11 December 2008

Mediterranean Inspiration

I've been cooking more lately, especially soup. I love making soup! Ever since I started (and re-started, and re-re-started) the South Beach Diet, I've come to appreciate the genius that is Soup. There's something really filling about a hot bowl of thick soup, and it doesn't have to contain potatoes or rice or other SBD Phase 1 no-no's to keep me satisfied.

When we were in Tunisia last week, I fell in love with Mediterranean/North African flavors. Our friend made a feast for us one night of leblebi (spicy chickpea soup), brik (similar to an egg role, but with more egg inside), tagine (similar to quiche) and some other things.

Of course, everything was tres delicious. Like how I added in that bit of French? They speak French there, in addition to Arabic. I'll stop pretending now that I really speak anything other than English.

So back at home, I stood in front of our miniscule european refrigerator taking stock of what I could make soup out of. I had 6 tomatoes that needed using up post haste, a bunch of parsley that came free from Enrique the Friday produce market guy, and an onion. I also had a jar of turmeric & some other spices. I had never used turmeric in cooking before, but our friend used it in several of her dishes. So, being the Expert Soup Maker that I am (read: sarcasm), I decided to make up a recipe of my own. I actually liked it, and so did the man. When I just now asked him for a quote about my made up soup, he looked at me funny, but then came up with, "This soup made my tastebuds realize why they are alive & attached to me." Yes, a bit over the top. I will not include a photo of this soup because 1. I didn't take one and 2. it's not really a very pretty soup, as soups go.

Erin's Made-Up Mediterranean/North African Inspired Soup
(all measurements completely guessed & up for debate)

1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground corriander
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 Cup finely chopped parsley
1 liter chicken broth
2 Cups water
6 small tomoatoes, diced
1 Cup dry lentils
1 bulb roasted garlic, cloves removed (optional)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in the bottom of your soup pot. When it's shimmery, saute onions until transluscent. Add cumin, corriander & turmeric. Saute with onions for about a minute. Add the broth, water, tomatoes, lentils, garlic cloves, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. I like puree soups, so at this point I used my immersion blender to make the soup almost smooth. Garnish with a sprig of parsley & serve. Parsley makes just about any dish pretty-ish.

Served with:

Erin's Made-Up Mediterranean/North African Inspired Grilled Chicken Breasts

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
big pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
big pinch of teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix together all ingredients except chicken in a bowl that's big enough to marinate the chicken in. Poke some holes in the chicken with a fork, then add it to the bowl. Make sure the chicken is coated well, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Then just grill. I have a big Foreman style grill in my kitchen that works great for grilling chicken. Serves 2.

It was revolutionary for me to think of making up a soup recipe. I don't know why I think everything has to be "tried-and-true" before it's acceptable for me to try making. I make up how to do projects around my house all the time, it's about time that spilled over into cooking! However, I probably will not be blogging about other failed & mutated recipes that made us reach for the pizza delivery number. At least not now. I want to enjoy my soup.

08 December 2008

Land of Christian History & Star Wars

We returned late Thursday night from an incredible week in Tunisia with friends. Wow! Let me just say...Wow! We absolutely loved it there. After a rather upsetting change of flight (there was a mix-up in communication with the place we bought the tickets from, and we didn't find out until we were AT THE AIRPORT standing in line that our flight had been moved to Thursday evening instead of Tuesday). I was mad, but I got over it, and Thanksgiving turned out to be magnificent. Our friends & their friends all agreed to celebrate one day late so we could be there. Yay for friends!

The next 3 days we went on a road trip that in included the Sahara desert, a Roman Amphitheater & a Mediterranean beach, among other things. Not bad. Not bad at all.

In the Sahara, we saw one of the sets for Star Wars. We found out that the Jedi & Jawa robes were not made up costumes for the movies. They are outerwear actually worn by Tunisian men. We saw them everywhere! While we were in the desert, we paid a guy to let us film him & his camel while he watched an iPod. We needed the footage for a video we're doing. The scene was not too far from reality, as his cell phone rang while w were out in the middle of nowhere. Then I got to sit on the camel, who was really not in the mood. I think he looks like he's singing blissfully with his eyes closed. In reality, though, he was hollering to be left alone.

The paradoxes for us were rather startling. After the road trip, we returned to our friends' house & put up Christmas decorations. Tunisia is a Muslim country, with very few known believers. The women veil only if they want to, but sharing your Christian faith & converting a Muslim is illegal. So the culture is most definitely Muslim. The clarity of cultural & religious differences came to us while putting up the Christmas tree & listening to Silent Night, while the Muslim call to prayer is broadcast loudly in the neighborhood around. Or driving in the car with Nat King Cole singing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, while the view out the window shows a relatively warm day, skinned sheep carcasses hanging from butcher hooks, and veiled women walking down the sidewalk. Not the Christmas scene we grew up with!

