ciao for now, carolina

My last few days in NC before heading home for winter break (dude, I feel like the luckiest person in the world, being back in school and getting a winter break) were kind of weird. It was a mix of delightful festivities, horrible illnesses, and intense academic moments.

The last day of class ended with UNC Holiday Party Number One. Our whole department was invited to the fancy shmancy Carolina Inn. Lovely decor, pretty Christmas tree, good company.

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(got there like five minutes early after getting coffee with a classmate, so this is before a lot of people arrived)(but see the ones who had below- haha my program is like 95% female)

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There was a fancifully shaped table of appetizers.

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Only at a nutrition department gathering is the vegetable plate the first thing to be decimated. (These were really good. It feels like such a luxury to have grilled vegetables in the winter months. Things like asparagus and zucchini were surprisingly good, given the season).

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One of my classmates had taken a roundabout route to get to the party room and said elsewhere in the inn there were awesome gingerbread creations. We naturally went to check them out. The Carolina Inn in miniature. All edible. Crazy. (See my deeply less good gingerbread creation later in this post!)

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The next few days should have been spent gearing up for finals. Like, yknow, studying. Or at the very least trying to catch up on sleep and get some mental rest to go into finals feeling fresh.

However, then there was the horrible stomach flu (mentioned at the end of the previous post). When the puking began, before the outbreak was traced to the adorable toddler (thanks to public health detective work, oy), my first thought was, “Oh NO! I can’t go to the delicious Mexican place again!”

Fortunately, the succulence below, enjoyed as a weekend lunch with Steve, was not what poisoned me (though I’ll confess I may take awhile to get there again, since I did get sick immediately after).

Regardless of the illness incubating in my stomach (okay this is gross, I’ll stop now) this truly was the best shrimp taco of my life- homemade tortilla, fresh and flavorful salsa, perfectly shredded cabbage, tangy and rich queso fresco, perfectly seasoned and grilled shrimp. Plus a sope with yummy refried beans, more cabbage and cheese, and lovely crema.

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Split some perfect, flavorful guacamole with Steve. He thoroughly enjoyed his quesadilla and gordita.

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The ensuing (unrelated) sickness really is keeping me from being able to describe this place with the enthusiasm it deserves. The most fresh tasting Mexican food I’ve ever had. Cute little family business.

Garlic hanging over the door.

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Fresh young coconut on the counter.

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Sadly, however, I entered 48 hours of… badness. As in, I went to the doctor for my cold while I was home over break, and weighed 9 pounds less than the last time I’d been weighed. Eesh! (Yes, I had a cold before, during, and after my stomach flu. It seems deeply unfair.)

Of course, again, this stomach horror took place during FINALS WEEK. I had an 8 am biostats final and I contemplated my computer as I tried to imagine taking the bus to campus without hurling all over it. What to do what to do?! Fortunately, in a scurry of emails, my public-health minded professor realized that she and my classmates would vastly prefer if my sick self avoided them. So I stayed home and gingerly drank pedialyte. Like, only pedialyte. It was the kind of sickness where drinking water sounded horrifying. Thank God for advice from my roommate’s physician’s assistant boyfriend.

When I had (semi) recovered, after 36 hours or so, I was still unable to cook. I decided to go to Panera and take advantage of the WiFi to do some Biostats studying. Half a grilled cheese on white bread, squash soup (which I did surprisingly well with), an apple (which I saved for later because I didn’t want to push my luck) and ginger tea. This was manageable.

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I took the Biostats test 52 hours late in the administrative office (where the admin kept sweetly fetching me bottles of water and Kleenex), and all was well. Whew. Since I was already on campus, I went to some of the master’s paper presentations for the third year students in my program. It was awesome!

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To me, the most fascinating (and depressing) presentation was a case study about patients who suffer from both Type 1 diabetes and anorexia. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed during adolescence, when body image issues can also start to rise. And, proper management of Type 1 diabetes involves a certain amount of obsessiveness about food, counting carbs and so on. Plus, starting insulin therapy can lead to weight gain, and there’s a temptation for anorexics to withhold insulin in order to stop gaining weight. It was fascinating, and pretty depressing.

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Class was officially dunzo, which meant it was time for my cohort (someone pointed out to me how public health-y it was that we called ourselves that) to get our party on! Ugly sweaters, festive head coverings, and penguin onesies were all highly encouraged.

