Sunday, June 24, 2012

Public Transit and "Red or Green?": My First Week in ABQ

Happy Sunday, S&C readers!

It's been a hectic first week in ABQ. Work-wise, I've had a variety of fun battling Sandia's computer resources, getting used to commuting, and working in a new lab. I think I'm starting to get the hang of things, but every lab has its own culture, which requires some adjustment. Also, I've finally come to terms with the altitude in that I no longer feel winded when I climb a flight of stairs. Huzzah! I don't think I'll ever get used to this heat, though, however dry it may be. I have learned to apply moisturizer daily, always have your sunglasses handy, and when in doubt, slather on sunscreen. I even have a bunch of freckles and a sort-of tan. 

Uptown, the section of the city where I'm staying, is basically home to every chain store you could ever want. I'm about a seven minute walk away from Trader Joe's, and I'm slowly eating my way through every product that TJ's sells. Not that this is a bad thing. The view from my hotel room is quite striking. You can see the mountains really well. We had some thunderstorms on Thursday (which was very much needed due to the wildfires that have been running rampant), and I got to see bolts of lightning streak across the sky above the mountains. Awesome.

The view from my living room pretty much sums up this section of the city: TJ's and mountains. (During the day and at sunset.)

I couldn't find the bus stop on my second day of work. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but I'm not always thinking clearly first thing in the morning. In Chicago, not every bus stop is marked, so I didn't think anything of there not being a sign at the spot where I thought the bus would stop. Long story short, that wasn't the bus stop, and it took me an hour to catch the bus on Tuesday morning. Also, after whacking my bike into my shins half a dozen times, I've finally become a pro at hoisting my bike into the bike rack on the front of the bus (and have some really wicked bruises to boot). ABQ Ride, the name for the bus system here, has a really awesome video, which teaches you how to use the bike rack. It's like magic.

Since I've been working during the week, I haven't had too much of a chance to explore. Last weekend, I walked around in Coronado Center, the mall across the way, and did some shopping. Hellooooo, 7% sales tax! It seems so cheap compared to the 9.5% I'm used to. Ha. On Friday, I grabbed lunch with my NU friend Harold, who works for Intel. I discovered that there are a bunch of neat restaurants fairly close to my hotel, including several Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants. Who knew?

Yesterday, I decided to start exploring the rest of the town. ABQ Ride has a Rapid Ride line that runs along Central Ave, which is the old Route 66 that runs east-west through the city. It runs through Nob Hill and Downtown ABQ then on to Old Town. ABQ has tried to keep some of the old Route 66 charm, especially in Nob Hill, where neon signs abound, so it was fun to see snapshots of history along the way. 

I ended up in Old Town, which is on the western side of the city. The main plaza area of Old Town is a favorite of tourists and has a bunch of shops selling jewelry, art, and kitsch, an assortment of restaurants, and a few museums like the Rattlesnake Museum. Old Town extends farther west than I ventured and also includes the ABQ BioPark and some other fun stuff.

The tower of the San Felipe de Neri Parish marks the center of Old Town. 

As I mentioned, there's a bit of a kitschy element to some of the character in Old Town. For $4, I couldn't say no to the Rattlesnake Museum. I got a "Certificate of Bravery" for going through the exhibits and everything. If any of you are fans of the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, you may have seen the rattlesnake mugs that he and his robot-skeleton sidekick Geoff drink out of on the show. If you don't know this show, that last sentence probably made no sense. Anyway, I actually saw those mugs in the flesh (snakeskin?) in the museum gift shop. Because I realize there are some snake-phobic readers of this blog, I'll spare you the snake pictures and instead show you the entrance where, if you heed the sign, you can slither on in to the museum.

"Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?"

To top off the day in Old Town, I searched for some traditional New Mexican food. I wound up at the Church Street Cafe upon recommendation from the two nice old men who manned the Visitor Center desk. Basically everything on the menu at a New Mexican restaurant is smothered in cheese and either red or green chile. "Red or green?" is a common question, and it seems that everyone has a favorite place to get the best of either. I decided to opt for the choice of "Christmas," which means you get both red and green chile. I think I might be a red chile gal, but the combination was pretty delicious. Further experimentation is needed to have a full data set on the matter. I am an engineer after all.

Hopefully, this week will be smoother than last week. Also, I have the best motivation to keep going through the week: Andy is coming to visit this weekend!!!