But while America seems to dominate as a "Christian nation", I was enlightened on this trip as to the rich Christian heritage in Tunisia. The ancient city of Carthage is just on the outskirts of Tunis. This is where Scripture was canonized. It is also where the first female Christians on record were martyred. You can read about Perpetua & her maid Felicitas here. In Carthage, you can visit the ruins of the Roman amphitheater where they and other Christians were martyred. Their story, although ancient, is not too far off of the present day stories of believers in Muslim cultures today.

It was difficult to leave Tunisia! We made new friends & saw & did SO many things while we were there! Definitely one of my favorite vacations ever.

24 November 2008

Tasty Treats I Will Be Making This Week...In Tunisia!

The man & I will be heading out-of-town this week for Thanksgiving. Actually, we're headed out-of-country, which I'm pretty excited about. We will be visiting a friend from home who lives in Tunisia. She has procured all of the necessities for an American Thanksgiving meal, which should be divine. I will be bringing a few contributions of my own. Fortunately, we each get one free checked bag for the plane so I can bring that can of cream-of-mushroom soup and the bottles of vanilla, almond & maple extract. So you can have a taste of what I'll be making this week, I'm posting the recipes. They are NOT MINE, so I don't take credit for them. They are uber-simple, which is the best kind of recipe, in my mind. So, here you go!

Green Bean Casserole

1 (10 3/4 oz.) can Cream of Mushroom Soup
3/4 cup milk
shake of Worcestershire or soy sauce
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 (9 oz. each) pkgs. frozen cut green beans, thawed*
1 1/3 cups French Fried Onions

1. MIX soup, milk, sauce and pepper in a 1 1/2 -qt. baking dish. Stir in beans and 2/3 cup French Fried Onions.
2. BAKE at 350°F (175°C) for 30 min. or until hot.
3. STIR. Top with remaining 2/3 cup onions. Bake 5 min. until onions are golden.

Tip: You may substitute 2 cans (14 1/2 oz. each) cut green beans, drained or 4 cups fresh, cooked cut green beans.

Cake Mix Cookies
1 pkg. cake mix
½ C. butter, softened
2 eggs
1 C. chocolate chips (if desired)
1 t. vanilla (or any other extract)

Mix, drop on cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes (or more) at 350°F (175°C). My favorite combo is yellow cake mix with almond extract!

And for breakfast...

1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
3 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 t. white sugar
1 1/4 C. milk
1 egg
3 T. butter, melted

1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth.
2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Maple Syrup (my mom's recipe)
4 C. granulated sugar
½ C. brown sugar
2 C. water
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. maple flavoring

Combine sugar & water, stir till dissolved. Cover & boil 10 minutes. Remove from heat & add vanilla & maple. Stir till mixed.

14 November 2008

Fabric Storage Cubes

I want to make these! I found them from a link on How About Orange. Blogger "crazy mom quilts" posted a tutorial. I have borrowed a sewing machine from a friend, now I just need to scrounge for fabric & find the time to make them! What a great idea for your own house, or for gifts. Hmmm...baby shower gift...housewarming gift...birthday gift...possibilities!

03 November 2008

New Life for the Quirky

This little beauty is waiting for me at home. My mom decided to do some editing of stuff in her basement, and offered this vintage stamp holder up to the first family member who wanted it. Of course, I couldn't hit "reply" fast enough to her email. Turns out, I didn't have to be fast at all. No one else wanted it. Can you believe that!?

I vaguely remember this item from my childhood. I can't recall where or why, but it is familiar to me. I'm looking forward to using it...somehow. Most likely it won't hold stamps, since I'm not a stamper. But think of the possibilities! It could hold any number of crafty tools or supplies. It could hold jewelry. It could hold fabric swatches or ribbon. It could even be a swanky little Christmas tree, holding sparkly ornaments.

This does remind me of another piece of cast-off "junk" that I appropriated from my mom & dad's garage a few years ago.

It used to serve as a library cabinet, but spent several years in my grandpa & grandma's garage or basement full of gems & minerals (they were rock hounds). Then it sat for years in my parents' garage full of screws & nuts & who knows what else. After my mom had an editing session in the garage, I decided that it needed a new life. I cleaned it up, painted it and put it in my pink crafty room in our house. I used the metal label holders on the front of each drawer to label important contents, such as "cool paper", "sewing notions", and "re-gift". THEN people decided that they really liked it...and wanted it. My sister said that she had always wanted it, which I believed, but...too bad. :) It proves that there is great benefit in seeing the potential in something dirty, junk filled or just odd. Hmm. I think there's a sermon in there somewhere...

