Category Archives: family

Recipe: Whole Grain Bread

This bread was the third new recipe I tried over the (now long-past) August Bank Holiday weekend. After making stuffed flatbreads on Saturday and peach crisp on Sunday, I dedicated Monday to my first attempt at making/baking bread from scratch!

IMG_5887

After perusing many a bread recipe and reading tips from various blogs, I settled on this recipe from smitten kitchen (without the cinnamon swirl). Overall, the bread making process was enjoyable — if you have a free few hours, it’s fun to set and re-set the timer to wait/watch the bread proof, knead it a bit, then start to smell it as it bakes. Satisfying, too, to turn out your very own loaf from the pan.

risen & ready for the oven

risen & ready for the oven

In terms of the bread itself, I was very pleased with the taste — nicely wheat-y with some added depth from the rye flour. The crust, however, was disappointingly soft. I think that’s due to my novice bread making skills (or lack thereof), as further reading enlightened me to the fact that for a crustier bread I must bake it free-form and with some added steam in the oven. Note to self for next time! F professed to enjoy this loaf regardless, even though he also prefers a crustier and less crumbly bread.

just add butter

just add butter

Whole-Grain Bread (adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients

  • .63 cups warm water
  • 150g lukewarm milk
  • 25g (2 tbsp) brown sugar
  • 7g (.75 tbsp) instant yeast
  • 28g (1/8 cup) sunflower oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 318g (2.5 cups) whole wheat flour
  • 60g rye flour
  • 10g cornmeal
  • 10g wheat germ
  • 7g (1 tsp) salt

Procedure:

  • Make bread dough: in a large mixing bowl, whisk together water, milk, sugar, & yeast until everything dissolves. Add the oil and half of the beaten egg, and whisk to combine. In another bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeal, wheatgerm, & salt. Add to the wet mixture and stir with a wooden spoon (or with a paddle in an electric machine) for 1 minute.
  • Let dough rest for 5 minutes.
  • Now mix the dough for 2 minutes, either with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook on medium-low (machine). The dough will become firm and smoother yet stickier and more supple. If it is very wet, add flour a spoonful at a time. Conversely, if it’s quite stiff, add water a spoon at a time. Keep mixing for 4 more minutes.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured counter. Knead it a few times then gather it into a ball. Cover the dough with the empty bowl (upended) and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat the knead + 10-minut rest process 2 more times.
  • Proof/prove dough: lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it proof/prove for 60-70 minutes at room temperature or until it has doubled in size. (You can also proof/prove it overnight in the fridge.) While this is happening, lightly grease a loaf pan.
  • Form loaves: turn the dough out onto a floured counter and form it loosely into the shape of your loaf pan. Place it in the loaf pan.
  • Proof/prove #2: cover the loaf pan with lightly greased plastic wrap and let the bread proof/prove for 45-60 minutes at room temperature, or until it has risen to about 1 inch over the pan’s rim. Partway through this process, preheat the oven to 175C (350F).
  • Bake bread (finally!): pop the loaf into the oven and back for about 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 88C (190F) and it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool a bit before turning out of the pan and slicing.

Enjoy!

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Recipe: Basil Pesto

green=good

green=good

Every summer since I can remember, my dad has made an amazing basil pesto with basil from the garden. He used to make it with pine nuts — the classic combination — but those are so expensive now that he has started using a mixture of pecans, walnuts, and almonds. We always eat it on whole wheat spaghetti — the secret to extra creaminess is a dollop of buttermilk or yogurt — with frozen peas on the side.

peas are a must

peas are a must

F and I had been wanting to make pesto for a while, and when Simply Recipes published a pesto recipe — which coincided with Cookie and Kate posting this dish — I knew it was time. My dad has always used the classic Silver Palate recipe, but as I forgot to write it down during my most recent visit, I went for the Simply Recipes version. Making pesto is so simple and satisfying: combine basil, nuts, cheese, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor, and blend until smooth. Toss with pasta or spread on pizza or a sandwich.

Do you have a favorite pesto recipe? How do you like to eat it?

