it “white walls, blue suits”), we still had some pretty interesting  presentations from agents on their international capabilities, efforts against child exploitation, and then a firing range demonstration.

The best part was getting to wander two floors of their own FBI museum (no longer open to the public for security reasons) chocked full of artifacts from every major FBI case you can name. I saw weapons, clothing, and letters from famous gangsters like John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson; a scale model of the Unabomber’s cabin, along with his meticulous journal; a bunch of Bernie Madoff’s personalized gear, including a survival kit – just to name a few. We also saw fun Hollywood memorabilia like Hannibal Lecter’s face mask and X-Files ID badges. There was so much that it was impossible to see it all.

The thing is that you can’t just go to Quantico and say, “Hey – I’d like a tour.” Based on how serious they were about just escorting us to the bathroom, well…I’m just saying don’t try it. Before any of this whole FBI Citizen Academy stuff started, I knew shows like Criminal Minds aren’t at all realistic (in fact, one guy at Quantico literally used the word “ridiculous”), but at the same time I really had no real knowledge of the history, their organizational structure, or what the people who work for the FBI are really like. Today, I can say with confidence that the FBI is a very organized and procedural organization that takes the safety of it’s agents and US citizens incredibly serious. They may bust down doors, but not haphazardly or without careful planning. From speaking with all of the agents, it’s not just a job – it’s a proud lifestyle, and if you’re not ready for that, then you aren’t meant for the FBI.

As we were leaving Quantico, Thor and I were talking and he mentioned that it seemed like the exact place and career where I would have fit in. But alas, I’ve chosen a different calling, and I’m ok with that. The question still remains, though, where do I go with next with all that I’ve learned?
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Homemade Toasted Coconut & Cocoa Hazelnut Marshmallows

I’ve noticed that at a lot of the fancier grocery stores in our area having been selling “gourmet marshmallows” next to all the other candies. Since I learned to make marshmallows a couple years ago, I’m always checking them out – looking at color, texture, size, packaging…and price. I admit I recently spent $8 just to try four large coconut marshmallows. It’s 20% enjoyment, 80% research.

And on my recent visit to Paris, I saw tons of parisienne “chamallows” (pronounced shaw-mel-o) in the patisseries. Unlike the marshmallows here in the USA, they were multi-colored and crudely square (a lot like mine turn out!). However, once I tasted them, I instantly felt like mine are far better. They had multiple flavors (like lemon, strawberry, and blackberry) but the fruity flavor was super artificial. They were also drier than I prefer. (To be clear, I purchased these at a fancier confectioner – not a cheap market).

Anyway, even though I’m not planning on submitting my marshmallows to the state fair for judging this year (I can’t handle the rejection), making them has become a summertime tradition for me. My batch today blew those frenchy marshmallows away.

If you want to make your own, I always follow the recipe from A Beautiful Mess, but I’ve learned a thing or two on my own.

Today I took a shot at Toasted Coconut Marshmallows. Instead of dusting the inside of the pan with a powdered sugar/cornstarch mix, I also added toasted coconut (just bake regular coconut at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes). Instead of light corn syrup, I used coconut nectar (found in the baking section of your local fancy grocery store) which has far less sugar than regular corn syrup, and is far more expensive. During the last minute of mixing, I added a good amount of coconut extract. The toasted coconut also got sprinkled onto the top of the marshmallow when it was poured into the dish.

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THEN I made Cocoa Hazelnut marshmallows. For this one, I dusted the pan with the powdered sugar/cornstarch blend plus some cocoa powder mixed in. During the last minute of mixing, I added 1/3 cup cocoa powder and a good pour of hazelnut extract. So easy!

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The trick with marshmallows is to not dilly dally. Get it mixed and get it poured – otherwise it will set before you even make it to the pan. Once you do that, you can lick the beaters all you want.

Sadly, my coconut marshmallows look a little hideous – but since I’m not sending them to the fair, all I care about is taste. Thor preferred the coconut whereas I much prefered the hazelnut – I guess we will need a taste tester to break the tie.

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You can also check out my Top 5 Tips to Making Homemade Marshmallows.

Bringing the Tables of Amsterdam and Paris to the Oregon State Fair

Next month starts the Oregon State Fair, it’s my annual tradition to compete in the “Creative Living” category; this year with vegan bread, and table decorating.

Every year, my friends and I spend hoursssssss at the fair, exploring and doing everything possible. We love the fair! While looking at the multitude of things people entered (from pies to canned meats to calligraphy to pine needle baskets), we always look forward to the table decorating competition. Part of intrigue is that the tables are an interesting departure from the eternal shelves of jams, jellies, and honeys; but the other part is that the judges write up extremely critical narratives that are posted next to each table. It’s like geez – this is the state fair, not the Olympics of table setting – but they are funny to read nonetheless.