Thanks, Mom, for giving me the quirky little stamp holder, and thanks, family, for not wanting it! Needless to say, I'm excited to find some creative use for it that no one else thought of. :) Anyone have a great idea for it??

19 October 2008

Back from Romania

We just returned from Romania this evening. We drove from Oradea this morning to Budapest, Hungary (the closest big airport). Weird to think that we've been in three countries just today!

We LOVED our time in Romania and hope to return. We felt like we had a lot in common relationally with the friends we met there.

One day after classes several of us went out to some property owned by the school's director to have a picnic. They prepared several different kinds of grilled meats - chicken, pork, mici (pronounced "MEECH"), along with savory bread rolls and grilled mushroom caps. For dessert we had little bite-sized pastries made with a walnut paste that tasted like it also had nutmeg in them. And of course, fruit. The director's wife put together a beautiful fruit basket for table decor, then served the fruit at the end of the meal. When we first arrived, Vino looked at the fruit basket and thought the fruit was plastic, especially the grapes - because they were perfect! Green, pink & purple grapes. There were purple grapes growing on a trellis around the house, which I noticed was common in that area of Romania. I loved the simple arrangement, so I took a few photos.

After dinner, we all played a Swedish lawn game that we were told was called "King". I had never seen the game before, but had a lot of fun playing it. It involves throwing sticks, so naturally, I was shamefully bad at playing because I throw like a girl...who can't throw. Our team came very close to winning, but squandered away our lead with poorly aimed tosses. Seeing as how I hardly have a competitive bone in my body, I was fine with losing, especially since it was getting pretty dark near the end and the mosquitos were out in force.

Good times!

16 October 2008

Decoupage Wall Art, Take 2

I have some time, so I'm going to post some photos I've had waiting around for a while. This is my second attempt at decoupage. My first attempt was posted on thisyounghouse.com here. You can see more photos starting here. I was quite happy with how that turned out, so I decided the blank wall above our hide-a-love seat (folds out into a small bed AND hides guitars & electrical stuff behind it - hey, we're short on space!) needed...something.

I turned to the stack of random items I had saved from the dumpster on a cleaning day at the office and found two small pieces of styrofoam that were roughly "rectangle" and about and inch thick. I also found a box that at one time was original packaging for some electrical thingy or something. Anyways, it was also rectangular, smooth and about 2 inches thick. I chose three photos that I had taken in the old part of town in Alcala de Henares. The larger piece is the old University building and the two smaller ones are lights strung up over Plaza Cervantes and a weather vane seen through the gazebo in the plaza. I converted them to black and white, then measured the box & styrofoam to determine what size I needed to make each photo. I didn't want to blow them up more than absolutely necessary. I ended up needing to Photoshop some edges on the one of the University building because the shape was different than the original.

I think I printed about 6 different panels for that one, then spliced them together to make one big photo. I could only print on A4 paper. Then I basically just glued it to the box and wrapped it like a present. When that was dry, I brushed Modpodge over the outside. I must admit that I only did one coat. It was messy, and after the first coat dried, I was ready to move on to something else. I did the same process for the small images on the styrofoam. I only had to use one piece of paper for the smallest one. Styrofoam was great for this project in that it was the right shape and extremely light weight, but it's not easy to glue the edges down well. The best thing about using styrofoam, though, is that I only had to put a tiny little nail in the wall and just pushed the styrofoam over it to hang.

So there you go, nearly free art! Check out more photos of this project starting here.

For Love of Cabbage!

I haven't eaten this much cabbage in the past 10 years combined than I have in the last week. Every day is a cabbage day. We've been in Romania for a week now, and leave in a couple of days. I think the cabbage is growing on me. It totally depends on how it's prepared and what it is served with. Examples - Bad Cabbage: cooked and served with plain pasta (this was lunch yesterday). Good Cabbage: wrapped around little meaty spring roll type thingies called sarmale. I'm not doing well at describing these, but they were delicious. Seasoned ground meat (pork? beef?) and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves, simmered in a savory broth. They were so delicious.

