Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Bit of Fun

So the holidays were stressful to say the least.  By Saturday, I was so strung out I couldn’t sleep.  We went to bed after some lengthy family discussions and I just laid there, playing with the iPod, until Michael busted me with it (yeah, I was immediately hooked on the thing for sure!) and it turned out that he couldn’t sleep either.

We had had a big lunch in DC during the day, so I hadn’t bothered to cook dinner and by 11:30, The General was HUNGRY.  We got to talking about what would taste good and he was like, “Man, I could go for some double quarter pounders right about now.  I’m starving!”

Now, I have eaten at McD’s since I joined WW, but I have largely forgone my former fave food, the chicken mcnugget, in favor of the 5 point hamburger.  But man, when he got to talking about McD’s, I could taste a damned McNugget a mile away.

So I said, “I’m going to go get us some!” and we both started giggling.  “How are you going to do that?” he asked, pointing out rightly that our car was blocked in at the top of the driveway.  “I don’t know, but I’m getting us some food!” I whispered back.  The two of us were giggling hysterically at this point.  I think it was the whole prospect of sneaking out of the house while my parents were there, “borrowing a car” and going to get some yummies.

I didn’t even bother to get dressed.  I jammed my feet into some shoes, grabbed my mini flashlight from my bedside table, and crept downstairs in my nightgown, on the prowl for car keys.  Bingo!  I found my mom’s bright yellow coat hanging on the back of a chair in the dining room and quickly put that on.  And double bingo, I found her car keys hiding in her purse (Sorry, Mom!).  I was cackling like a madwoman as I crept to the back door and slipped out.  I strutted down the driveway and hopped in the car, careful not to move the seat or the mirrors lest I give myself away.  Fortunately McD’s was open at that hour and I went through the drive through in my nightie and yellow coat and they looked at me like this was the most normal thing in the world to do, so must be a lot of people do it.

I made our order, got our food (after what seemed like an interminable 10 minute wait) and drove back to the house.  I put the coat and keys back (Thanks again, Mom, and if you were wondering why your car smelled like french fries, now you know!) and hauled butt upstairs with our white bags of contraband.

Michael was laughing and saying he felt like he was in college again when they’d make midnight pizza runs.  I felt like I was 16, finally sneaking out and stealing my parents’ car!!!!  I never did that when I was younger, it felt so hilariously forbidden (sorry, Mom!).

We made ourselves a little picnic on the bed, munching on fries, burgers, and McNuggets, slurping caffeine free drinks, and giggling like a couple of kids.

It was the perfect antidote to all the sadness and angry feelings I was having.  The McNuggets were the best I’ve ever eaten :-)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Reading Wrap Up!

Today I finished Katrina Kittle’s The Kindness of Strangers.  It was book #69 of the year, and while I am disappointed I didn’t hit 70, there are still 2 days left in the year, so if I can find a quick and easy read, I still might make it.  The Kindness of Strangers was a hard read, but unputdownable.  I’ve been sneaking in a sentence here, half a page there, a chapter somewhere else every chance I could.  And boy did I snuggle my daughter tight and promise to kill anyone who ever hurt her after I finished it.

The book also counted as my letter K for the 2009 Alphabet challenge.  I don’t know if it formally exists, my sister has put me up to it and I worked hard at it.  Unfortunately not hard enough, as there were 4 letters I didn’t get to this year:  N, O, X, and Z.  Oddly enough, I do have books starting with N, O, and Z, just not X.  I just didn’t get around to them.  The full list is as follows:

  • A - Aprons on a Clothesline (Traci Depree)
  • B - Bet Me (Jennifer Crusie)
  • C - A Can of Peas (Traci Depree)
  • D - Dandelions in a Jelly Jar (Traci Depree)
  • E - Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume (Jennifer O'Connell, ed.)
  • F - Friendship Cake (Lynn Hinton)
  • G - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)
  • H - Home from the Vinyl Cafe (Stuart McLean)
  • I - I Love You, Beth Cooper (Larry Doyle)
  • J - Julie & Julia (Julie Powell)
  • K - The Kindness of Strangers (Katrina Kittle)
  • L - The Lace Reader (Brunonia Barry)
  • M - The Mistress's Daughter (A.M. Homes)
  • N -
  • O -
  • P - Plum Spooky (Janet Evanovich)
  • Q - The Quality of Life Report (Meghan Daum)
  • R - Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates), The Reader (Bernhard Schlink)
  • S - Salem's Lot (Stephen King)
  • T - To My Dearest Friends (Patricia Volk)
  • U - Up the Down Staircase (Bel Kaufman)
  • V - The View from Mount Joy (Lorna Landvik)
  • W- Where the Broken Heart Still Beats (Carolyn Meyer)
  • X -
  • Y- You Can't Curl Your Hair With Holy Rollers (Nolan & Sarrett)
  • Z -

Some literary highlights of the year:

Well the granddaddy highlight of them all was meeting Janet Evanovich back in June.  That road trip and meeting Janet was an absolute highlight of my life.  Many thanks to Melissa, Russell and Amy for helping make such a dream come true a real dream come true.

I also got to meet Annie Barrows this year, an awesome author of one of my new favorite books, Guernsey, which I have gushed over quite enough.  I got to meet Judy Blume this year, something I never dreamed would happen as a girl writing in her Judy Blume diary.  It was a brief meeting, but it was a true thrill.  I also met Franz Wisner this year, who was a lot of fun.  I didn’t get to too many signings this year, but the ones I did get to were quality.

I also found a new author to love, Stuart McLean and his Vinyl Cafe books.  Two books this year made me laugh until I cried, the first being I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle and the second being In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd.

So we’ll see what the new year brings.  Lesley and I are cooking up a little project that I will keep under wraps for right now, but I’m excited to talk with her about it when I visit in January.  The National Book Festival is a given again.  The Philip Gulley Weekend in North Carolina in February is happening and I have no doubt will be an incredible experience (hopefully I don’t freeze like I did with Janet E.). 

So happy reading everyone! :-)  And I’ll be trying to blog much more regularly in 2010!

Am I Becoming an Addict?

I was reading through Melissa's new book blog today and discovered all the challenges she is signing up for. Wow, she's going to have a busy reading year! :-) Anyway, I stumbled upon the Twenty-Ten Challenge, which I'd read up on before, and somehow it has struck my fancy, so I'm going to sign up for that one as well. That will make 4 reading challenges this year, and I'm thinking that's a good number, or at least until someone else comes up with something I'll love. Fortunately, all the challenges allow you to cross-count your books across other challenges, so I'm sure I'll have some duplicates.

The rules from the Twenty-Ten blog:

The aim is to read a total 20 books, over ten categories, in 2010. (Was this challenge based solely around the name? I’ll let you decide!)


*Read 2 books from each category, making a requirement of 20 books total.
*The categories are intended to be loose guidelines only, if you decide it fits, then it fits. (Apart from those marked **)
*Categories marked with ** have tighter rules, and these must be followed.
*Each book can only qualify for one category.
*Crossovers with other challenges are allowed.
*Books read from 01/01/2010 to 31/12/2010 are eligible.