Basil Pesto (adapted from Simply Recipes; makes 3 cups of pesto)

Ingredients

  • 4 packed cups basil leaves
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 – 1.5 cups grated parmesan and/or romano cheese
  • 1 cup nuts (I used 1/2 cup walnuts + 1/2 cup almonds)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • to taste: salt & pepper

Procedure

  • Place the basil and garlic in a food processor and pulse until blended (you can use an immersion blender if you don’t have a food processor). Add the cheese and nuts and continue pulsing until the mixture is uniform.
  • Slowly add the olive oil while running the food processor continuously. Keep blending until the pesto reaches your desired consistency. Stir in salt and pepper.
  • Note: If you’re adding pesto to pasta, reserve/mix in 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid per 1 cup of pesto.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Fresh Corn & Avocado Salad with Basil & Lime

Visiting my parents in the summer is always fun, in part because there are always so many delicious fresh/seasonal fruits and veggies around the house. My dad and I, finding ourselves alone for dinner on a Friday evening, improvised with what ingredients we had and created a colorful and healthy spread: He made delicious BBQ chicken and I came up with this salad, inspired by Mark Bittman. Add some grilled eggplant, and you have a perfect summer meal.

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Fresh Corn & Avocado Salad with Basil & Lime (inspired by Mark Bittman; serves 3-4)

Ingredients

  • 2-3 generous handfuls of your favorite salad greens
  • 4 cobs of fresh corn, blanched & kernels cut off
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • handful of fresh purple basil, minced (feel free to use “normal” green basil)
  • small handful of fresh mint, minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 glugs olive oil
  • to taste: salt & pepper

Procedure

  • Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the corn cobs in it for about 5 minutes. Remove the corn from the water, let cool, then cut the kernels off the cobs.
  • Combine the corn kernels, diced avocado, minced herbs, and salad greens in a large salad bowl. Squeeze the lime over everything, add some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss until the salad is evenly coated.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Terry’s Gin-Barbecue Chicken

Extra-crispy, May 2014

Extra-crispy, May 2014

I grew up eating a lot of chicken. One of the family staples, especially in the summertime, is my dad Terry’s amazing gin-barbecue chicken. Usually baked in the oven, though occasionally grilled, this is one of the simplest chicken recipes you’ll come across: marinate chicken pieces in gin and barbecue sauce, then bake for an hour and voila! An easy and delicious dinner.

Not-so-crispy (but just as good), July 2014

Not-so-crispy (but just as good), July 2014

Barbecue chicken goes well with grilled vegetables — I prefer eggplant and/or zucchini — and a big salad. Also gin and tonics, which my family affectionately calls “G&Ts”. It’s hard to go wrong with that combination! If you want some more carbs with your meal, rice does a good job of soaking up the barbecue juices.

Terry’s Gin-Barbecue Chicken (family recipe; serves 3-5, but easy to adjust for more or fewer people)

Ingredients

  • 5 bone-in chicken pieces (thighs &/or drumsticks)
  • 1.5 – 2 cups barbecue sauce (choose your favorite brand, or make it yourself)
  • 1/4 cup gin
  • to taste: salt & pepper

Procedure

  • Rub some salt and pepper into the chicken, then marinate it in the gin and barbecue sauce for at least one hour and up to overnight in the fridge.
  • Bake the chicken in the oven at 375F (190C) for 1 hour. Alternately, grill the chicken on a barbecue (this may take longer for the chicken to cook through).

Enjoy!

Living Abroad & Perspectives on the US

This week has brought some interesting perspective on life and living abroad. I’ve been back in the US for my grandmother’s 80th birthday party/family reunion and a brief visit to my parents (and also some quiet time to work on my MA dissertation). It was fantastic to see all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins in California for the birthday party — I’m really glad I went. It has also been nice to be in Rochester and not have any official household duties — of course I help out, but visiting the parents is different from living with F like a “real” adult; here, I can be a bit like a kid again, albeit a grown one.

almost the entire family on my mom's side, gathered in Ventura, CA for my grandma's 80th birthday. Photo credit: Nancy R.

almost the entire family on my mom’s side (missing a couple cousins and partners), gathered in Ventura, CA for my grandma’s 80th birthday. Photo credit: Nancy R.

