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20 December 2010

Happy Christmas

I don't have any pictures; the day ran long and the night has just about got away from me.

But I do have words, and it's with those I'll paint a picture.

Our tree isn't very big. Last year it was over 9 feet tall. This year, it's a bit over six. It's spun round with strands of white lights and the ornaments have been collected from my first Christmas (1977, baby!), our first Christmas together (2004 to be exact), to the fat little blue glass owl I picked up just a few short weeks ago. There are owls and polar bears, coffee cups and snowmen. Jon and I made yarn ornaments this year. Beautiful, multi-colored balls of fabric-stiffened yarn and fabric.

There's a raven atop our tree. No star or angel for us! Truthfully, we don't have a tree topper and the raven just happened to be perched atop the bookshelf just behind the tree so it appeared to rest on the tree when I took pictures of it when it was first put in the stand. And thus a new tree topper tradition was born.

There's a manger scene in the window, wrapped round with white fairy lights. A snowman sits on the record player, a little homemade candle warms his mitten-hands.
Our cat is nestled all snug in one chair, dreaming of canned food and Christmas tree flavored water. The space heater hums merrily next to the sofa where I usually find myself after a really long, really stressful day at work.

This year has been hard. Seriously hard. Lots of stress and changes. There's been good things too, choices made, new paths discovered. For the most part, however, I'm ready for a new year. A new chance. A clean slate and a fresh start. My dreams and goals are forever growing. I see them looming on the horizon, just, as it would appear, out of reach. For a moment I ask you dear blog friends, what are your dreams for the coming year? Was your year a hard one? Perhaps you experienced loss. Big changes or small may have put the breaks on your plans. Maybe things didn't go exactly as you'd hoped.

That's what Christmas is for. To remind us of miracles. To remind us that no matter how hopeless the situation, no matter how dire the circumstances, there is always hope.

Christmas is magic. The word "magic" and the word "miracle" both come from the same roots. When boiled down to their essence, both words can be used to describe something that can not be explained, something which has just happened, without any plausible explanation.

Look out your window. Look at those around your table. Look at the pictures on your wall, the people who pass you on the street. Everyone a miracle. Everyone magic.
Nothing is impossible, dear friends. Not dreams, not goals, not plans. Not hopes. Not angels singing or virgin births. Nothing is impossible.

I'll be taking a bit of a break from blog land until January. I'll be back with a new blog to start up, a new part of the world to explore on this one, and some interesting news I'm sure! Oh, and I most definitely plan to return with a story of the impossible.

Save yours to share, dear friends.

And remember:

Where there is life, there is hope.
Jen

Be Jolly By Golly Fest



And a Happy Monday to you all! (If there is such a thing. I hear rumors and I'm running with them this morning. It is, after all, the week of CHRISTMAS!)

This isn't an "official" post, but I wanted to let you know of a lovely blog fest that's going on. Melissa at Through the Looking Glass and Jen at Unedited are hosting the Be Jolly By Golly blog fest today. It's an impressive list of participants and the posts are pouring in. Wander by either of their blogs to get the full list and spend this week reading about the blog world's Christmas traditions. I'll be posting mine later this evening, so do come back by and see what I've got brewing over at the Manor :D

Cheers!
Jen

16 December 2010

Soup's on!


Delicious Photo Found HERE

Last time, we had salad. People usually start a meal with a salad, I thought. So why not move on ahead to the soup course?

I found two delicious sounding soups which would go excellent with the aforementioned (and posted about) salad. They're vegetarian, but if you crave meat in your soups and stews like I do, a bit of beef or more traditionally, lamb, would go great in both of these. Enjoy!