The categories (and my choices, where I know what they are) are as follows:

1. Young Adult (Any book classified as young adult or featuring a teenage protagonist counts for this category)

* 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
* Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

2.T.B.R. ** (Intended to help reduce the old T.B.R. pile. Books for this category must be already residents of your bookshelves as of 1/11/09)

* Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky (Since Melissa inspired me to join this one, and I saw this as one of her selections, I'm selecting it!)
* Learning to Breathe by Karen White (I have a couple of Karen White books on my TBR shelf and I suspect she's an author I'm going to love, but I've never sat down and read them! Now's my chance!)

3.Shiny & New (Bought a book NEW during 2010 from a bookstore, online, or a supermarket? Then it counts for this category. Second-hand books do not count for this one, but, for those on book-buying bans, books bought for you as gifts or won in a giveaway also count!)

* Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
* Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine

4.Bad Blogger’s *** (Books in this category, should be ones you’ve picked up purely on the recommendation of another blogger count for this category [any reviews you post should also link to the post that convinced you give the book ago].)

Both my books in this category have come from reviews I've read on Lesley's blog. Now, odds are good I'm going to wind up hating one of these, and I suspect I know which it will be, due to the fact that until recently Lesley and I could never agree on the books we liked and hated.
* The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
* Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

5. Charity (Support your local charity shops with this category, by picking up books from one of their shops)

Library book sales, here I come!

6. New in 2010 (This category is for those books newly published in 2010 [whether it be the first time it is has been released, or you had to wait for it to be published in your country, it counts for this one!])

We'll see what comes out in the New Year that I MUST read!

7.Older Than You (Read two books that were published before you were born, whether that be the day before or 100 years prior!)

* Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith (this was one of my mom's favorite books, and she gave it to me a couple of years ago when I decided to tackle A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; it's about time I cracked it open!)
* The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

8.Win! Win! (Have a couple of books you need to read for another challenge? Then this is the category to use, as long that is, you don’t break the rules of the other challenge by doing so!)

* Shelf Life by Suzanne Strempek Shea (selected for the BBC Reading Challenge)
* Songs In Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris (this is a long book, if I'm going to read it, damn sure I'm counting it twice! I've selected this for the What's In a Name Challenge)

9.Who Are You Again? (This one isn’t just for authors you’ve never read before, this is for those authors you have never even heard of before!)

* How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson
* Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

10.Up to You! (The requirements for this category are up to you! Want to challenge yourself to read some graphic novels? A genre outside your comfort zone? Something completely wild and wacky? Then this is the category to you. The only requirement is that you state it in your sign-up post.)

For some reason, I have a lot of books on addiction--perhaps because I've been watching a lot of Intervention lately or something. So I've decided my Up to You! category will be addiction. I have all of the following books and will select two of them to count for this challenge.

* Parched by Heather King
* Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
* Addicted Like Me by Karen Franklin and Lauren King
* Crackhouse: Notes from the End of the Line by Terry Wiliams

So there you have it, my latest round of books for this wonderful challenge. I am looking forward to it and now have an awesome selection of books stacked by the bedside table, all ready for the clock to roll over on 1/1/10!

Do I need to start a book blog?

Monday, December 28, 2009

One More Book Challenge

I was all excited to go on Lesley's blog today and see there is a book challenge called the Typically British Reading Challenge. I'm going to sign up for this one as well, as I am a total Anglophile and am super-excited to do some English reading this year. I usually read at least a couple of books by British authors each year, and the smallest number I'd have to read is 2, which I'm sure is totally manageable.

I'm not sure which books exactly I'll read except for one, which is Carrie Adams's The Stepmother. Other than that, we'll see! :-) Thanks for a great challenge and see you in the stacks!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Blizzard of Happiness

So yesterday was the big blizzard, and I admit, I scoffed.  I really thought all those weathermen were getting their panties in a bunch over a whole lot of nothing, again.  I went to the store, yes, but all I got were ingredients for cookies.  I didn’t stock up on tuna and TP or anything like that.  I just got the essentials for baking and went home.

However, it turns out they were right.  There was a doozy of a storm yesterday, you may have heard.  And we got A PILE of snow.  I don’t know if weather affects babies the way it affects animals, but let me tell you, my baby was CRANKY yesterday.  So I stuffed her up in the office with her father and I baked.  Because really, what else is there to do?

I made a bunch of different kinds of cookies—chocolate raspberry bars, regular raspberry bars, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, and Santa’s thumbprints (Hershey Kiss cookies).  Cookies galore!  They covered every inch of our table and a good part of the counters.  I tried not to make too much of a mess on account of the fact that I had just cleaned up the kitchen in a big way and I didn’t want to mess it all up again. 

So we got to 6:00 last night, the computer, Nintendo, reading, and Christmas music had all lost their appeal.  So I grabbed some cookie tins I’d gotten at Walmart a few weeks ago, loaded them up with goodies, topped each with a bow and a card, bundled up my family, and we headed out.

Let me tell you people something, it is NOT easy to guide a blind person in 14 inches of snow when you yourself are not exactly sure what you are stepping into.  Our neighbors all live in pretty good proximity to us, we weren’t walking that far, but darn it, it was HARD GOING.  I had a bag of cookie tins and Leah on one arm and Mike on the other.  I very nearly had second thoughts about the entire enterprise.

But we made it to the first house, our neighbors Jett and Mary Katherine.  Jett has been Michael’s back up chauffeur and also has helped us around the house when things break, most recently with my toilet which decided to run continuously.  Mary Katherine’s son Michael opened the door, and his look of surprise that anyone was dumb enough to be out in that weather was only the first of several such looks we got :0D  I said, “Merry Christmas!  We’re delivering cookies!” and handed him some cookies.  He invited us in, but we didn’t go further than the foyer, because we were covered in snow.  He hollered down to Jett and MK, who came up to see who the heck was dumb enough to be out in that weather, and SURPRISE!  It was us :-)  Leah was quickly liberated from my arms to play “Let’s make faces in the mirror” and we chatted and discussed the snow, the toilet, the possibility of no work on Monday, if our neighbor is going to plow us out, etc.  I had never spoken with Mary Katherine other than to say “Hi!” or “Good morning!” so it was nice to visit and get to know her better as well as meet her son and chat with Jett (yeah, we’ve lived here 4+ years, your point is??).

So we soon headed off and went across the street.  We were going to stop in at Peggy and Jim’s, as Jim always plows us out when it snows, but there didn’t seem to be any lights on and since I have never met either of them, we figured we’d go directly across the street to the Slacks’ house and see if they could tell us if they thought Peggy and Jim would be up and we could visit.  Fortunately, Manfred (Mr. Slack) had shoveled, so his driveway and front walk were much easier to navigate for us.  We rang the bell and waited a few minutes and all of a sudden Manfred peered out at us in shock!  Same “Merry Christmas!  We brought cookies!” routine and he invited us in as well.  He called his wife Bobbie upstairs, and we visited with them and their grandchildren Summer and Wade who had been over to spend the night on Friday and were stranded there till probably today.  Wade entertained Leah as we got to know the Slacks better—we learned how they met, they learned how we met, chatted about work, travel, etc.  We were there for a good bit, but it was getting close to bedtime for Leah, so we didn’t want to overstay.  We inquired about next door, but Bobbie said they probably wouldn’t answer, so if Jim comes over and plows us out today, I will snag him and give him his cookies.  Otherwise, I’ll put them in their mailbox!