Why the hell would I want to submit myself to be torn apart in a category I don’t have any expertise in? First, they cap the entries at 16, which makes it exclusive, and thus appealing to me. Second, you know I like a challenge. I figure why not? Maybe I’ll learn something. I’ve got thick skin, y’all.

Here’s the rubric:

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When I was in Europe, I paid particular attention to the table settings in every restaurant or cafe we ate at, as well as the menus and foods served. Since the menu essentially drives the rest of the table, that is currently my step one.

Here are some of the meals and tables I sat at this month…

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Don’t worry. I still worked out on while we were there :P

The Best of Amsterdam

Live from Paris, it’s my blog!

A few years ago, I made traveling to a new (domestic) city part of my annual bucket list, but when my plans to sing karaoke in Tokyo fell through due to time and money constraints, I decided to give myself a traveling break…and then, naturally, I’m offered several chances to travel internationally for very cheap. Go figure.

Thus even though “Travel to a new International City” isn’t officially on my list, I think visiting a new European city (or two) seems bloggable – no?

Rather than give you a long winded (and somewhat narcissistic) narrative of my trip to Amsterdam, I will give you the highlights. If you are hoping to read about the underground secrets off the beaten path, move on. Also, I don’t do drugs – so don’t expect me to talk about the plethora of pot smoke on every corner. I’m just a simple American girl trying to figure out where to get mayonnaise on my fries.

Best way to get around:

We arrived by plane, rode by shuttle, canal boat, and Metro, and walked on foot, and left by train. The only mode of transportation we didn’t use were bikes (ironic for a city of 800,000 people and more than 1 million bikes). My preference? Walking.

It’s summer and nothing is air conditioned, which isn’t that big of a deal, unless you’re stuffed in a small space with no ventilation. For that reason, I did not like the shuttle or the Metro. Riding a bike seemed mildly suicidal unless you were a local. The canal boat gave us a good tour of the city, but that was more of a “look, don’t touch” kind of experience. Everything was centrally located so you don’t have to go far to find food, museums, shopping, etc. That being said, wear some good walking shoes and have your Google Maps handy.

Best Museum

We certainly didn’t go to all the museums, but in three days, we went to a lot. Personally, The Torture Museum was my favorite. Sure, we got to see Van Goghs and Rembrants at the bigger museums, but size of the collections were overwhelming (and packed with people). At The Torture Museum, we got up close and personal with all sorts of medieval instruments of torture – pretty cool! It’s dark and in small windy corridors, and every time we would turn a corner my mom would say, “Now that is the worst one…”

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The infamous “rack”

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People were forced to sit naked with heavy weights tied to their feet for hours or days

Also, personally, I think it’s super important that we (especially as Americans) are aware of the history of the terrible things people did in the name of government (*homeland security – cough cough*) or religion (*homosexuality – cough cough*). In hindsight, we know this kind of stuff was horrendous (and not effective); in 1,000 years, what will they look back and shake their heads on about our current practices?

Best dinner

Honestly, I didn’t have a bad meal. In fact, I had many great meals, but if I had to pick one, I would recommend an Italian place called PastiniThere are so many restaurants in Amsterdam that it’s overwhelming to a newcomer – but this one was off the beaten path (just a little). The service was friendly and easy going; the menu had entrees and small plates for sharing. Like every other place, there is indoor and outdoor seating, but be advised they are closed on Sundays.IMG_4842

 

Best Dessert

I didn’t eat too many sweets during our time in Amsterdam, but a small place called Chocolate Ganache right on the left side of the entrance to the Oude Kerk Church was a must-visit. For a few bucks, I basically got a Whitman Sampler on crack.

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*Bonus – there were a lot of cats outside.*

Best Historical Site

As an avid fan of medieval stuff, the Oude Kerk Church was also a must-see place (and since you’re probably going to go gawk at the Red Light District, it will be really convenient for you). It dates back to 1301, and around every corner there is something weird or old to look at, including engraved pews and thousands of gravestones (including Rembrant’s wife). They still hold Dutch church services so visitors can enter after 1:00pm.IMG_4816

 

 

Overall, Amsterdam was a super easy town to navigate. Everyone spoke english, and everything was written in english. My husband, Thor, has visited Amsterdam on business trips and came home complaining about almost everything (terrible restaurant service, bad food, angry bikers, awful weather) but I didn’t experience any of that. My biggest complaint? Too many American restaurants and retail stores.

Pro Tip: Always get the poached egg on your caesar salad.