Rain Days

I got two unexpected days off work this week because Central America got hit by some severe… rain. I have next to nothing to show for my time: some carrot muffins, a pumpkin loaf, the leftovers of an involved fish dinner. I watched more Netflix than I care to admit. I did manage the outline of a plan for how to teach five days’ worth of material in three days. Somehow we’re already in week 10 of the school year–the end of the first quarter. I will have to issue report cards for my little monsters next week. It also marks 10 weeks that we’ve had Cat (and have managed to keep her). IMAG2852

Things that are making me happy this week: Halloween preparations are in full swing! My costume is going to be on the understated side, but I’m looking forward to a fun Friday at school (complete with birthday cake!) and then a nice long weekend with a trip to the lake. All of the family visiting for Christmas now has their flights booked! Colin bought our tickets for the Marine Corps Ball at the end of November. We received a Halloween care package full of lots of fun goodies! It has been decided that we’ll be the hosts for Friendsgiving, so this weekend I allowed myself to start planning that.

Every weekend should last four days: there’s so much more to be positive about when they do!


Moroccan Friendsgiving

The guest list included nearly all of the Americans from Colin’s school, four men, and my South Korean friend from my French class who spent a semester studying at a university in South Dakota. Not knowing exactly what we could expect this group to contribute, we took on the burden of basically doing it all ourselves: turkey and all the fixings in an oven we think we can work.

And why not? I can make green beans, potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, biscuits—even pie when expectations are really high—and Colin has roasted at least four different Thanksgiving turkeys over the years. The only ingredient I truly didn’t have at my disposal was cranberry anything, but Colin pishawed that as an unnecessary accompaniment.

And some days before, I produced a truly marvelous batch of biscuits from our oven, which was enough evidence to convince us that Thanksgiving would go off without a hitch happen.

Despite all this confidence, it was a tense weekend. Any thought of a homemade dessert was scraped in favor of allowing a guest to pick something up on the way. My produce guys’ green beans were pitiful on Saturday, leaving the fate of that major and sole true vegetable dish for gameday Sunday. I stocked up on a few extra bottles of wine, thinking that our guests might not even be up for that challenge and that we would need something to do while we waited for the pizza delivery in case our oven didn’t live up to our ambitious expectations.

And as it happened, we didn’t get off to such a great start with said oven. I pulled my theoretically mostly baked stuffing out of the oven to make way for the turkey and was able to handle it with my bare hands. Why wasn’t it 375 degrees? The sugar-melting calibrations had kind of worked. We realized only then that simultaneously using the stove and the oven significantly reduced the amount of gas–and therefore heat–going to the oven, totally throwing off my calibrations. Colin fiddled with the gas canister, the flames went higher, but we had no idea what temperature we were working with.

Colin stuck his bird in anyway. Some three hours later, we got a call from the unheard-from invitee: he would be coming after all, and he was bringing a guest, and they wouldn’t be arriving until an hour after dinner. We had to ask him to BYO plate. Twenty minutes later, while I was still in my pajamas and frantically making bruschetta to compensate for two more mouths to feed, our first guest arrived, thirty minutes early.

I got over it, though, because he brought tortilla chips and salsa. Yummmmm. America (Mexico?)!

Somehow everything turned out alright. Everything finished at the same time, and despite (because of?) Colin repeatedly opening the oven to guess whether it was hot enough to cook his bird, the turkey came out great. We got turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and biscuits all on the table at 5:05, all hot, and even with a little bowl of pomegranate seeds to make up, at least visually, for the missing cranberry sauce. Our guests were impressed. I was impressed.

Colin carves his bird.

Colin carves his bird.

Pleasant weather allowed us to eat on the terrace, five stories above the Sunday quiet of Rabat. With all the English, the most American of meals, and all the wine, it was almost possible to forget we were thousands of miles away from home.

Long weekend: NYC

It’s part one of spring break, which I may or may not be entitled to call it as I am neither a student nor a teacher, and we’re heading to New York!