We said adieu and headed to the final house of the evening, our neighbors Aaron and Jeannie.  Aaron is Michael’s chief chauffeur.  We rang the bell and it took a few minutes but eventually Jeannie peeked out and was surprised!  She opened the door and I handed her their tin with my “Merry Christmas!  We brought cookies!” speech and she invited us in so she could play with Leah for a bit.  Aaron was actually out back in his workshop, so Mike tried calling him but there was no answer.  He did finally come in, but Leah was freaking out.  It was 8:00, an hour past her bedtime and she was totally over the Christmas spirit.  So we met Jeannie’s son and then we bundled Leah back into her snowsuit and came home.  I fed Leah and changed her for bed and she was asleep in about 30 seconds.  At which point, doesn’t the phone ring?

Well, it was Scott, the kid who cuts our grass and lives behind us.  He wanted to talk to Michael and turns out, he wanted to come over to do some computer stuff.  So Michael told him to come on over!  So I quickly fixed a plate for Scott and his family, wrote out a card, and slapped a bow on it, and when he and Michael were geeked out, I sent him home with a treat from the Kosiors.

We are extremely fortunate to have such nice people who live near us and it was such a nice way to spend a snowy evening, visiting everyone getting to know them.  No one turned us away or didn’t invite us in, we really enjoyed ourselves.  It was absolutely the perfect, perfect Christmas thing to do.  Maybe we’ll do it again next year—no, we WILL do it again next year.  I’ve always had an image of suburbia where all the neighbors were friendly and meeting at the mailbox for chatter, etc.  While that hasn’t been the case here and probably isn’t the case anywhere except on TV, the neighborhood did get a little smaller and a whole lot warmer for us last night. 

Let’s hope it doesn’t take a blizzard for it to happen again.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


It has taken 12 1/2 years, but official today my student loan is PAID OFF!!!!!! Woo hoo!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Age Meme Stolen From Heather

IN 1999
1. Age: 24

2. Romantic Status: Happily taken, dating Michael

3. Occupation: Started out the year as a substitute teacher, went to grad school and did a bunch of part time jobs to get myself through school—tutoring, housekeeping, babysitting, and worked at the UALR information desk

4. Fun night out:  Hanging out with friends, doing anything but studying!

5. My BFFs: Michael

6. I spent way too much time: Being depressed

7. I spent not enough time: Enjoying where I was

8. I wanted to be when I grew up: A rehabilitation teacher for the blind

9. Biggest concern: My parents’ divorce, long distance romance with Michael, starting graduate school

10. What my biggest concern should have been: Having a good time/blooming where I was planted

11. Where did I live: Started out in Oswegatchie NY, moved to Allston, MA, moved again to North Little Rock AR

12. Dumbest thing I did that year: Blew through a bunch of money unnecessarily

13. If I could go back now and talk to myself I would say: “Quit crying and have some fun!”

14. Picture of myself then:



1. Age: 34

2. Romantic Status: Happily married

3. Occupation: Domestic goddess

4. Fun night out:   New passion is trivia night at the Fred Pub; close second is dinner out with friends

5. My BFFs: Michael, Mike, Lesley, Melissa, Annette, Russell, and Amy  (just a few!)

6. I spend way too much time: screwing around watching TV

7. I spend not enough time: Cleaning the house

8. I want to be when I grow up: an author

9. Biggest concern:  MONEY! and the other issue in my life… 

10. What my biggest concern should be: Making Leah happy

11. Where do I live: Fredericksburg VA

12. Dumbest thing I have done this year: Got pulled into the drama

13. What I think I would say to myself in 10 years: See?  All that worry was for nothing (yet again!)!!!

14. Picture of me now:

1. What do I miss most from 1999: The freedom to make a major life change without giving it more thought than “Well, I’ve never been there, what the hell!”

2. What do I miss least from 1999: All the sorrow from the divorce, all the homesickness, grad school

3. What have I accomplished in 10 years that I am most proud of: An awesome marriage, my beautiful daughter, reconnecting with many friends, deep and meaningful friendships, being recognized for many accomplishments, my home

4. What have I NOT accomplished in 10 years that I wish I had: Finishing my stupid novel and getting it published!

Book MeMe Stolen from Heather

What To Do: Using only books you have read this year (2009), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It’s a lot harder than you think!

Describe yourself:  The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)

How do you feel: Touch (Francine Prose)

Describe where you currently live: The View from Mt. Joy (Lorna Landvik)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Imagined London (Anna Quindlen)

Your favorite form of transportation: Dear American Airlines (Jonathan Miles)

Your best friend is: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (Helene Hanff)

You and your friends are: Random Family (Adrian Nicole LeBlanc)

What’s the weather like: Plum Spooky (Janet Evanovich)

You fear: Salem’s Lot (Stephen King)

What is the best advice you have to give:  Everything I Need to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume

Thought for the day: It’s My F---ing Birthday (Merrill Markoe)

How I would like to die: Where the Broken Heart Still Beats (Carolyn Meyer)

My soul’s present condition: Up the Down Staircase (Bel Kaufman)

Christmas MeMe Stolen from Heather

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
Hot chocolate, not a fan of the nog!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree?
Wraps them, of course!

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
I grew up on multi-colored ones.  One year, my mom and I did white icicle lights which I liked a lot too.  But I think I prefer multicolored ones.  But not multicolored icicle lights.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

5. When do you put your decorations up?
I start putting them up the first week of December.  The tree goes up at the bitter end, this year will be pretty early, it goes up on the 19th!

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Yorkshire pudding!!!!  YUM!  A close second is trifle.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
The giant Christmas tree from out back.  Read back entries of my blog to read the story if you’ve missed it before.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
My mom’s best friend’s daughters told me and my sister that their mom told them there was no Santa Claus.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
The normal way: lights, ornaments, garland, and an angel on top.  No tinsel—I hate it!

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?

12. Can you ice skate?
I used to be able to, I doubt I could now.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
Not really.  I remember a stereo system being a big hit!

14. What is the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Being with the ones I love

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
Trifle!  YUM!

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Hosting a 3 Kings Dinner for friends

17. What tops your tree?
An angel that Michael’s aunt and uncle gave us

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? 
Giving now—I love seeing people’s faces when you give them just the right thing!
19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
O Holy Night and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?
Yum, but in moderation.  One or two a year is plenty

Book Challenges for 2010

I was very excited to log on this morning and discover that Lesley is hosting a book challenge. I was even more excited to discover that she's giving us a year to finish it!! A challenge I can totally complete! (Although I failed spectacularly at the alphabet challenge! But I was close, right?)