I lived at home for two months last summer, but that felt normal as I had only been in the UK for six months beforehand and was still on the heels of transitioning from Peace Corps/Ukraine life. Peace Corps was so different that returning to the western world was an adjustment in and of itself — it didn’t matter where I was, and there were so many changes that I had to take each one as it came.

But this year, I’ve become settled in my UK life and haven’t been back to the US for almost a year. Being “home” has felt different, in part because I’m here for a vacation-y 10 days rather than a long period of “living” time. Here are some things that have struck me about the US after living in the UK/Europe for a year and a half (of course, the following things seem extreme because I live in London, a city of 8 million, and am comparing it to Rochester, a much smaller city of 300,000. But I think I’d feel some of these differences no matter where in the US I was):

  • Open space. Americans often take for granted how much space this country has. On the flight from London to LA, my British seat-mate and I marveled at the hugeness of the land, particularly in the southwestern US, and at how much of it is uninhabited (and uninhabitable. And beautiful).
so much space!

so much space!

somewhere in the Southwest

somewhere in the Southwest

  • Traffic and driving. Okay, so LA has crazy freeway traffic, but the Rochester streets are so peaceful! My dad and I were driving to Panera the other morning for breakfast (and endless coffee refills, yes!) and I remarked on how quiet the streets were. My dad replied, “Oh, I was just thinking it was pretty busy.” That’s perspective for you! It comes from living in London, where traffic is dense no matter the time of day. In a similar vein, driving has felt really easy here after cycling in London, where I have to be hyper-aware on the bike so as not to be run over by aggressive drivers. Cruising around in a car here feels quite calm in comparison.
  • People and friendliness. Maybe I’m becoming more like a reserved European, but Americans are so friendly and open…sometimes overly so, it seems to me. I’m happy to strike up the odd amiable chat, and do it regularly in London with our fruiterer shopkeepers. But many people here seem a little too in-your-face-potentially-forced friendly. It’s fine, and I do appreciate the openness, but it’s funny to come at it now from another perspective — if anything, it reflects how living abroad has changed me. I will say that it’s refreshing to go into a store here and be able to ask an employee about what I’m looking for, because I know that they will provide good customer service and help me find what I need. In the UK and other parts of Europe it sometimes feels like people are mildly annoyed when you enter their shop…but I sort of like that, too — or at least am used to it by now!
  • Short distances. Again, this is me comparing two cities of vastly different sizes and areas. But still, it is so easy and quick to get around Rochester. In London I have to plan and map out where and when I want to go somewhere, taking into account the time and money and clothing I’ll need. Here, pretty much everything is a 5-20 minute drive away. I could get used to that again…

Oh, the cross-cultural life is always fun and interesting! I wouldn’t have it any other way — it has opened my eyes to how different people live and how different societies function, and has brought me a hefty dose of perspective along the way. I love it.

———

Recipe: Poached Spring Vegetables

London’s springy weather has been tempting me to try some new, fresh-tasting recipes. For inspiration, I turned to Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, of which we have the German version (called Genussvoll vegetarisch). Also, my mom keeps making recipes from her (English-language) copy of Plenty and telling me how good they are (I know, too; we’ve made this a few times), so she also inspired me to crack open the book and find something nice for a Sunday dinner.

IMG_5511

so springy

For a main dish, F and I made an amazing caramelized garlic and goat cheese tart. As a side, we tried these “pochiertes juges Gemüse” (“poached young vegetables”). The vegetables, lightly poached in a white wine-olive oil-lemon juice mixture, turned out well. They retained some crunch and still tasted fresh and bright. Poached spring vegetables would be a great accompaniment to any meaty main you might cook up. The recipe is also easy to expand or contract, depending on how many people you’ll be feeding and/or how many leftovers you want.

