Resolutions

I’ve always kind of laughed off other people when they make new years resolutions. I am very practical so if there’s no real reason to it, why bother? I mean, you’ll do it for a month but then you’ll completely forget all about. Anyway, I decided to actually try it for once.

This year I had three resolutions that I thought were practical, reasonable, and worthwhile.

One: Complete Wanderlusts 21 day yoga challenge. Check. I did complete it although I did take a day or two break in between the last few days. I’ve been doing yoga on and off for the last few years. I love it but I didn’t seem to be getting much better at it. So I took it on for 21 days and after 1 week I could see a difference! Since the challenge I’ve tried to keep up but I definitely haven’t been nearly as diligent.

Two: Don’t eat any chocolate or dessert for one month. Check. I only cheated once at a friend’s house when she was baking chocolate chip cookies. This one came from constantly coming home from school craving sweets. All I wanted to do was eat chocolate. So I took a month off (obviously this couldn’t be a permanent thing because I like baking too much). It was harder than I thought it would be, but I satisfied my cravings with sweet potatoes. Of course I had to make a cake for Ronnie’s birthday at the end of January, but my takeaway from this experience was to only eat dessert after dinner. It was very tempting to eat that amazing German chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch, or snack time. I’ll have you know that I resisted and only ate cake after my dinner.

Three: Keep the house clean. Many of the teachers here have hired a maid to clean for them. My good ol’ Dutch heritage can’t imagine me paying someone to do something I’m perfectly capable of doing myself. However, we are very bad at keeping up with things. It generally sits around until we need it or it’s very disgusting. I read a blog once that suggested 20 minutes of cleaning when you first get home from work is a good habit to get into. Because really, cleaning isn’t all that bad, but finding the motivation to get started is what gets me. Unfortunately this has been the least successful of my goals. But we shall continue to work on it.

Anyone else have a New Years resolution?

Christmas in Alexandria

Last year we went to Hurghada for Christmas and spent our time enjoying the Red Sea. This year, we’ll be staying at home. Christmas in Egypt is very weird to me. Because most of the population is Muslim, most Egyptians don’t actually celebrate Christmas. However, you can find cheesy Christmas decorations for sale in every market and toy store. It’s as if they like the idea of it, but don’t actually do it. Then there’s our normal Christmas on Dec. 25th, and the Coptic Christmas on January 7th. However, many Egyptians seem to think that Christmas and New Years is the same thing. Perhaps it’s a nice thing in the middle to celebrate? Maybe someone can explain it to me…

At least this means we can enjoy our main Christmas traditions, decorating a real tree with lots of lights and eating certain foods. Our first tree was a palm tree, true Egyptian style.

15355776_10155272165325400_357986429991628504_nWe went to visit our local plant guy and caught him bringing some little juniper bushes inside. One example of the incredible friendly Egyptian types, he sold us a tree and pot with dirt for less than $5. We bought some white lights and silver ornaments and I made some small snowflakes. So far, Leo has only knocked it over once.


The baking part got more challenging this year. The usual cream cheese braids that are a family tradition had to made without cream cheese. I had been thinking about Banket, a Dutch almond flavored pastry, and decided to make something almond flavored to put in the middle of the braid. I found a recipe that didn’t require almond paste, but failed to read the reviews. So I made the almond filling and realized it wasn’t sweet at all.  I ended up experimenting with various sweeteners and it was still good stuff.

We were able to find ricotta cheese to make the traditional Christmas Eve lasagna and eat it before rehearsal.

My favorite cookies are the white Christmas crinkles which I haven had for two years now. A white chocolate cookie coated with sugar, drizzled with dark chocolate and sprinkled with candy cane pieces. Alas candy canes do not exist here.

But I did make cream puffs and was surprisingly successful.

Besides there’s more to Christmas than just eating.

Roma

One of the most ironic things in my life for the last 6 years has been my degree in European Studies.  Why? Because I had never been to Europe.

I guess I can’t make that joke anymore because we just spent the most amazing week in Italy. Ronnie even surprised me with the plane tickets as a sort of 5 year anniversary present. Best present ever.

If you know anything about my life growing up, you’ll know that I was homeschooled and that everywhere we went, there was a lesson to be learned.  I had  been to more historical sites, State parks, National parks, etc by the time I was ten that…well that it’s hard to stay interested. Let’s just say that history was is my least favorite subject. There are millions of dates and people and places and events that I should have memorized, but I don’t.  That being said, I was a bit ashamed when we went to Rome and more than once I said, “Oh! I didn’t know that was here too!”

I stand by my statement that I went to Rome to eat good food and drink good wine. However, there were some other interesting things as well. Rather than bore you with any historical details (that I don’t know), here are some photos.