The idea is that there are quite a few books out there about books and reading and won't it be great to clear some of them off the shelves!? I went through all my shelves this morning during Leah's first nap of the day and came up with 15 books that have something to do with books and reading in some way, shape, or form. I'm going to shoot for the Bibliomaniac level of the challenge, meaning I must read 12 books about books in the coming year. The great thing is, re-reads are acceptable, which is great because at least 2 of the books below I've read and read yearly! I can't say for sure I will read all the books listed below, but these are books I have in my possession that seem to fit:

1. The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison
2. The Fiction Class by Susan Breen
3. The Ladies' Lending Library by Janice Kulyk Keefer
4. Rex Libris: I, Librarian by James Turner
5. The Romance Readers' Book Club by Julie L. Cannon
6. How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom
7. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
8. Ruined by Reading by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
9. Shelf Life by Suzanne Strempek Shea
10. The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton
11. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
12. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
13. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
14. The History of Lucy's Love Life in Ten and a Half Chapters by Deborah Wright
15. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Barrows and Annie Shaffer

If you want to join the challenge, visit the BBC Blog at to sign up!

I also read about another book challenge via Lesley's site and have decided to join up with that one as well. This is the "What's in a Name?" Challenge and also gives you a year to complete 6 books. The books may overlap with other challenges, so it may be I read one for one challenge and count it for the other. There are 6 categories that your book title must fall into for this challenge. My current selections follow the category, although some of these will probably change!

1. A book with a food in the title: Leftovers by Laura Wiess
2. A book with a body of water in the title: Your Oasis on Flame Lake by Lorna Landvik
3. A book with a title (queen, president) in the title: The Professors' Wives' Club by Joanne Rendell
4. A book with a plant in the title: The Cotton Queen by Pamela Morsi
5. A book with a place name (city, country) in the title: A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
6. A book with a music term in the title: Songs In Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

To learn more or sign up yourself, visit

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Left Over Christmas Cards

I have approximately 20 left over Christmas cards. I thought I'd send them out to soldiers, but unfortunately, I missed the Red Cross deadline so I can't send them out to soldiers. I did a Google search and nothing has really come up. So if you want a Christmas card from a random person, drop me a line with your email and I'll get your address and send you a card. I'd be interested to see where I can send cards to!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just Random Stuff

Not much has been going on lately that I really want to blog too much about, the typical family drama rearing its ugly head now and again, but I’m getting through it and I’m frankly tired of dealing with it, so am working on strategies to make it through without destroying myself in the process.

Other than that, life has taken on a pretty even keel.  I cannot believe my little baby is 8 months old already.  I saw a picture of her as a 1 month old and I couldn’t get over it, how she couldn’t sit up on her own, she was just a little mushy lump.  I miss that little mushy lump, but the Leah that is emerging is an absolute joy.  She is my favorite person in the world.  She makes me laugh and she makes me cry tears of joy.

My book club met Monday to discuss The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman.  Most of us didn’t really like it, and I heard “This is not Alice’s best”, which cracks me up because when we read Blackbird House in another book club, we heard, “This is not Alice’s best!”  So, what is Alice’s best?  I have Illumination Night here, but I’m hesitant to read it.  I can get through her books pretty quick, though, so even if it sucks, maybe I’d be OK just to add it to the pile.  I am presently reading In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd, which is this month’s book club selection; we will discuss it on January 4th.  When I get through it, and it’s a Christmas book so it’s a great time to be reading it, I’ll have read 65 books this year.  I am also going to try to plow through Elizabeth Berg’s The Handmaid and the Carpenter, which I wanted to read last Christmas, but didn’t get to.  Otherwise, that will be next year’s Christmas selection.

I got out our Christmas decorations this week and put them up—I don’t know if I have lost things or I have more house or I’m missing a box, or what, but honestly, the house looks pretty bare.  I have a nativity set in the basement and one up in the living room, plus a couple little odds and ends, but I can’t seem to locate a few things I know are ‘somewhere’.  Ahh, the mystical somewhere.  Our tree goes up next week on the 19th, and then the fun begins.  This weekend, Melissa will take Leah for us on Sunday so I can actually really clean and scrub the house from top to bottom and get the Christmas shopping done.  I am so excited to have this time to get things done, and not to have to worry about screaming baby.  She provides good weight training, but it’s hard doing a lot with 18 pounds of extra weight strapped to me!!!

I am also weeding through things and getting rid of a bunch of junk and setting other things aside to have a yard sale this spring.  I would like to get rid of a lot of the junk that has accumulated in the past 4+ years.  With the extra money, I’d like to buy a wardrobe for the basement guest room so people can hang up their clothes when they come visit and buy my sister a couch so I have someplace to sit and sleep when I go visit her.  I suspect I’m going to have to find a lot more things to sell in order to accomplish that.  I’ve found a lot of interesting stuff.  I found a Geocoin I didn’t know I had—this one from something called which no longer exists.  It’s a beauty of a coin, I must say.  I also found wedding invitations for 2 of my roommates from Utah.  Armed with the information on one of them, I found the last of the girls I’d lived with for 4 months in 1997.  Facebook is an amazing place!  With that, I’ve now been reunited with all 5 of them, and we are now swapping Christmas cards and emails.  It was a short time, and for me an intensely unhappy time, but they were all an absolute blast to hang out with, and I’m glad to see them and their families.  Funnily enough, Amy (who I actually shared a room with) and I both have daughters with birthdays in April and our roommate Christina is expecting her first baby *drum roll please* next April!    The long lost Jennifer has surfaced in New York, my old home state.  It would be fun to have a reunion sometime.

It hasn’t really sunk in yet that Leah’s officially ours.  In a way, I’ve just lived the past 8 months as if she is—I have loved her fiercely and determinedly.  The visits were not particularly invasive; if anything they were a chance to ask questions and get advice about parenting.  Of course, we are now being asked if we want to/will do it again, and our answer is a firm “Probably” although we both agreed we might like to try foster care next time.  We’ve been incredibly blessed with Leah and her adoption and the process and people we worked with, and it would be nice to work with a child in need of a home who just needs a chance, be it permanently or temporarily.  We have decided to let Leah be in charge of when or if she wants a brother or sister, but neither one of us is in any rush right now to get into another situation immediately.   We just want to enjoy our little girl.

That’s really about it.  I’ve been invited to attend DBVI’s Christmas party on Monday and told not to show up without Leah, so that is our Monday plan.  Monday night, we’ll be going out with Landry and Meredith to trivia night at the Fredericksburg Pub.  We are lucky to have a wonderful babysitter here in town who is great with Leah and very patient.  She even has the foresight to pack earplugs for those times Leah wants her mommy and screams if Mommy doesn’t oblige.

I’m going to be cleaning up my blog sidebar in the new year.  If your blog hasn’t been updated in the past month, I plan to remove it unless it would seriously upset you/hurt your feelings.  Let me know.  I have also decided NOT to post 80 Plates on this blog anymore—it’s really an excuse not to blog about things on this blog and just let the cooking do the talking.  So from here out, you will have to go to the 80 Plates blog if you want to see what’s cooking. 

For now, it’s over and out!  Hope everyone is enjoying the December holidays!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Oswegatchie DC

This past weekend, when I so desperately needed the comforts of home and they were sorely lacking, I was treated to two tastes of the best place in the world: HOME!  It came to me instead of me going to it.