Middle Eastern Vegetable Soup

You'll Need:

•3 white potatoes, chopped
•1/2 yellow onion, cut into eighths
•4 carrots, sliced
•1 clove garlic, crushed
•1 celery stalk, sliced
•1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
•1/2 cup fresh string beans or canned
•1/4 teaspoon black pepper
•1/4 teaspoon cumin
•1/8 teaspoon ginger
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•4 cups water
•3 cups canned tomato sauce
•1 8oz can tomato paste

What to do:

Combine water, tomato sauce and paste in a large saucepan and put on medium heat. Stir well. This will make your soup base. Add water or more tomato sauce as desired and then add in your vegetables and spices.

Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to low-medium and let simmer for 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

**This recipe is from About.com's Middle Eastern food site and is totally worth reading for the comment underneath. I love it when people share personal stories about food.

Middle Eastern Lentil Soup (if anyone knows the Arabic/Farsi names to these, I'd LOVE to have them!! Calling everything "Middle Eastern ____ Soup is a bit bland.)

What You'll Need:

1 cup dried lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

What to do:

Rinse lentils, getting rid of any debris or lentils that look blemished; drain.

Heat your oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion and bell pepper; cook and stir 5 minutes or until tender. Add fennel seeds, cumin and ground red pepper; cook and stir for 1 minute.

Add water and lentils. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in salt and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until lentils are tender. Stir in lemon juice.

Top with yogurt and sprinkle with parsley once you've ladled soup into individual bowls.

**This one sounds like it would be FABULOUS with some lamb. I LOVE stew this time of year, and a hearty meat stew always hits the spot. But I'm willing to try it without, as per the recipe. This one was found at TLC's Cooking Site.

I'm contemplating a Middle Eastern soup and salad night here soon. Perhaps this weekend? My mom is coming down for a visit and I think that would be the perfect menu for a chilly Sunday afternoon.

Cheers!
~Jen

13 December 2010

Anyone for Salad?


photo found here

I love salad. For real! I do. I never do anything too fancy when I make it at home. Toss in some bell peppers now and then; always add cheese. Oh, and the bacon bits. How can I forget about the bacon bits?

Whilst perusing the Middle Eastern food sites today, I came across this delicious sounding salad and thought, "Hmmm, sounds tasty and festive...and easy." Not that I have a problem with tough recipes, but usually around the holidays the easier the dish the better. (Yeah, and me with my baklava plans...)

Salad-e Shirazi is a summer tomato-cucumber salad but the ingredients are readily available anytime. This salad would make a colorful and fresh alternative to the normally heavy foods at the holiday table. (This recipe was originally found @ About.com)

Salad-e Shirazi: Tomato-Cucumber Salad

•3 large, firm tomatoes
•2 cucumbers
•1 small onion, red or yellow
•2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, depending on taste
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
•1 teaspoon minced garlic
•salt and pepper to taste

Chop tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions finely. Toss with the remaining ingredients and mix well gently.

Serve chilled.

The recipe says it takes about 15 minutes to prepare and serves 4. Double or triple it for your holiday gathering. As for me, I think I might just try this for a weeknight treat. I'm also thinking some chickpeas tossed in would be a lovely addition.

And bacon...can't go wrong with bacon...

***In other news, I won a contest!!!! Yep, I got an email from the fabulous and talented Shannon Whitney Messenger telling me I won a copy of the Middle Grade book The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little. Woo-hee!! This book sounds very intriguing. It takes place in the deep south, in bayou country (that's Lousiana if you're wondering). I'm really looking forward to reading it. Wander on by and check out Shannon's blog! She'd always got something awesome going on over there!

10 December 2010

A Little Middle Eastern Christmas Cheer

I have an excellent excuse for not blogging the past couple of days; I've been writing. Yes! Real live writing and NOT NaNo editing (that is to come). Yesterday, I got an idea for something (non-fiction, if you can believe that), and off I went, typing between phone calls and writing on a napkin during lunch in my car.

That said, I've been thinking a lot about Middle Eastern Christmas customs this week. Funny, but when I realized my virtual travels would land me in the M.E. for Christmas, I was a bit disappointed. I wanted to be in England for Christmas, or at least the Alps. But my self-imposed trip had me traversing across Pakistan, Afghanistan and into Iran.