Our airbnb was an adorable “loft” with a kitchen. We cooked several meals there because there was a Carrefour a few blocks away with amazing Italian ingredients.  It was a bit far away from things, but it was nice to see what an actual Roman neighborhood looked like instead of all the touristy stuff.

My mother asked me what my favorite part was…besides the food (she knows me too well). I didn’t really know what to say, but now that I’ve thought about it, I think it was going to see the Symphony.  There’s not much I like more than sitting and listening to live, professional, classical music. I’d say it gives me goosebumps (which is true), but it’s much more than just goosebumps.  And it’s weird because it’s a completely different feeling than being in the symphony playing the music. Enough sappiness. It was excellent.

The pasta making class was also super fun and educational. The problem is that it was the night before we were leaving so when they had all these suggestions for where and what to eat, it was a bit disappointing. However, we had plenty of good food thanks to Facebook and Pinterest.

We didn’t get to many things that we would have liked to see, but according to legend, if you throw coins in the Trevi Fountain, you’ll be back.  I wonder if it matters that we threw in Egyptian pounds…

I know the last two blog posts that we’ve written sounded like we were depressed being in Egypt. But it isn’t really all that bad and I think we were both pleasantly surprised at how we were relieved to come back to something familiar.

 

 

2014 Review

2014 started out with a lot of frustration. Our living situation wasn’t ideal and jobs and money were lacking.

Now, as the year ends, I can only think about all of the blessings and support we have received from all sorts of people.

Henry joined our animal hoard in March.  Due to our the previously listed situations, I was not convinced that getting a dog was a great idea, but we have absolutely loved having him. He’s adorable and funny and tiny. He likes to play with big dogs, loves going on rides in the car, hates water, and is like an annoying little brother to the cats.

As for the music side of our lives, we were both thrilled to be a part of Mid-Columbia Musical Theater’s production of Les Miserables.  Aside from the regular symphony season, we did three shows with MCMT, West Side story for a high school, and the Nutcracker.  We also played with the Washington Idaho Symphony for their summer concert in Moscow, ID.  Mahler 5 with 8 horns definitely a highlight for me.

After a few months of waiting, my teaching career finally took off.  My certificate showed up in March and I subbed until the end of school in June.  I was very excited to get started and really wanted to quit my job at the hospital, but then I thought about what I would do in the summer and realized that it probably wasn’t a good idea quite yet.  Early in August, I got a message from Sylvan, a local tutoring center.  I had turned in an application 8 months earlier and they needed teachers.  Finally, after three and a half years, I said goodbye to Kadlec Regional Medical Center and customer service jobs. After they trained me as a tutor, I got hired as a 4th and 5th grade teacher.  I’m sure you will hear plenty in the future about that.  That’s pretty much my portion of the year…besides the two foolish self inflicted injuries.

In April we moved into a duplex in Richland that happens to be right around the corner from my school so my commute consists of bundling up (for now) for a three minute walk which leaves the car available for Ronnie.  We spent our summer doing housework and gardening.  The floors were replaced by the owner, but we cleaned out the front garden, painted four different rooms, made a garden, as well as many other miscellaneous projects.

As for traveling, we took one trip across the mountains and managed to fit everything in.  Of course we would have loved to take more trips…perhaps in 2015.

Ronnie also had an exciting year.  His symphony involvement increased quite a bit.  Something I don’t believe that I’ve blogged about is that he was a driving force in getting a youth symphony started.  From getting the approval from the board, to holding auditions, to being the contact in town, he’s been involved in every step.  The first rehearsals are set to start this month.  While he’s not one to show many emotions, I believe he’s pretty excited to see this succeed.  He also started teaching private clarinet and oboe lessons.  Other miscellaneous things he’s done are work at a local bakery and house/pet sit.

So far in 2015, we went to the park to run with a group of people to start off the new year right!  It was a total of 23 degrees, but Henry, Ronnie, and I all bundled up and took a stab at a 5k.

We’ve been having fun with my family over break, but I think I’ll save that for a different post.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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(I thought this picture was pretty good for wrangling three animals and getting a timer set up)

Check out my instagram. I’m still working on my 100 days.

New recipes

It’s amazing how much cooking we do when we don’t have to be at rehearsals and I don’t work in the evening.  I don’t know about you, but in the summer, by the time 6 o’clock rolls around, I’m hot and tired and don’t really feel like eating, much less spending time preparing a meal.   So last week, I googled easy summer meals and came up with a few new recipes.  I don’t mean to turn this into a cooking blog, but I do get most new recipes from blogs I follow, so hopefully I can give you some ideas.  You’ll notice that most of these recipes have tomatoes and various fresh veggies to help with using up garden produce.