Yonkers, specifically. Andrew was kind enough to open his parents’ home to us and a few others for the weekend, and we’re going up to see how the Irish Catholics of Yonkers celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

I'm practicing.

Actually, I got that so I could make these Guinness Brownies to take as a hostess gift. I haven’t tried them yet, but they look dark and sinful and fudgey, which makes sense, given those ingredients.


I’m waiting for it to cool, but it was too pretty not to brag.

(And once I cut into it, I might find that it’s not worth bragging about.)

Something unfortunate that I learned today: Colin feels only so-so about lemon meringue pie. Thankfully I have a back-up plan for getting rid of three-quarters of a pie.

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

What’s the bloomin’ rush?

I guess I should finally pack away my dreams of sledding down the hill across the street, as I’m recovering from what I suspect was a mild case of heat exhaustion as I write. With temperatures reaching into the 80s today and nothing but beautiful weather stretching as far as the forecast can say, I’d say winter is a goner.

I got to spend this beautiful day outside, too, as luck would have it. We did a school planting with a bunch of 1st and 2nd graders, and I got to be the photographer. The kids were a crack-up and the trees look great, but we were planting in the very hottest part of the day. Hence the heat exhaustion.

There’s no way I’d miss the flowering trees in all their showy glory, but thanks to the tree-focused internship, I’m starting to notice the early signs. There’s a tree whose branches reach practically into our bedroom window, and I’ve been monitoring it everyday. I don’t have the language for everything I’m witnessing, but it’s neat nonetheless.

Not the tree outside my window, but too pretty to be left out.

All of this is really making me want a yard to plant a garden in. I’m making do with the mini-rose bush Colin gifted me for Valentine’s Day. I don’t have a picture for you right now, because it’s recovering from a perhaps too-harsh pruning session (suffered at my hands), but it’s making a comeback, as expected.

And in celebration of spring and math, I am participating in Pi Day tomorrow. I’m going to try my hand at a lemon meringue pie—go big or go home, right?

Survival mode

My face was pressed to the window for the whole 20 minutes that it snowed yesterday afternoon—tiny flakes like dandruff that stuck around because it was cold and dry. Since it wasn’t quite enough to make a snowman with, I opted against frolicking and instead stayed inside to bake a beautiful loaf of bread (no photographic evidence: I was too eager to eat).

Today, though, was even colder—down to 19 degrees F when I left the apartment this morning. But no snow. I’ve broken out all my cold-weather gear: new sets of long underwear, the warmest hat in the store, my sturdiest jacket, a fancy Zippo hand-warmer that no longer bursts into flames. If it gets colder that this, I will have to be that kid who can’t press her arms to her body for all the layers she’s wearing.

To inject some serious warmth into our night, I’m attempting for the first time to make tortilla soup. I’ve never really had tortilla soup before, and it has occurred to me that with some stuff like this, normal stuff like gingerbread cookies and avocados and Brussel sprouts, my exposure through childhood was limited because one or both of my parents don’t like it. I wonder if this isn’t one of those things…

Pumpkin cornbread

There has been a definite nip in the air the last two days, a chilling reminder that winter will be here soon and that it will be worse than any I’ve ever lived through. Southern California is known for many wonderful things, but breeding weather-resistant girls is not one of them.

No more leaves.

But there’s always a bright side, no? No need to turn on the heater in our little apartment if the oven is on, and my pot of lentils needed some cornbread.

As promised, I have brought you another pumpkin recipe. The pumpkin wasn’t my idea but I did add a few touches of my own. Firstly, almond milk has never once been in my kitchen—gimme the real stuff—and secondly, I thought an egg would provide a little lift.

I can't promise that my pictures are ever going to get better, but I'm going to keep trying.

I baked ours in my cast iron skillet, my favorite of all skillets. Our apartment came furnished with two other frying pans that have not even once been used in the three months we’ve lived here; my skillet, on the other hand, lives on the stove.

I found some tips on baking cornbread in the skillet (and on general care for cast iron, which I did already know but have been lazy about) at Confessions of a Foodie (via tastespotting—you’ve got to bookmark this site).