More out of compulsion than anything else, I simply typed in "Middle Eastern Christmas" in the search engine and *voila!* I was gifted with a whole mess of interesting sites. And then it hit me: Christmas started in the Middle East. What's more appropriate than a Middle Eastern Christmas? Not only that, but when I was pondering some recipes for this month, it was Hanukkah and THAT'S a Middle Eastern Holiday as well. Serendipitous I must say.

We don't really think of Middle Eastern countries celebrating Christmas but they do. Lebanon especially, but there are Arabic Christians in most M.E. countries that celebrate. Their celebrations aren't as garish as our western traditions and I find them far more endearing.

In Lebanon, about two weeks prior to Christmas, people will plant chickpeas, beans, lentils and wheat grains in cotton wool. The seeds will get watered every day and by Christmas, they have a nice little garden of greens. These shoots will be plucked and used to surround manger scenes.

Friends and family gather around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. They celebrate with an evening meal and at midnight, the church bells begin to ring. Everyone puts on their new Christmas clothes and they go to church for a midnight service. The children eagerly await Papa Noel to bring their gifts and they hang little red stockings for him to fill with sweets.

Pakistan is a predominately Muslim country and therefore, Christmas is not a national holiday. Those that do celebrate, do so quietly and simply with traditions that vary from town to town. Church services are held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day called Barha Din or Greatest Day.

There are also Christmas celebrations to be found in Syria, Egypt, and even Iraq. I also read that Bethlehem has 3 Christmas celebrations due to the three different denominational churches in the city and their holiday observance calendars! And get this, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem sits upon the traditional site of the original manger. Christmas Eve services are held in what's called The Shepherd's Field and then the crowd continues the service inside The Church of the Nativity. Only a small amount of people can attend and it's by invitation only. If you're not one of the lucky invites, however, they set of a large screen outside so you can view the celebration from Manger Square.

Recipes are forthcoming! Have an awesome weekend. Speaking of food, I'm off to Maggiano's in Atlanta this evening for the office Christmas party. Repeat after me: Italian food. YUM.

Cheers!

Sources: Habeeb.com
Christmas in Pakistan
Christmas in Israel

**Some of these sites have music, so keep the speakers low. Unless you like to start your day with blaring organ music**

07 December 2010

ugh...guh...blah...

Not feeling too well today, folks. And work has me slammed addressing envelopes and filing a forest of papers. Riveting, I know.

Anywho, I had a smidge of time this morning (and about as much energy) and I wanted to give you guys a little teaser of what I've found whilst roaming around the Interwebs in search of Middle Eastern noms.

Like this:


Jumbals

and THIS:


Maamoul

and, cue the Hallelujah Chorus, THIS:


BAKLAVA

(small disclaimer: yes, I know the above link is to a Balkan recipe for Baklava, but this site had the prettiest photo. so there.)

Enjoy the photo-link love, my dears. Hopefully I'll be feeling better tomorrow and I'll be able to post an actual recipe. I'm REALLY hoping I'll be able to MAKE one of these delicious treats for Christmas. Maybe all three? Who knows.

Cheers!

06 December 2010

Hopscotch


Go, Granny, GO!

Been thinking a lot about spice lately. Yep. Spice. You know, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (yes, even cloves...bleck!). Blame it on Christmas. When the holidays roll around, I start wanting spicy things: gingerbread, spiced (or spiked ;)) cider, chai. We made chai last night. It was the bagged kind; Holiday Chai it's called. We added some heavy whipping cream and some sugar and yum-yummy was it good! I'm glad I got over my chai-a-phobia. It tastes like Christmas in a cup!