Poached Spring Vegetables (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Genussvoll vegetarisch/Plenty)

Ingredients

  • Vegetables:
    • 5-7 young carrots, peeled
    • 3 fennel bulbs
    • 2-3 bunches thin green asparagus
    • 3 thin zucchini
    • 2-3 thin leeks
    • to taste: minced fresh dill
  • Poaching liquid:
    • 750mL  (1 bottle) white wine
    • 250mL olive oil
    • juice of 3 lemons
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 onion, quartered
    • 2 celery stalks, cut into chunks
    • 1 tsp salt

Procedure

  • Wash the vegetables. Cut the carrots, zucchini, and leeks lengthwise into sticks that are about the same thinness as the asparagus. Slice the fennel thinly.
  • Pour the wine into a large pot and let it heat over medium-high for a few minutes. Add the rest of the poaching liquid ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • When the liquid boils, poach the vegetables: first carrots and fennel, then asparagus, then zucchini and leeks. If your pot is big enough, you can poach everything together; if not, poach the vegetables in batches (like I did). Each set of veggies should take 3-5 minutes to poach — you want them cooked but still a little crunchy.
  • Serve the poached vegetables with some of the liquid and garnish with fresh dill.

Enjoy!

“So many things were different, yet the experiences had much in common”: Peace Corps from father to daughter

The following post is inspired by this, from the Peace Corps Passport blog, about a woman whose father, like mine, was a Peace Corps Volunteer before her. Below, with the guidance of some questions asked in the model post, I reflect on how my dad’s stories and experiences as a PCV inspired me to apply and serve. This has been a work in progress for a while, but I thought now was a good time to publish it because in addition to my dad, I now have one more close Peace Corps connection: my good friend Hannah leaves this weekend for her own Peace Corps adventures in Georgia.

my dad and I, overlooking the Prut River valley in my PC post of Sniatyn, Ukraine (May 2012)

father & daughter, overlooking the Prut River valley in my PC post of Sniatyn, Ukraine (May 2012)

How did your dad’s Peace Corps service inspire you to serve?

I grew up hearing my dad, Terry, tell stories about teaching math and physics at an all-boys high school in rural Mpwapwa, Tanzania, where he was a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) from 1964-1966, in the first five years of Peace Corps’ existence. (Terry writes that Mpwapwa “was a small town, with a small hospital and local population of little more than 1000, which swelled to nearly 5000 when all the 6-7 schools were in session, including the expatriate population of 200 or so, mostly teachers and their families, plus some employees at the Teacher Training College and the Agricultural Station, both a few miles out of town.”)

I might not have joined the Peace Corps if it weren’t for growing up hearing Terry’s stories. He told us about all the cool trips he went on during vacations — I especially liked hearing about his time as an Outward Bound counselor and climbing Kilimanjaro (I can’t remember if those happened together or separately). There was also a story about a Jeep getting stuck in the mud and about his star pupil who would read novels at the back of the classroom and whom Terry always tried to challenge intellectually.

I wanted to have adventures like my dad.

Did your dad encourage you to apply, or was he surprised?

Terry didn’t specifically encourage me to apply. During my senior year of college, I was tossing around gap-year options and he might’ve suggested Peace Corps. Or I came up with it on my own; I can’t remember. I struggled at first with the length of commitment — 27 months — PC service would require. Terry didn’t push me either way. Eventually, I realized that 27 months is hardly anything in the grand scheme of things, so decided to go for it. I don’t think Terry was surprised, though of course he couldn’t have anticipated it when he was a PCV:

Little did I know when I boarded a giant jetliner in the blowing late December snow at Kennedy Airport in 1964, bound for a posting in East Africa with the newly formed Peace Corps’ first group of secondary school teachers, that my daughter would be heading for a posting in Ukraine 46 years later, just shy of the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary.

Do you think you went into service with a different perspective because of stories you had heard about your dad’s service? If so, how did those stories shape your expectations and decisions?

Definitely. Because I knew that I’d be serving almost 50 years after my dad, I tried not to let his stories shape my expectations or decisions. I’d be going to a different country at a different time, so I had very few concrete expectations going in. That said, Terry’s stories helped prepare me for big cultural differences and taught me to be open-minded and flexible toward opportunities that might come along. Of course I ended up in semi-rural Ukraine rather than rural Africa, but throughout my service I often reflected on what it must have been like for my dad when he was a PCV.

Did your dad visit you while you were in Ukraine? Did he provide any insight as to how things had changed since he was a volunteer?

My mom and dad visited me during my second spring in Ukraine. They spent valuable time with me at my site, experiencing how I lived and meeting my pupils, colleagues, and friends. Terry has provided a lot of insight as to how things have changed since he was a PCV in Tanzania.