Skillet pumpkin cornbread
Adapted from The Caramel Cookie
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (I subbed some milk with a dollop of vanilla yogurt)
1/2 cup pumpkin
2 Tbls maple syrup
1/8 cup canola oil
1 egg
1 Tbls butter for the skillet

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix your dry ingredients in a large bowl and your wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the wet to the dry and mix until smooth.

A hunk, a hunk of burning love

This bad boy has provided more pumpkin than I know what to do with, so be prepared for a sampling of pumpkin treats.

You know what’s not pretty? My 9 p.m. attempt at pumpkin pie last night, freckled with bits of not-completely ground cloves. Colin, the diplomat-in-training, ventured, “The crust is good.” And the crust is good, an easy throw-back gingersnap crust I learned in college from my roommate and pal, Shannon.

(Crush a bunch of gingersnaps to get about a cup of crumbs, mix with 3 T of melted butter, press into the pie tin, bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then allow to cool before pouring in the pie filling.)

You know what is pretty? Or at least pretty tasty? The whole wheat pumpkin pancakes I made this morning. Colin’s usually in charge of pancakes, but the poor guy is a grad student and thus barely has time to feed himself.

I made a brief foray into the Christmas spirit yesterday, but listening to Bing Crosby just didn’t feel right yet. It’s still beautiful outside! Not remotely close to a snowy day. And the stories of the Black Friday madness make my head hurt. And admitting that Christmas is around the corner makes me anxious, since I have not yet bought a single gift.

So I’m just going to keep pretending it’s fall, and then one morning it will snow, and shortly after that I’ll be back in lovely Southern California, and I might then be ready for Christmas.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
(Adapted from Bob Vivant)
These pancakes are denser than your typical fare with a texture reminiscent of pumpkin bread. I only have cinnamon and nutmeg (and again, the whole cloves, which I omitted) in my spice cabinet, so that’s all that I used, but I left Bob Vivant’s spices in case your cabinet is more grown-up than mine is.

1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Whisk together the milk, eggs, pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and oil.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.
3. Melt some butter on a griddle over low-medium heat. Ladle about 1/3 cup of batter on the griddle for each pancake. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes and cook for another minute or two until browned.

Lots of little apples

It is getting beautiful here now with the fall colors, officially; I saw it on the news. I’m failing so far to capture it with my camera, but I think I’ve got a couple weeks still to figure that out.

To celebrate this transition into fall, Colin, Jane, and I rented a car and drove out to a Maryland farm to do some apple picking. The drive alone was worth it, and I was reminded of myself and the early snowfalls in Bologna (let’s be real, every snowfall in Bologna) with all the giddy oohing and ahhing.

Apple fritter, you were delicious.

The farm was part fair, part market, and part farm, with local high school cheerleaders making apple fritters and college kids instructing people on the different types of apples they could pick and waist-high kids scrambling over the hay bales everywhere.

The apple picking itself quickly turned into a photo shoot and a reminder of why the majority of Americans choose professions not related to picking fruit. We gathered almost 20 lbs. of apples between us, mostly tart Stayman apples for baking with, but also some delicious Fuji apples for taking with lunches.

Jane probably made a beautiful pie with her apples, but I took an easier route: apple pie cake.

Apple Pie Cake
From Grandma’s kitchen, adapted slightly. Yields 1 pie cake.
4 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples (about 3 apples)
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Toss apples in cinnamon sugar and place in 9” pan. Let stand while you prep the rest.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup oats or finely chopped walnuts over apples.
Sift together:
1 cup flour (I used whole wheat flour. Half and half wouldn’t be a bad idea.)
½ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
In smaller bowl, mix:
1 well-beaten egg
1/3 cup milk
½ cup melted butter
Add all at once to flour mixture. Pour over apples. Bake 1 hour at 325 degrees.

Brenna and Shawn have a pumpkin patch, so next weekend I want to go there and pick a pumpkin for Halloween. Though I was thinking today about where we would keep it and totally drawing a blank. Maybe I’ll just pick a little one.

The answer to yesterday’s trivia question: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.