Perhaps I'm thinking about spice because the next location in our culinary journeying is the Middle East. I've been thinking of the best way to do this, seeing as the Middle East is a very LARGE area and we have a very small month in which to explore it's culinary wonders. So. Instead of bouncing from country to country, how about if we look at Middle Eastern dishes in light of the holidays? Sounds groovy to me!

I promised you an update on the NaNo novel. I finished (*confetti*) and it's over 50,000 words (*trumpets*). Funny story: I finished the book by writing a rather detailed outline, spilling out the words as they came, untangling plot lines and character mishaps as I went. And I discovered, shock and amazement, that it's not a stand alone. THIS story is: it has a beginnings, a middle and an end. BUT, and this is a very big but, a character who decided to pop up in the middle of the tale (no, not the little girl I told you about before. A shape shifting cat named Finn), just HAD to go and complicate things. So now, my characters not only await my editing genius (*cough* struggle and random cursing *cough*), they also wonder just what the heck am I going to do to them next? Ah, the joys of prime exocutioner...torterer...author.

I feel like there's something I'm skipping, and not just the square upon which the stone landed. Ah, yes. I think I let slip a teensy-weensy little teaser last Friday. Something about a new blog? Yes, I know, I'm crazy. But someone (I can't recall who and for that I am very sorry) once said that blogs are like little pieces of ourselves. They allow us to be different aspects of a whole. I like to look at my blogs as rooms in an old English country manor. Just when you get comfortable in one-the fire lit, the brandy poured- someone suggests you go down the hall. Or you pull a book from the bookcase and a panel opens to a stairway and mysteriously lit torches.

The new place will concentrate on all things writing - my writing, the writing of others, writerly wisdom, prompts, rantings, ravings and rejoicings. I really (REALLY) would LOVE for you all to join me over there. I won't be posting quite yet. I'm going to let the holidays flitter me into January before I consider committing to more postings. I do have the drapes hung and the rugs laid. The walls have been given a coat of paint and the moves are just now placing the marble statues around the pool. Wander over if you like. Some of you already have and I thank you very, very much! There's not much to see just yet, but when things are settled, I invite you all over for a cuppa, be it tea, coffee, cocoa, spiced cider.

Or chai.

03 December 2010

Busy, busy, busy


(now THAT'S something different!)

Hey guys!

I hope all of you in the States had a marvelous, food and family filled Thanksgiving!I also hope my fellow NaNo-ers made it out of November alive and with a nice new novel to edit over the beginning of 2011. Let's here it for edits! Woohoo!!! (Sorry, that coffee was a bit strong. Seconds?)

I know I said I'd be back 01 December, but it seems I've hit a bit of a snag. A busy snag at that.

I didn't want to leave you without at least a quick hello. So...HELLO!

I'll be back to posting on Monday. I've got some ideas for some holiday treats from the Middle East. Yep, we're leaving India (however sporadic our trip there was) and heading over through Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, on into Turkey (which, by the way, did you know is EUROPEAN country?)

A Middle Eastern Christmas, huh? Sure. Why not. That is where Christmas started, after all. I'll also dip down into the real land of Christmas and touch on some foods associated with Israel. And while we're at it, I'll throw in some Hanukkah treats as well. Hanukkah started yesterday. For those of you who celebrate, I wish you a joyful Festival of Lights!!

Also got some other news about my NaNo novel, AND a new blog project. Yes, ANOTHER blog!! Am I crazy? Come on, you already know the answer to that ;)

Have a great weekend, Loves!
Cheers

24 November 2010

Giving Thanks



I hope your day is filled with family, friends, food and fun.

Take a moment out of the feasting, football watching, and sneaking stuffing while grandma isn't watching to be thankful. Seriously. We all have something to be thankful for.

Do whatever you have to in order to keep the peace this year.



And, just because I have a very macabre sense of humor, I leave you with a link to Lemony Snicket Videos.

Happy Turkey Day!
~Jen

PS: I'm taking a wee break until December 01. Good luck with those NaNo novels! Write on.