1) The Internet didn’t exist when he was a PCV; no email, no Skype. No cell phones, either — my dad had to go to the larger town/city in order to make the very occasional phone call home. Snail mail was the best option for keeping in touch and sharing experiences with those back home. Terry writes:

We received all our mail, the thin blue folded aerograms from family and friends (that took 10-14 days transit time in both directions), at our school, P.O. Box 3, Mpwapwa, Tanzania.  I believe I had only two telephone conversations with my parents during my two years there, on the only phone available – also at our school in the Headmaster’s office, telephone number: 4, Mpwapwa, Tanzania.

In contrast, many contemporary PCVs — myself included — keep blogs during their service. I Skyped with my family almost every week for the 26 months I was abroad; Skype also allowed me to keep in touch with close friends. I still wrote snail mail, but email certainly played a larger role in regular communication.

2) But despite being fortunate enough to have technology access, I had to learn an entirely new language (with a different alphabet) for my Peace Corps service. Terry didn’t have as much of a language barrier to overcome in Tanzania; Swahili and English are both official languages, and he taught in English. Many fewer people speak English in Ukraine than in Tanzania. Also, my Pre-Service Training consisted of 11.5 weeks living with a Ukrainian host family in a small village. Forty-six years earlier, Terry was trained in the US — here’s what he says about that:

Our 3-month pre-service training had been in the U.S. (common then, as overseas facilities for most of the nascent programs had not yet been established) – ironically, ours was at Columbia Teachers’ College on the upper West Side of Manhattan, a strange setting, it seemed, to prepare us for two years in Tanzania, yet we were taught well.  Except for two things.  First, that my two weeks of practice teaching at Charles Evans Hughes HS on the lower West Side, with daily fights in the hallways drawing occasional blood and mostly indifferent students were a far cry from the disciplined, if rote, eagerness of the African boys at our school, for whom it was a privilege and honor and pass to a future life of their dreams.   Indeed, the greatest class punishment I could administer (as caning was the Headmaster’s prerogative) was to ask a student to leave class for the day – because they feared that some minor topic I would cover in their absence might appear on the comprehensive O-Level Exams (the British system still held) they would take in their senior (Fourth Form = 12th grade) year far in the future.  Second, our linguistic training comprised some 3-5 hrs of Swahili per week (a paltry amount compared to any program now), justified by telling us that we really wouldn’t need Swahili because we would be too busy teaching, and our servants would be able to take care of all our local needs.   Sadly (for me, as I enjoy learning foreign languages), Columbia was right – I taught between 27 and 35 hours per week in class during most of my two years there, and our students never wanted to speak Swahili with us, as they (correctly) claimed “It is much more important for us to learn English, Sir, than for you to learn Swahili!” 

Interesting, no? I’m fortunate to have been trained in-country, teaching “real” Ukrainian pupils and intensively learning the local language. The other striking difference between Terry’s and my service is the fact that Terry and his PCV roommate, Roger, had two servants:

Though we protested about having [servants] initially, we succumbed to social pressure that it would have been snobbery to deny the employment (the Tanzanians also enjoyed working for Americans more than for other “wazungu” = foreigners), but that we had to limit their wages to $1/day so as to not out-price the market.   We also succumbed to dire necessity, due to teaching load and the competing viscissitudes (sp.?) of our life on the school compound – cooking and hot water depended on stoking up the cast iron “kuni” (wood) stove before 6 am (classes began at 8) with the chopped wood (when would we have done this?), and we were expected to wear freshly cleaned and ironed white cotton shirts and shorts for teaching each day (oh, yes, the washing and pressing?).  Our food, whether tinned or fresh from market (shopping too, and the expected bargaining in Swahili?) was cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with tea ready for our short morning and afternoon teaching breaks, and served promptly and graciously by Amoni; his “shamba boy” helper Edward did the wood chopping, market shopping, other errands and such gardening as our tiny plot would yield in the arid Central District (ann. rainfall ca. 12″).

Did you catch the fact that Terry taught 27-35 hours of class per week? As far as I know, no PCV teaches that much nowadays: in Ukraine, we were told to teach 16-20 hours/week and use the rest of the time to develop extracurricular projects like English clubs, interest groups, and grants in our communities.