I hope everyone has a great week! Cheers until next time!

Monday, June 18, 2012


Hi, Science and Cupcakes fans!

I apologize for the almost month-long pause in blog updates. With the quarter wrapping up, my last class EVER ending(!), and trying to fit a quarter's worth of research into two weeks, I've been a little scattered. I know I'm in trouble when I write stuff down on Post-it notes so I don't forget about it and then I lose the Post-it notes. Woof.

In trying to fit all of the research in to the past two weeks, I achieved what I thought was impossible. I got a full fuel cell fabricated with my new anode material having never made one of this chemistry before. Even though it was super-stressful, I am happy that I was able to get something testable finished before I left! Hoorah!

Yesterday, I arrived in Albuquerque, NM where I'll be staying for the next five weeks while working at Sandia National Laboratories. After a bit of a snafu with my initial lodging conditions, I am getting settled in to an extended stay hotel which has a full kitchen (including a DISHWASHER ahhh). I'm living in what is known as the Uptown section of ABQ, and the area around me is basically just a series of malls. Also, everyone I talked to told me I was within walking distance of a Trader Joe's. I'm wondering if it's a new thing around here considering how excited everyone was about it. I'll admit it's pretty convenient and delicious.

Being in a new city is kind of disorienting, but I was told that the way to figure out where you are is to look for the mountains. The mountains are always to the east. This reminded me of how people always look for the lake in Chicago. Except the mountains are much easier to find.

One thing that people weren't joking about is that it is HOT here. I don't care how dry the heat is: if it's 96 degrees (which it was today), it is still 96 degrees. It's a bit more tolerable, maybe. But still really toasty. Albuquerque also is elevated at 5500 ft, so you also lose a good amount of protective atmosphere in your sun exposure. I bought a huge thing of SPF 50 sunscreen, which I will be liberally applying daily, especially because I'll be biking part of the way to work. I went out for a walk today and was very glad that I had sunscreened-up before I departed. (Side note: I saw a little lizard running around! So much more interesting than the Midwest.) Another side effect of the altitude is that I get winded doing just about anything right now. Even walking up stairs is hard. I'm sure I'll adjust to the altitude in time.

I'm nervous and excited and scared about this relocation all at the same time. It's fun to discover a new area, especially one I've never been close to before. It's also kind of scary to be plopped in a new location not knowing many people. I'm sure that once I get into a schedule, I'll be right as rain. Which doesn't happen here. :)

As the narrative of ABQ appears in the weeks to come, I'll blog about my discoveries and adventures. I already miss everyone back in Illinois, so keep me posted on your lives. :) Cheers!

Loose Ends

I had a few culinary adventures in the preceding weeks before I left, which I haven't gotten a chance to blog about yet! I'm really excited about making Homemade Larabars. I love these bars made of raw ingredients like dates and almonds, but I find that the $2.00 a bar price tag is a little steep for everyday consumption. Costco sells dates in gigantic packages, which is pretty perfect for mass producing the bars. And you can control exactly what goes into them. So far, I've made the cherry pie and key lime pie flavors, and I hope to branch out to more kinds soon! All the recipes I've done so far have yielded three to four bars.

Cherry pie bars before...

Cherry pie bars after! 

I'm always looking for new things to make for weekend breakfasts, and my latest endeavour was these super-moist banana breakfast donuts, which I actually made into muffins because I don't have a donut pan. These come from a vegan blog, but can easily be made non-vegan, too. I drizzled a simple glaze made with milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla on top for some added texture and flavor. Yum!

Clusters of muffins! You can even see the piece of banana in the bottom muffin.

Pro tip: the glaze tends to soak into the muffin by the next day or two, so revive some of the sugary goodness by placing the muffin under the broiler. The top of the muffin gets sweet and crunchy, which gives it a whole new texture.


In my continuing obsession with Skinnytaste, Andy and I made these Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmigiana for dinner. I love, love, love spinach and will really look for any excuse to add some to my diet. This dish is healthy and very satisfying.

Before cheese...

After cheese!

We even decided to be all fancy-like with a side salad, whole wheat pasta, and a glass of wine. Om nom nom.
A complete and delicious meal.

I have a stove and a microwave but no oven in the place I'm staying, so I'm going to have to get creative with my baking endeavors to supplement my diet of microwavable Trader Joe's entrees. Maybe some stovetop-centered recipes will be appearing in the future, hmmmm? Suggestions are welcome!