Bucatini with Olive-Caper Sauce – We’re a meat eating family, so this buy itself wouldn’t cut it.  I attempted to make steak to go with this, but I’m not very good at cooking steak and the house filled with smoke and the steak was burnt on the outside and bright red in the middle.  I’ll leave it up to my husband from now on.  With the leftovers, I made Parmesan Crusted Tilapia.  Not a new recipe, but still delicious (especially if you use butter instead of olive oil).

Pork and Zucchini with Orzo – This was the best pork tenderloin I’ve ever made.  The directions for cooking on the grill were perfect (it annoys me when recipes say, cook until done or no longer pink).  The zucchini were also good, but the orzo was pretty boring and uninspiring.  I will definitely make the pork again.

BLT Chicken Burgers – Overall this burger was good.  The basil mayonnaise was definitely made the sandwich.  The burger was nice and juicy, but it wasn’t so fabulous that I absolutely have to make it again.  In fact, I would be surprised if I did make them again.

Anyone else have summer favorites?

Zucchini

 

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It’s zucchini season and I’m not even sick of them yet. Here are a few ideas if you also have been overrun by these squashes.

Of course, you can always chop it up and put it into salads, stir fry, or pretty much anything else, or munch on it raw with some ranch dressing.

Here are some other options:

Zucchini Pizza Boats

Zucchini bread or muffins – These muffins were quite delicious, but I’m sure you all have your own zucchini bread recipes.

Grilled zucchini slabs – slice the zucchinis the long way, then all you need is a hot grill, olive oil spray, and whatever seasonings you’re craving.

Sauteed zucchini – heat up some butter, olive oil, or both, then throw in the sliced zucchini and some seasonings.

And one of my own inventions,

Greek zucchini

4 slices of bacon
2 tbsp butter
2 zucchini, sliced
1 tsp oregano
feta cheese
1 tomato, diced
 

Cook bacon in a large frying pan. Remove bacon and add butter to the bacon fat. When the butter is melted, add the zucchini. Sprinkle oregano over zucchini and saute for several minutes, stirring occasionally. When slightly browned, remove from heat. Sprinkle the feta over the warm zucchini, then crumble the bacon on top of that. Top with diced tomato.

 

Hot

These last two weeks we performed the Sound of Music outside.  On Sunday it was above 100 degrees.  Even at 7 pm when the show started.  The first two shows we were out in the full sun, and while it wasn’t 100 degrees, it was still uncomfortably hot.  The second weekend, the forecast said 108 degrees so we got a tent.  It provided shade, but it also provided a sauna.  In addition to being outside, this show had two casts which meant rehearsals that went even longer.  Each cast did a fantastic job and the orchestra sounded good, but it just wasn’t my favorite show.

Also on the topic of hot, I made some Italian Wedding soup that was delicious!  I had been wanting to try making it ever since I had it at a new pizza place in town.  Why I decided to make it during 100 degree weather is still a mystery to me, but here’s what I did.

Ingredients
Meatballs:
1 small onion, grated
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 large egg
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 slice fresh white bread, crust trimmed, bread torn into small pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
8 ounces ground beef
8 ounces ground pork
Freshly ground black pepper
Soup:
12 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 oz. orzo pasta
a bunch of kale leaves, chopped
2 large eggs
2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
 

To make the meatballs: Stir the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Stir in the cheese, beef and pork. Using 1 1/2 teaspoons for each, shape the meat mixture into 1-inch-diameter meatballs

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. Add the meatballs in batches and cook, turning, until browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes. (If they are still a bit pink in the middle, don’t worry; they will continue to cook in the broth.) Set them aside on paper towels or a paper bag to absorb excess oil.  Place kale leaves in the skillet to soften a bit.

Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the pasta, meatballs and curly endive and simmer until the pasta is cooked, about 10 minutes. Whisk the eggs and cheese in a medium bowl to blend. Stir the soup in a circular motion. Gradually drizzle the egg mixture into the moving broth, stirring gently with a fork to form thin stands of egg, about 1 minute. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper.


I took a few different recipes and combined them and used kale instead of endive because that’s what we had in our garden.  I also added the pasta because I like my soup with substance.  Some variations do have pasta, for example, at the hospital they have Italian Wedding Soup with pearl pasta and one of the doctors calls it testicle soup because…well…it’s full of little balls.

While we’re on the subject of pasta (I found that Wikipedia article fascinating) , how crucial is it that you have the correct type of pasta?  I mean, pasta is pasta.  If you say spaghetti, I think of the marinara sauce and if I had it on fettuccine, I would still call it spaghetti.  This is probably blasphemous, but if a recipe calls for some sort of pasta, whatever I have in my cupboard is going to have to do.

 

None of the photos in this blog are my own.