We had spent the day in the countryside last Saturday with some new Romanian friends. When we dropped one of them off at her house, she invited us in to meet her family. Their home, in a village, was simple and humble, yet incredibly warm and welcoming. We were greeted by her parents, two sisters, and her sister's foster daughter. Immediately the table was set for us and we were presented with a stock pot full of these things. It made me think about my own hospitality. I want people to feel a welcoming peace in my home, but it has so much more to do with how I treat them than how cute my decor looks or how presentable I think I look (or don't look!). These people were incredibly generous to share their food with us. I can imagine that they don't have a lot of excess for their own family, yet they, with joy, gave to us.

Before we left, our friend's father gave me a bouquet of flowers that he had just picked from the garden out front and tied together with a string. He was so cute when I thanked him profusely and gave him a hug. I don't know if it was culturally weird for me to hug him, but it just came out. :)

So we have just two more full days in Romania, and I can pretty much be guaranteed to eat cabbage at least two more times before we leave. At least. And why not? It's nutritious, inexpensive, and more versatile than I ever imagined! Cabbage soup...cabbage and potatoes...cabbage salad...cabbage and hot dogs...gotta love it. Cabbage.

17 September 2008

New focus!

Today I'm starting something new. I guess time will tell how it goes. I haven't been good about blogging (as evidenced by the date of my last post). However, I have been very diligent in posting photos on flickr, so I know I can be consistent with something internet related!

I've changed the focus of this blog. It started out as a general what's up with me type of journal that the world could read. Now, I'd like to share more about my home and how I try to give it, aesthetically, the things that are most important to me: peacefulness, rest, tranquility, joy, refreshment.

Now, if I posted pictures of every corner of my house, you would see the random pile of stuff to be organized & put away, projects yet to be completed, & the occasional dust bunny. That's not my idea of refreshing decor. However, this blog is about the pursuit of those things I hold dear, not the perfect achievement.

I've been told that I like to do things different than the norm. I don't like matchy-matchy new stuff from a showroom floor that requires no creativity. I was also raised in a very thrifty home, but one that had all the things I listed above (the peacefulness, not the dust bunnies). Perhaps that's why I tend to gravitate towards decor challenges that allow me to get the results I'm looking for, spending the least amount of money possible. Because, seriously, we've got more necessary things to spend our money on: food, bills, etc. But that doesn't mean that we have to live in a boring place. Example: I found these old chairs for $5 each:

After a lot of sanding, priming & painting (by my dad!), they turned into these:

I didn't even want brand spanking new porch furniture. Where would the fun be in that?

So, welcome! I hope you are inspired to become creative with what you have or what you can find. Think of every day items in a new way, and have fun!


Travel Jar

Here's my first blog post on a cheap & crafty way to remember a trip. I got the idea from Sherry & John over at www.thisyounghouse.com. Last weekend the hubby & I went to Barcelona for our 7th wedding anniversary. You're saying, "Barcelona! Wow! What an extravagant trip!" Well, actually, we live in Spain. We're here for two years, and are trying to take advantage of how little it costs to travel in the country. Barcelona is one of our favorite places! We took a long weekend & had a great time. Very relaxing, and we went to the beach - my first time touching the sand & sea in Spain! To commemorate the trip, I scooped up a little bit of sand while we were at the beach, along with some seashells I found, & a pottery shard. I also saved a business card of a restaurant we ate at. It has a black & white photo on the back of the restaurant from when it first opened in the 40's. I don't have a cool jar to put it all in, so this empty garbanzo bean jar will have to do for now.

Add a velvet ribbon & a velum tag to label it, and I have an instant reminder of a great weekend!

20 February 2008

The Last Bowl of Ice Cream

Tonight I had my last bowl of ice cream for a while. Tomorrow morning I am starting phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. I've been talking about it for a long time, and meaning to start, but now I'm doing it. I'm a bit apprehensive because I don't know if I can survive without sugar. And I don't like eggs. Or fish. However, we watched our wedding video last night for the first time in a long time, and seeing how I looked then, knowing that I wouldn't be able to squeeze myself into that dress anymore, motivated me to finally start. My doctor recommended the diet to me a few years ago since I'm pre-diabetic, so it has major health benefits for me. Vino is interested in going on the diet with me, but since he bought ice cream and a bunch of other forbidden foods at the grocery store tonight, I'm not sure how long it will last. Who knows, though. He might decide he likes it. My parents just left last week after being here for a month, and my sister comes in a little less than 2 weeks - almost enough time to complete phase 1. I have decided that I'm not going to give up diet soda or coffee...yet. I would dread that. Just no real sugar or fat-filled milk in the coffee.

I kind of feel like posting this online makes me a little more accountable. Like I really have to go through with it or anyone who reads this will think I have no will power if I give up. We'll see how I do with a fresh tub of ice cream calling to me from the freezer. It was mighty tasty. :)