———

So there you go: a brief “then and now” snapshot of my dad’s PC experience in Tanzania (1964-1966) and my experience in Ukraine (2010-2012). It’s amazing how some things are vastly different, yet others have not changed much.

Are you a PCV/RPCV? Do you know anyone who served in the Peace Corps during its early days? How did his/her experience differ from yours?

3 Days in Portugal: Lisbon & Sintra

Last week, I met my mom and grandma in Lisbon for a great three-generation vacation. We spent about two and a half days in and around Lisbon, which none of us had ever visited. In the few weeks before going to Lisbon, I got only positive reviews of the city from people I’d tell about my upcoming trip. The city lived up to the recommendations and the trip was really fun. Lisbon has a fascinating history — earthquake, monks, eggs, castles — that I won’t go into here; instead, I give you a brief summary of what we saw and did.

Note: if you’re planning to visit Lisbon, invest in a Lisboa Card — it’s totally worth it if only for the fact that it covers all public transport in the city (and also many of the museums). 

Sunday

Starting at Praça do Comércio, we walked away from the river and up hills and steps to Bairro Alto for great views of the city. Another hour and a half of wandering up and down Bairro Alto looking for a restaurant (we never found it) landed us at Ribadouro for a delicious late dinner of 1 kilo of shrimp, frites, and salad.

Monday

We took the train to Sintra, an easy 30 minute ride outside of Lisbon. The main event here was the Pena National Palace, which looks like a Disney castle. King Ferdinand II apparently couldn’t decide which style to build his palace in, so he chose to go Romanticist and mix together a bunch of different styles and colors. It was great fun to explore and photograph from all angles.

Walking downhill from the palace, we strolled through the Queen’s Fern Garden in Pena Park — a peaceful, green sanctuary that was a welcome respite from the sun and the bustling city. We kept walking back to Sintra, semi-accidentally down the path (much) less traveled. It was a bit of an adventure, but we all made it down safely and rewarded ourselves with a tasty fish dinner back in Lisbon at Solar dos Presuntos.

Tuesday

We took a tram to one of Lisbon’s highest points, near the castle. We opted not to go into the castle grounds and instead wended our way down narrow cobblestone streets and steps, through the Alfama neighborhood, eventually stumbling upon the old and beautiful Sé Cathedral. Once we made it back to the center of Lisbon, we enjoyed a lunch of coffee and pastries at Pastelaria Suiça. Try the pastel de nata, traditional Portuguese egg custard tarts that the monks invented because they had easy access to eggs and sugar.

Well-fortified, we visited the Coach Museum in Belém — amazingly ornate carriages and coaches from the 15th-19th centuries — and the Tile Museum, which displays the long and intricate history of traditional Portuguese tile making. We rounded off our three days in Lisbon with a big dinner followed by port tasting (when in Rome/Portugal…).

There was much more we could have done in Lisbon, but three days was a good length of time to get a feel for the city. I loved wandering the cobblestoned streets and mosaic-lain sidewalks, discovering beautiful tiled buildings and other gems of this unique city.

Recipe: Brussels Sprout & Tomato Salad with Lemon-Dijon Dressing

For Thanksgiving every year my mom makes a really good cold Brussels sprout salad with tomatoes and a zingy dressing. I recently picked up some Brussels sprouts and didn’t feel like roasting them so thought I’d throw together a similar salad — not only for Thanksgiving — with some tomatoes we had lying around and one of my favorite dressings: lemon-dijon.

photo

This is a tasty and healthy salad that acts as a great side dish for any meat or vegetarian main you’ve prepared. (Mashed potatoes are particularly good for mopping up extra dressing.) Serve it at room temperature or straight from the fridge. Feel free to add some minced scallions/green onions or any other things you think might work well with the earthy Brussels sprouts, fresh tomatoes, and zingy dressing. Toss the leftovers with some couscous or rice for a nice next-day lunch.