Back when everyone was married and we were young, my parents played cards almost every weekend with their friends the Hickeys, who lived across the street from us for a while and moved around the block when we were a bit older.  My parents divorced and “Uncle Hickey” and “Aunt Joyce” also divorced, my sister and I moved away, and we all got on with our lives.

Uncle Hickey remarried and moved to Pennsylvania and a couple of times per year, his daughter Linette, who graduated with my sister Judy, comes to visit.  I saw her twice this summer while I was up visiting my dad and she asked if they came down for Thanksgiving, would we like to get together?  Well, they did come down and we got together Sunday at Union Station.

Linette now has two children with her husband and of course I have Leah and my sister has Dottie.  We made plans and decided to meet up at Pizzeria Uno’s at 1:00.  Well, we were a trifle bit late getting there due to the wonderful DC traffic situation (let me put it to you this way—I do NOT miss driving to Northern Virginia, but that’s another blog post entirely), but got there around 1:05 and then sat there for 10 minutes wondering where they were.  Meanwhile, they were one floor below us waiting and wondering where we were.  Finally, I told Judy and Michael to wait and I would go around to the stairs and see if I could find them.  I got halfway down the steps when I saw Linette and her son Hayden yelled “There she is!” and they came over to greet me.  Hayden greeted me with, “Can I hold the baby?” so I handed him Leah and grabbed Linette in a big bear hug.  I swear, I have rarely been so happy to see anyone in my life.

As soon as I let go, I turned to look at the rest of the group and was forced to do a double take as I laid eyes on Uncle Hickey for the first time in 10 years.  I honestly did not recognize him.  He was my dad’s best friend for years, and having been missing my dad so much, to lay eyes on Joe was—well, it brought tears to my eyes,  I can tell you that.  I grabbed him and laid a fierce hug on him while attempting to compose myself.  He took one look at Leah and said, “My God, that is a beautiful baby!”  Then he introduced me to his wife, Nancy, and I said hello to Linette’s husband Tom and daughter Hayley.

I told them that Judy and Michael and Dottie were all upstairs and was Uno’s OK for lunch?  We agreed to eat there and surprised the crew at Uno’s with a table for 9!  It was a wonderful lunch.  We reminisced about old times, talked about new times, caught up on each other’s lives.  Hayden and Hayley were madly in love with Leah and Dottie and attended to their every whim so that I could enjoy a grown up lunch.  Leah didn’t scream or cry in the presence of so many new strangers.  We took pictures, we laughed, we all of us chatted, everyone got along so well, even the “newbies”—Nancy, Michael, and Tom.


Leah of course ate about 6 reams of paper and a bunch of bread.

After lunch, we went downstairs to the main hall to try and find something else to do.  There wasn’t much.  I took Hayden and Hayley for their first taste of Godiva Chocolate to thank them for watching the babies so carefully, and then it was 4:00 and we had to head home.  It was with tears I said good-bye, and Judy and I kept saying all the way home, “That was just what I needed” and “That just felt so right, it felt like all the good things about being home again.”

Sunday I had another little taste of home.  Michael and I have been talking for a while about going to church.  We were both raised Catholic so there are no potential “my church” vs. “your church” issues, although we have both been pretty open to attending whatever church the other one has wanted to go to (we were quite active in the UU church in Boston for a while).

Anyway, I do not like the Catholic church here near the house—it is huge and mass takes for-freakin’-ever to get done with.  I think I have mentioned in the blog a few times how I grew up in a small church.  We sang the same 3 hymns every Sunday, loudly and off key with a 900 year old organist pounding away on the ivories while we did our best to keep up, only changing hymns for Christmas Eve.  When my father first started bringing us to the church, the actual church itself had no heating or air conditioning, so in the winters, we met in the local town hall.  We sat on folding chairs while the priest said mass in the kitchen, using the pass through island as an altar.  Since there were no kneelers, we stood through all the parts that required kneeling.  Mass lasted a whopping 30 minutes if Fr. Richard was feeling particularly chatty.  I haven’t been to a mass here at St. Mary’s that lasted less than an hour and 15 minutes.  Anyway, eventually we built a new church in Fine and we didn’t have to go to the town hall anymore in the winter, we just used the church we built.

But while I was working, I went past a church called St. Jude’s.  It was located in a storefront down south of here, and I thought surely it was not affiliated with the big C Catholic church.  I mentioned it to Michael but we kind of put it out of our heads.  Then a few weeks ago, we got talking about it again and so I did a Google search for it and it is, in fact, a big C Catholic church, part of the Archdiocese of Arlington.  So this weekend we finally went.

I had a funny feeling I was in business when I walked in and discovered that everyone sits in folding chairs.  We attended the 8:30 mass, which it turns out is probably a good thing considering it seems like the one at 10:30 is the one with all the hoopla and singing and I don’t go for that.  There was a lone pianist in the front of the room, and a simple altar up on a simple stage.  The priest, Fr. Dave, is a slightly rotund, balding older man who bears a slight resemblance to our beloved Fr. Richard.  The mass was simple and straightforward, Fr. Dave offered a pithy homily which made everyone laugh just a bit and then moved on to the service.  We stood during the kneeling parts because there are no kneelers.  When Leah spit her binky across the room, a little old man happily retrieved it for us and brought to her, pinching her little cheek and making her giggle.  We were out in 45 minutes.  I can live with a 45 minute mass. 

As we left, Fr. Dave shook our hands and of course shook Leah’s hand as well.  We took a bulletin which details such things as pizza parties, potlucks, choir practices, and intriguingly an Advent tea.  And they are working to build a new church, just like my old parish worked to build one.  I don’t want to jump the gun, but I think we may have found a spiritual place to call home.  We’re going to give it another try next week and see what we think.  But all signs are favorable.

Sometimes these things happen with great serendipity, just when you need them most.  I needed them and they were here.  Love that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Dedication to The Best Friends a Girl Can Have

Michael and I were talking on the way home about our decision to start going to church again.  We talked about how we have been really lucky to have so many amazing friends, but how everyone is so spread out, so he thought that going to church would give us more of a sense of community here.  I am fortunate to have recently become friends with several women here in town since becoming a SAHM, and it makes me miss all of you who aren’t here even more.

Just as we were having that discussion, James Taylor came on the radio singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.  One part in particular is extra poignant to me this year and right now:

Through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow…

I have leaned hard on many of you in the past 18 months, and I appreciate that you are still here and every time I post a crappy Facebook status or send you an email, not a one of you has ever responded with exasperation (at least to my ‘face’).  I love you all very much.  I know we haven’t been together in a while, but God willing, the Fates will allow us to be together again soon.

And happy birthday to Lesley, the bestest friend a girl can have.  Love you.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reminder to Self

I am extremely grateful to Andy and Melissa, who reminded me today:

Evil will eventually destroy itself...just don't let it destroy you in the process.

And a late entry from Twitter:

For every evil, there are two remedies: time and silence.