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And the delectable party selections would never lead you to suspect that we were nutrition students! Lots of sweets and lots of (mostly unpictured) booze. Though that large chocolate cake roughly in the center of the table had beets in the cake and avocado in the frosting. Interesting!

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The next few days I didn’t have any particular appetite. While this was a sign of illness, it meant that I had a weight deficit going into Christmas (which was quickly counteracted with billions of Christmas cookies) so at least it was a conveniently timed illness.

I tried to make my meager meals not just the desserts above- I had a nice virtuous veggie plate at Weaver Street Market.

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Roasted brussels sprouts, cheesy mashed potatoes, cooked greens with a soy-sauce-y-sauce, Szechuan tofu, and vegetarian hoppin’ john.

Also spent some time in Raleigh with Steve once class was done. I stopped at the Indian grocery store (Cary, just outside Raleigh, has a big Indian population and it’s great if you, like me, love shopping at Indian grocery stores for their fantastic and cheap spices and legumes) to get Christmas goodies (curry powder for my aunt, who asks for it every Christmas; delicious British candy for stocking stuffers, etc.) and was feeling a bit light headed so I just had to get a little something at the bakery 🙂 It is vast! I love Indian sweets- interesting things done with cashew, rice flour, semolina, rose water, coconut, sweetened cheese.

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Both times I have gotten this little item I’ve been convinced it’s a stuffed date, and it isn’t: it’s what seems to be kind of a rosewater soaked semolina cake with a sweet nutty and/or cheesy filling? It’s yummy! I just don’t totally know what it is.

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Steve and I got dinner in downtown Raleigh and I got yet another grilled cheese- this was apples and cheddar on french toast-ed bread.

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They brought me the wrong side by accident, so I got pasta salad along with I’d actually ordered, chickpea salad, which was really good and in a creamy sauce. (That other thing next to the sandwich is a pile of bacon- I knew I didn’t want the bacon included in the sandwich but rather than “waste” it I got it on the side so Steve could eat it :D)

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Another gorgeous old Raleigh building.

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We peeked across the street at a festively decorated pub.

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But ended up at a low-key bar with live music up the street. And I played darts for the first time! Fun fact: I am terrible at darts (this is not surprising). Fun fact: Steve is weirdly good at darts (this is also not surprising. Steve is weirdly good at everything involving bodily coordination. You should see the kid bowl).

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I think the most fun part of the weekend was when we had my other boyfriend over to decorate a gingerbread house.

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See all those pretty windows and the chimney and the perfectly angled roof and so on? That’s cause we bought a KIT, and that’s what I’m always doing from now on! It’s like $8, available at any grocery store, includes a TON of royal icing (which is hard to make from scratch and involves raw egg whites, something one wants to avoid after a recent stomach bug) in an easy-to-use piping bag, includes decorating candy, has a tray on which to display everything, and the pieces are perfectly constructed (you’ll see evidence of how this is not guaranteed with the homemade stuff in a later post…)

There were also cute gingerbread people, trees, and snowmen to decorate, an activity the five year old enjoyed.

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I’m responsible for this odd looking section of the roof- started thinking it could be pretty but it looks like something out of a horror movie, huh?

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Anyway, the final house/yard/people/scene ended up looking SUPER cute, in my opinion! And the whole undertaking was less than, say, 45 minutes, which works well for short youthful attention spans. I highly recommend this activity for kids! Anyone, actually, it was really fun 🙂

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(special props to Steve for the cute marshmallow fencing around the yard!)

My last day in town went sort of differently than I’d expected (cars… check engine lights… still haven’t gotten my inspection, heh) so I ended up spending a big chunk of the day idling on the lawn of Weaver Street Market. Since it was a glorious day, everyone was outside and it was a really nice way to say a temporary goodbye to my adopted town and prepare to travel to my home one.

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I’ll leave you with a picture of the adorable Christmas card from the little boy pictured above.

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I found that taped to my front door, and my little buddy asked me if I’d liked it. “I loved it, sweetie! Thank you so much!”. His followup question was, “Did you like the Scarecrow?”

Why yes. I love this playful scarecrow. Now that I know what this charming image is, I’ll leave you with it 🙂

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