Brussels Sprout & Tomato Salad with Lemon-Dijon Dressing (serves 3-5)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb (200-300g) Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 1/2 lb (200-300g) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Lemon-dijon dressing

Procedure

  • Bring a pot of water to boil, then throw in the Brussels sprouts and cook for 15 minutes or until they are firm-soft.
  • Meanwhile, whisk up the dressing in the bottom of your salad bowl and add the halved tomatoes.
  • When the Brussels sprouts are cooked, drain and rinse them in cold water. Slice them in half, add to the tomato and dressing, and toss. Serve at room temperature or chill for at least 1 hour.

Enjoy!

Weihnachten und Silvester in Deutschland / Christmas and New Year’s in Germany

It’s always fun and interesting to experience holiday traditions in different countries/cultures. I became familiar with most of the major Ukrainian holiday celebrations during my two years there, and my family is often invited to celebrate Norwegian Christmas Eve with friends. This year I had the chance to celebrate my first Christmas and New Year’s in Germany, with F’s family and friends. Here are a short list and a few pictures of my experiences:

  • Weihnachtsmarkt in Bonn: Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, where many people go in the evenings to meet friends, drink a warm mug of Glühwein (mulled wine), and shop for handcrafts, candied almonds (Mandeln), and Lebkuchen hearts.
  • Like many other Europeans, Germans celebrate Christmas on 24 December, what we call Christmas Eve and what they call heilige Abend. Highlights of heilige Abend include:
    • Decorating the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) with lights, red and gold ornaments, and red candles (which may or may not get lit).
    • Enjoying a big supper with some kind of roast meat (F’s family makes Sauerbraten, a beef roast pickled/marinated for seven days beforehand), bread dumplings (Semmelknödel), and lots of gravy-like sauce.
    • Present-opening after dinner.
  • What we call Christmas Day is called “the first Christmas (holi)day,” and 26 December (Boxing Day in the UK) is called “the second Christmas (holi)day.” Both days are free days in Germany, when families can relax and enjoy each other. We had delicious kohlrouladen (cabbage rolls) for lunch one day. They’re not unlike Ukrainian holubtsi, but the German version is only ground meat wrapped in cabbage, rather than rice + meat that Ukrainians use. We also went to watch the Bonn professional basketball team play.

F and I celebrated New Year’s (Silvester) in Münster, where F studied and where most of his friends still live. Activities included:

  • (Another!) Christmas dinner with nine friends. Everyone contributed something, potluck-style. I made my mom’s sweet potato casserole and F made a delicious pot roast as the meal’s centerpiece.
  • One evening, we enjoyed grünkohl (kale cooked for ages with sausages and pork, a typical dish in Westphalia) at F’s friend’s parents’.
  • New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated with friends, like in many places all over the world. We gathered at F&M’s place for raclette and then fireworks (Feuerwerke). Interestingly, Germans are only allowed to buy fireworks for the couple of days leading up to New Year’s Eve. That means Silvester has tons of people setting off their own fireworks at midnight. We walked down to the Aasee and had a great view of ours and others’ fireworks around the lake.

How does your family celebrate Christmas and/or New Year’s?

Year in Review: 2013

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr / Guten Rutsch! З Новим Роком!

2013 was a year full of changes and new experiences for me, like moving to a new country/city, getting an English teaching certificate, and starting an MA program (back to university after three years out). My German improved — and my Ukrainian waned. I also joined an amazing running club in my area of London and was able to spend much of the summer at home in the States with my family and F. Overall, 2013 was a really good year. Here are some more fun statistics summing up the year:

2013 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 155
  • books read: 19 for fun, plus >30 for my MA (including some short stories/poetry/essays)
  • visitors hosted in London: ~19
  • miles run: 931.89 (76.71 miles less than in 2012, but I cycled and swam more in 2013 so overall probably racked up more mileage)
  • qualifications received: 1 Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
  • countries been in: England, Belgium, Germany, USA
  • memories made: too many to count

Are you satisfied with your 2013?

Looking back, I am satisfied to have achieved most of my intentions for 2013: learning my way around London, living frugally, cycle-commuting, “me” time, exercise time, healthy eating, starting an MA program, and staying in touch with people . I didn’t take advantage of as many free/inexpensive opportunities as I could have, but we did visit quite a few of London’s free museums and markets with visitors.