Monday, November 23, 2009

80 Plates: A Burst of Sunshine

It has been raining in Virginia pretty much nonstop for about 15 years.  Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s definitely been some dreary weather.  My friend Emily of 80 Plates Ecuador fame emailed and asked if I was ready to learn some Mexican cuisine and mentioned beverages.  I hadn’t really considered finding out if different countries had a beverage, but I was intrigued at rounding out some of the cooking we’ve done using beverage recipes.

So the other night, I was upstairs pondering the map and talking things over with the General and we made a list of potential countries.  One of them was Panama.  I went online yesterday to find Panamanian cuisine and voila!  I found a site by a couple of returned Peace Corps volunteers who had a recipe for limonada (Lemonade).  According to them, during citrus season in Panama, there are so many lemons, you can’t give them away, much less sell them, so a popular thing to do is to make lemonade.

P1030400 I suggested it to Michael as something we try and he agreed!  I had 2/3 of the ingredients and decided to pick up some extra lemons today and we’d have limonada with our dinner, which incidentally was a repeat of Greece.  I wanted souvlaki, damnit!

Ok, so it’s pretty easy to make limonada.  All you do is boil up a cup of water and mix in something called raspadura, which is a type of sugar.  Unfortunately, my stores don’t carry raspadura, and yes, I checked several.  The recipe suggested that I substitute dark brown cane sugar or molasses if I couldn’t get hold of raspadura, so I used some Sugar In the Raw that I’ve had in my pantry for forever.

P1030401 My burner still appears purple.  If ever stoves are made with purple burners, I want full credit and also the first one to roll off the assembly line.  It looks awesome.

Anyway, once the water has boiled, you toss in either 1 cake of raspadura or a half cup of whatever sugar you are using as a substitute and then stir it around until it is dissolved.

P1030406Then let it cool!

In the meantime, I juiced a pile of lemons with my food processor, which I had out for juicing the lemons for the souvlaki.

 P1030403I just love my little daisy made out of lemons :-)  You will need a cup of fresh lemon juice.  Add that to 4 cups of water, and then toss in the raspadura/water syrup.

P1030407P1030408Then all you do is combine it real well and you’re ready to drink!

P1030409I guess because of the fact you are using a sugar that is not white, the limonada comes out a different color than if you are making a more traditional American lemonade.  It was almost a cross between lemonade and apple juice colorwise.

I decided to gussy up the glasses, since Leah was giving the General and I a hard time this evening.  I rimmed them in sugar and added a lemon slice.

P1030410And actually, I was pretty glad I did!  Despite the fact that the sugar water is pretty sweet, there is almost a bitterness about the drink.  The sugar made it a bit more palatable for me.  Michael didn’t much care either way.

P1030411We both enjoyed it very much indeed and it was a nice, quick treat and another country on the books!  When life hands you lemons, make limonada!     

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

80 Plates: African Safari

Recently our adoption finalization was given the final stamp of approval from our social worker, and we will be going to court hopefully soon.  We wanted to celebrate and so in honor of Leah’s (presumed) African heritage, we decided to make a dish from Africa and have some friends over.  When I recently looked at my 80 Plates travel map, I realized most of Africa was blank—we’d only done one country from the entire continent!  With my in laws coming to visit for a few days, we decided the timing was right to throw a little dinner party with them and some friends who we expect will be in Leah’s life for a long time to come.

I immediately set about looking up different recipes from different countries, and found it is an extremely daunting task.  Many recipe sites and even international cookbooks list Africa as one big amalgamation.  At best, you often find recipes labeled “Eastern Africa” or “Western Africa”.  Even Googling something like “Congo recipes” isn’t apt to necessarily provide you with good results.

But I persevered and eventually I came up with recipes from 7 different African countries.  The plan was to do Angola (chosen because Princess Diana was heavily involved in the land mines campaigns there just before she died), South Africa (chosen because I had prepared S. African cuisine before when I was a nanny), Egypt (chosen because it was the first African country I thought of), Chad (chosen because there was a recipe from there!), Algeria (just because), Somalia (chosen because I found an interesting and informative blog about Somali cooking) and the Ivory Coast (chosen because Michael used to work with someone from there).  I found recipes from each country and was ready to go.  My sole hesitation was that it was going to be VERY difficult to make 7 dishes from 7 different countries all at once.  But my mother-in-law volunteered to help out with the project, and I am getting more and more organized with this whole thing, so I decided to go for it.

Friday afternoon, Michael and I went grocery shopping and got all the supplies we needed.  This let to a joke, because I really needed a candy thermometer for the dish from Angola.  And when I finally located one, it was twenty damned dollars.  I had myself a little melt down in the thermometer aisle, pardon the pun.  I declared that I would not be held hostage by the powers that be wanting to charge me—ME!—twenty dollars for a candy thermometer!  I evaluated several other available thermometers, but none of them went high enough temperature wise.  So in the end, I was indeed held hostage to the powers that be and we bought the thermometer.  Let it never be said we are cheap.  And I assure you, Leah is going to learn to make candy to my dying day.

P1030274 Ok, so we got home and I decided to get a jumpstart on the cooking by making the Angolan dish, cocada amarela, or yellow coconut pudding.  I found the recipe at and she writes “Cocada amarela seems to be the Angolan dessert par excellence”, so that was good enough for me.

(You can see my shiny candy thermometer up there, isn’t she a beaut?)

The one change I made to the recipe was that it called for me to break open and shred a coconut.  Not happening.  I got it in a bag.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find unsweetened coconut, so I used sweetened, which I think may have caused me problems later, but I’ll get to that.

P1030275 The recipe is pretty simple—in a saucepan, you boil up sugar, water, and whole cloves, stirring constantly.  Once it gets to boiling, you stick your candy thermometer in there and let it cook to a temperature of 230 degrees.  (Doesn’t it look awesome that stove is glowing purple?  I’m not sure what that’s about, but I wish it did, that is COOL!")

So it was time to break out the new gadget.  I’m not sure where I read this or if my mind was making it up, but I think I recently read somewhere that when you have one of those impossible clamshell plastic packages to attempt to break into, you should use your handheld can opener.  Well, I decided to try it, and it worked AMAZINGLY!  So that is your kitchen tip of the day.

P1030276 Ok, next piece of work is to pop that sucker into the pot, submerging the tip at least 2 1/2 inches, but not allowing it to touch the pot itself.

Ok, big problem, my pan wasn’t very deep to begin with and the liquid in the pan was not very deep.  Consequently every time I put the thermometer in there, it sank to the bottom.  I tried to rig up a bunch of possible solutions and eventually managed to prop it on a glass kind of dangling into the pot, praying that the glass wouldn’t break in the heat.


It takes a really long time to heat this stuff to 230 degrees, but what I learned is that it actually takes FOREVER to heat it to 175 and then in about 2 seconds, it’s 250 degrees.  So yeah, I overshot the mark just slightly.  And then I had a really, really hot syrup in my pot (note: if you are going to make this, use either a wooden, metal, or silicone spoon.  Do NOT use plastic, it WILL melt.)


Ok, fantastic.  So then I dropped the heat to low and used a slotted spoon to remove the cloves.  Then I added the coconut and here’s where I ran into some trouble.  As I mentioned, the coconut had added sugar, and I had gone over and above the 230 degree mark.  Consequently I think I had too much sugar and not enough water, because the whole thing immediately seized into a hot mass of coconut, which promptly began to brown and was threatening to burn.

P1030285I mean, you can see how dry it is.

I pondered the situation.  I decided that since our tap water is absolutely scalding hot (I’m not sure how hot, but now that I have my new thermometer, I can check!), I would let the tap run for a minute and let the water get REALLY hot, and then add some water to the pan.  This seemed to work out quite satisfactorily.

P1030286 Then I was supposed to let it cook on low for another 10 minutes until the coconut became translucent.  I set the timer for 10 minutes and let it cook.  Was it translucent?  I’m not sure.  But it was done.

Meanwhile, I separated 6 eggs and whipped up the yolks in my mixer. 

P1030291When they were whipped to my satisfaction, I took half of the coconut mixture and dumped it in with the mixer running.

P1030292Then I returned this mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the coconut mixture and let it cook another 10 minutes over medium heat.  I was told to let it cook until it seemed to pull away from the bottom and sides of the pan.  I think I did, I let it cook until it wasn’t runny any more, but since at this point I have no idea about the water and sugar proportions, I would say it probably has no bearing on anything you’re likely to do if you repeat the recipe yourself!


Once it had cooked up, I poured it into a dish, sprinkled some cinnamon on top, and voila!  Cocada Amarela!


I stuck it in the refrigerator and called it a night!

P1030298 I woke up Saturday morning and was having second thoughts about my chosen Egyptian dish, kibbeh.  From the recipe, it sounded like they were almost little deep fried meatballs made with burghul wheat, which I had a bag of and didn’t know what to do with, which made it a natural for selecting the kibbeh recipe.  However, I had my doubts for two reasons: 1) complicated recipe—we were going to make 6 different countries this day and I felt like crafting shells out of ground beef and then making filling with more ground beef to put in the shells and all that was going to be a lot of work and 2) I already had another ground beef dish selected.  So ultimately, I decided to do some research on hummus.  While it doesn’t seem that there is an official origin of hummus—it’s very widespread across the Middle East and Northern Africa—at least one source declared it was thought to have originated in Egypt some 4000 years ago.  I decided I would make homemade hummus instead of kibbeh and found a recipe.  On the recipe was tahini, and a good amount of it too, 1/3 of a cup.  I didn’t know what it was, so I googled it and my sources told me that it was a sesame seed paste commonly found in Asian foods and sold in the Asian food section of most markets.  Armed with this knowledge, I went to the grocery store, and despite scouring the Asian section of the store, came up empty handed. I was damned if I was going on a tahini hunt and decided I would skip Egypt and just do 6 countries instead of 7, when a thought came to me that maybe it was with condiments.  I don’t know why I thought this, but I did, so I went to the condiment aisle and found exactly one jar of tahini in amongst the olives.  The prize was mine!  So I grabbed everything else and went home to make the hummus before my mother-in-law, Sheila, arrived to be my back up.

Everything started out copacetic.  I drained the garbanzo beans and threw them in the food processor and juiced a lemon with my new citrus press and tossed the juice into the food processor as well.


Then it was time to break into the tahini.  Ok, here’s the deal.  Tahini contains a LOT of oil, and when it is bottled and shipped and shelved, it settles into an oil part and the paste part.  All the oil floats to the top and everyone merrily assures you that you just have to mix it all up and you’re fine and dandy! 

Well, I must be culinarily delayed or something.  A minute amount of the oil splashed out of the jar when I started stirring.  This got on my hand and on the jar and everything got extremely slippery.  Ok, but no problem, right?  Wrong ! Soon I had a major oil slick on my hand and counter.


Ok, still no problem.  I just keep on a-mixin’ and suddenly disaster strikes, the bottle completely tips over and there is oil and partially mixed paste everywhere.  And let me tell you people something:  that stuff runs like a bastard.  Right after I took the below picture, I was literally wiping it up from where it dripped down the counters into and down the cabinets below and onto the floor.  It is IMPOSSIBLE to clean without serious chemicals—in my case, the love of my life, Clorox Clean Up.  And of course, my in laws had arrived by now and my father-in-law comes over, inspects the mess and says, “Susan, you sure are your father’s daughter!”  If I hadn’t been laughing so hard, I’d have been tempted to slug him.


So finally I said (pardon my French), “Eff this!” and measured out what was close to 1/3 of a cup, some oily, some chunky, and gave up.

I also added a bit of salt and some garlic, before hitting the “on” button and cleaning up.

P1030302The hummus was not as smooth and was quite thick—probably if the tahini had been properly mixed it might have been a little bit smoother, but it was fine.  Once it was pureed, I put it in a bowl, poured over a little bit of olive oil and sprinkled on some paprika, and called country number two complete!

Ok, so now that my back up had arrived, I put my mother-in-law to work chopping vegetables.  I was not going to take a picture of her chopping each time she picked up a different vegetable to chop, because it is A) redundant and B) she wasn’t that keen on having her picture taken in the first place.  So you will have to imagine her chopping everything up!


P1030280 I put her to work chopping onions first since I wanted to work on South Africa next; the dish we were making is bobotie.  So okay, truth in advertising time, I have made a version of bobotie before.  This was back when I was a nanny in Connecticut and the family I was working for wanted to have it for dinner one night, so they left me the recipe and told me to have it ready.  I did not taste it, as it did not appeal to me at the time, so I don’t know if it was good or not.  I made it one other time after that and seem to recall enjoying it, but I can’t be sure.  In any event, it is the quintessential South African comfort food and according to the good people at, no self-respecting South African housewife does not own a favorite bobotie recipe.  So I decided to make it again with their recipe.

P1030305 It is basically a sort of meatloaf that is held together with an egg topping that you pour on mid-way through baking.  It requires a lot of ingredients (today’s special ingredients are malt vinegar, I bought an entire bottle and used 1 1/2 tablespoons and chutney, I bought an entire jar and used 2 tablespoons) and a few steps, but is well worth the effort.  So the first step was to take the sliced onions from my MIL and sauté them in a bit of oil.  While that was going on, I prepared the bread.

You need a thickish slice of white bread which you soak in milk.  I was not buying an entire loaf of bread for one slice, so I used my regular sandwich bread and to make up for the softness of it, I used two slices instead of one.  I put it in a pan with a cup of milk and let it soak.  After a little while, I squeezed out the milk and reserved it, while transferring the bread to a plate and mashing it with a fork.

P1030304 (thank you pan for not tipping onto the floor!)

P1030308P1030309Looks appetizing right?

By then, the onions were pretty soft, so I added the ground beef and let that cook up with the onions.

P1030307While that was cooking, I measured out all the rest of the ingredients.  There was quite a list:  curry powder, sugar, salt, black pepper, turmeric, malt vinegar, raisins, chutney, and bay leaves.

P1030306(not pictured were the raisins and vinegar, which I had in a measuring cup to the side, sue me.)   