Here is my non-exhaustive list of intentions for 2014, in no particular order:

  • Successfully complete my MA degree
  • Expand my skill set in teaching/tutoring, writing, and editing work
  • Keep improving my German
  • Stay healthy and fit:
    • Run a half marathon or two and take part in as many running club events as I can
    • Get more comfortable with road cycling by riding or spinning consistently
  • Keep exploring London via free/inexpensive activities
  • Get a job and work visa after my MA so I can stay in London
  • Stay in better touch with friends/family in all parts of the world (make better use of Skype, WhatsApp, etc.)

What are your intentions for 2014?

Recipe: Dianne’s Sweet Potato Casserole

My mom makes this classic family recipe every year for Thanksgiving. I don’t know where the original recipe actually comes from — I just know it as Dianne’s delicious sweet potato casserole.

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There are no marshmallows on this. While marshmallows have their place in s’mores, I believe they have no place A) at Thanksgiving, and B) on top of sweet potatoes. You are welcome to disagree with me on that front.

Sweet potatoes are such incredible things on their own that they hardly need doctoring up (see marshmallow comment, above), but this casserole adds just enough to take them above and beyond your normal weekly pan of roasted root vegetables.

I got this recipe from my mom and made the sweet potatoes for a small Thanksgiving-in-London gathering at Sarah and Joe’s. The dish got good reviews all around and I was pleased that it tasted just like it does when Dianne makes them. The cinnamon and cardamom, along with a healthy dose of orange juice, give the potatoes a warming, autumnal flavor with a bit of zing. This sweet potato casserole is quick to put together — you can even make it the day before Thanksgiving and bake it or just reheat it on the day. It also makes great leftovers.

Dianne’s Sweet Potato Casserole (serves 8-10)

Ingredients

  • 3lbs/1.5kg sweet potatoes (about 3 large ones), peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2/3 – 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pecans

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).
  • Put the sweet potato chunks in a large pot and add water until the potatoes are just covered. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft/mashable, 15-20 minutes.
  • Drain the sweet potatoes, then mash them in the pot.
  • Add everything but the pecans to the sweet potatoes, and mix until thoroughly combined.
  • Pour the sweet potato mixture into a casserole dish  (I didn’t have one so used a springform cake pan) and arrange the pecans on top.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, then let cool slightly before serving.

Enjoy!

If I Hadn’t Joined the Peace Corps

Recently on his blog, a fellow Ukraine RPCV, Danny, asked himself the following question: “What might my life be like, if I hadn’t gone off to Ukraine with the Peace Corps?”

Like Danny, I’ve often thought about this question. I can certainly say what my life wouldn’t have been like if I hadn’t joined the Peace Corps:

  • F and I wouldn’t have gotten together; circumstances and location put us in a fortunate position. Had I remained in the States, probably nothing would have transpired.
  • Following that previous point, I wouldn’t be in London. F and I decided together that London would be a good place to live/study, as it offers opportunities for both of us to pursue our interests/specialties. If we hadn’t gotten together, I might have extended my service in Ukraine to the end of the school year (spring 2013) and then returned home to the States to start grad school there. Instead, here I am embarking upon an MA degree in London!
  • I may not have done a CELTA; part of the reason I decided to do one was to be productive in London while waiting for grad school to start. I had generally thought about doing some kind of TEFL certification after Peace Corps, but who knows if it would’ve happened if I hadn’t moved to London.

So what would I have done, if I hadn’t joined the Peace Corps? Here’s my best guess:

  • I would probably have taken a year off to work, likely in Rochester while living with my parents. During that time, I would probably have studied for and taken the GREs, then started a PhD program in the U.S., on the straight and narrow path to academia.

But now, starting my MA after three years out of school, I’m not sure if I’ll end up in academia or not. And I’m okay with not knowing — if nothing else, the Peace Corps certainly taught me flexibility and openness to change!

It’s amazing how the decisions we make affect the rest of our lives. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Dickens’ Great Expectations:

Imagine one selected day struck out of [your life], and think how different its course would have been. …think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

Perhaps my “first link” was the decision to join the Peace Corps in Ukraine…I’m certainly glad of my chain formed thus far and look forward to how it will continue to be shaped.