Once the beef was cooked, I added in everything except the bay leaves and let it cook up until it was well combined.  Then I spooned it all into my deep covered baker and put the bay leaves on top.  I mixed 2 eggs in with the milk and put that in the fridge for later on in the baking process.

P1030311P1030313Meanwhile, Sheila had turned into a chopping machine.  Despite the fact that she has a lot of pain in her hands after breaking her hand back in January, she managed to chop through something ridiculous like 5 pounds of squash, 2 or 3 pounds of onions, 2 cucumbers, green pepper, and a couple pounds of potatoes.  I really couldn’t have done it without her.

We took a short break for a while after bagging up all the freshly cut vegetables and she and I watched “Say yes to the dress!”  while Michael and his dad went upstairs and cleaned up Michael’s office (there was a suspiciously large Susan pile by the end of that task—my father-in-law said “Poor Susan!” when they were finished.  But it was mostly my stuff, I’ll be fair.)

P1030281 So 4:00 rolled around and Sheila and I went back upstairs and got cooking.  I heated up the oven for the bobotie.  Then I fired up the stove and started making the Algerian couscous.  This is basically a vegetable stew which you serve over couscous.  I found out that Hank, my FIL, hates couscous, but it was too late to turn back.  I told him I would not be offended if he chose not to eat it, but that it would basically be veggies over couscous if he wanted to try it and I left it up to him.

P1030316 Cooking this is a pretty simple task.  I found it interesting that you sauté the onions in vegetable stock, not in oil!  While the onions were sautéing, I combined all the spices needed for the recipe.  These were: turmeric, cayenne, black pepper, salt, and cloves.  Once the onions were soft, I added the spices in and let the whole thing cook for another couple of minutes.  Once it was good and fragrant, I added a can of tomato paste and let that cook up another 2 minutes.

P1030318P1030319Then I tossed in all the vegetables (yellow squash, zucchini, carrot, potatoes, and green pepper) and enough water to just cover the veggies.  My MIL chopped it all, I didn’t lift a knife the entire time.  It was wonderful!

  P1030321She confessed to me later that all the sitting around when there was cooking to do and people coming over made her very nervous, but I had a timing flow going and I knew it was all going to work out just fine.  So I let the stew simmer for an hour while we got to work on other things.

P1030287 The next thing we worked on was a cucumber and zucchini salad from the Ivory Coast.  I was extremely skeptical about this dish because I do not like cucumbers and because the dressing was quite simple and sounded a bit strange.  Sheila had scored the vegetables with a fork, leaving the skins on and just running a fork through them to create a pretty, scalloped effect, before she sliced them up and made layers in a bowl—a layer of cuke, a layer of zucc, a layer of cuke, a layer of zucc.  You get the idea.

P1030314 Meanwhile, in a measuring cup, I combined hot water and sugar and then added white vinegar, salt, and black and red pepper.  That was it for the dressing!  I got out my little mini whisk and mixed it altogether and then we poured it over the zucchini and cucumber and put it in the fridge to marinate for an hour.  It honestly could not have been simpler.

P1030322P1030324P1030278 Ok, so now it was time to get the bread dough ready for the fried sweet bread from Somalia.  I am embarrassed to say that I did not take pictures!  Things were starting to get busy and I just neglected to do it.  Ugh!  But I did take the ingredient picture, so at least you can see that and the picture of me frying them a bit later in the game.  Anyway, I got this recipe from which I found via which is a cool site in which the lady actually does videos of each recipe.  Anyway, the recipe for the bread states that this bread is a very popular snack, particularly during Ramadan.  I was particularly excited because I could use up some more cardamom and also because I happen to love fried bread and it had been ages since I’d had any.

The basic idea is to combine everything you see pictured above (oil, flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, egg, and milk) into a dough.  Again, I used my mixer and let it do the work.  Then you let the dough rise for a while before you fry it up.  The recipe says to let it rise for 30 minutes, but frankly, mine probably sat the better part of 2 hours and it was just fine and dandy.

P1030289 The last dish we had to make was squash with peanuts, a recipe from Chad that I found and added due to the simplicity of the dish.  According to the website (which I found thinking I’d find a recipe from Congo, but ironically enough found one from Chad), peanuts are a common ingredient in Chadian cuisine.  I thought it would be interesting and as I have no clue about Chad, much less its food, and the recipe looked easy and it would be a good match, I decided let’s go for it!

This is another startlingly easy recipe.  You simply sauté squash in a little bit of oil until it gets tender, which takes about 10 minutes.  Then you toss in a little bit of sugar, a little bit of salt, and a whole lot of peanuts, and voila!  Squash with peanuts!

P1030327So now, everything was mostly done.  I poured the milk and eggs over the bobotie and put some garbanzo beans into the Algerian couscous.  I also steamed up some couscous.  It was all over but the eating!

My first guests arrived, our friends Landry and Meredith, and we were all sitting around waiting on Melissa, who is typically early, so I decided to break out the hummus and the pita chips.  I knew my husband didn’t like hummus, and Hank said he wasn’t crazy about it, but I put it out so we would enjoy it while we were waiting.  Imagine my shock when The General decided he was going to try the hummus!


That was NOTHING compared to my shock when he said he liked it and decided to eat SEVERAL helpings of it!  Hank also tried it and he said he liked it a lot too!!!  Wow!  Go hummus! :-)  While everyone was enjoying the hummus in the living room, I dished up the food in the kitchen and set it around the table.  We had sat down and were passing the hummus and pita chips when Melissa arrived, and so then it was time to dig in!

P1030332P1030334All our plates were heaped with food!

P1030336Time to tuck in!

P1030337P1030338Leah didn’t want to be left out, so I think she lasted approximately 30 seconds in her high chair before we all took turns passing her around. 

The reviews were all very favorable, but there were some dishes that were more popular than others.  Top of the heap was the bobotie.  It was tremendously flavorful and we literally scraped the pot to get as much out of it as we possibly could.  The cucumber and zucchini salad was much gushed over by those of us who tried it—me included!  I loved it, for such a seemingly strange dressing, it was amazing.  It was like eating fresh pickles, if that makes sense—pre-pickled pickles?  Delicious!  For such a simple dish, the squash with peanuts was also very good.  The Algerian couscous wasn’t such a hit—it was good, but it seemed to need more punch.  I may have added too much water, or maybe the proportion of spice to vegetables was off, but none of us felt it was flavorful enough.

We all took a breather while I prepared dessert.  I scooped out the pudding—it was tremendously sticky and luscious looking.  Then I used a scoop to put the dough from the fried dough into the fryer.

P1030345P1030343Then we all sat down to dessert.  You will see a pizza on the table—most of the meal didn’t do a whole lot for the General, so I made him a pizza real quick.

P1030347Dessert was a big hit!!!  Even better was when someone hit on the innovation to break open the bread and put the pudding inside and eat it almost like a cream puff.

Thus stuffed, everyone went home to sleep it off, including Leah who was exhausted from all the excitement.

Thus have we finished 41 countries and more than half the project, in just over 10 months.  We will hope to get 39 more countries done in the next 6 months or so!  I am slowly getting back on my feet after Leah coming home and adjusting to be a new mom.

Any requests?