23 November 2010

Chai Time



*photo found HERE, which, incidentally, is a fabulous article on chai. Check it out!

I learned today that "chai tea" is redundant. Chai means "tea" in Hindi. Sounds so much more exotic than plain, old "tea", doesn't it?

I am a tea lover. A tea drinker extraordinaire! Chai and I, however, never got along until recently. I wanted to like chai. I drank it hot, cold, in a frappucino, in a smoothie. I tried it with milk and with hot water. I just could NOT like it. Then, as I was preparing to go to India, my friend said, "Oh, and chai is everywhere! You'll love it!" "One problem," I admitted. "I hate chai."

Until I had it.
In India.
Simmered over a gas stove, in milk.

Two words: Yum. O.

I've grown to like chai, but not the American version of the drink. Masala chai, which literally means "spiced tea", has grown on me and I've found even a bagged version that I like. But nothing takes the place of the "real" deal.

True story: I'd planned to post on chai today. I checked my email and one of my weekly emails about tea and coffee had an article link on (you guessed it) chai. Serendipitous I say!

And here it is! Masala Chai 101. It's got so many chai recipes, you'll be swimming by the time you've brewed and tried them all. I sifted through them, however, and found the one that (to me) seems the most authentic. This is the one I plan to try at home (just as soon as I can wrangle me up some cardamom pods).

*This chai recipe was found on About.com's site under the heading "How to Make Masala Chai" by Lindsey Goodwin (their tea and coffee guru).

•2 cups milk
•2 cups water
•4 whole cloves
•2 crushed green cardamom pods
•2 crushed peppercorns
•1 cinnamon stick
•1 grape-sized piece peeled, chopped ginger
•2 tbsp. sugar
•2 tbsp. black tealeaves (preferably Assam)

Combine your milk, water and spices in a medium saucepan.

Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add sugar and tealeaves. Stir, and then simmer for 5 minutes.

Strain into glasses or mugs and serve.

(This recipe makes a bout 4 cups of masala chai.)

For all you celebrating Thanksgiving this week, why not try this as an alternative to the traditional apple cider or coffee after the turkey? Or, if you're like me and decorate for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving, why not have a pot of this simmering while the Christmas carols play and the twinkle lights get untangled. You know, by someone else. YOU have to watch that simmering milk ;)

Cheers!
~Jen

(For those of you not up to simmering milk, or you don't feel you have the time to make the chai via stove top, The Republic of Tea has a wonderful chai concentrate that you can add to warm milk. This was the ONLY chai I liked before I learned to make it the Indian way.)

22 November 2010

Chutney


lovely image of tomato chutney found HERE

I'm quite a few words ahead in my NaNo novel, so I thought I'd let the foodie in me back out to play :)

For some reason (perhaps the fact my mom mentioned cranberry chutney last night), chutneys have been on my mind. Hmm, thought I, chutneys are Indian. Huzzah! An Indian themed post!

Off to Google I go and if I thought for a moment this would be a short and easy topic, I was very, very wrong.

Chutneys are quite diverse and (as you'll see from the links I've added at the bottom of this post) there are more combinations than I thought humanly possible.
The word "chutney" is derived from caṭnī , a term used for spicy preparations that are used as an accompaniment to a main dish. They usually contain ingredients that don't, at first, seem to go together but are surprisingly complementary. Chutneys usually resemble paste and are coarse in texture (though some can be smooth). In India and in the states, I've only had a green one. I don't know what was in it, or what it was called, but I call it "the really, really, REALLY tasty green mush". Most people who have had Indian food perk up and say, "Oh yeah! I love that stuff!" If anyone knows what it's called...or could even suggest what it may be, I'd be grateful. Of course, I could just as the next time I'm at an Indian restaurant and they plop the "good green mush" down in front of me :)

They can be sweet or savory and come in a seemingly endless variety of spice/veg/fruit/herb combinations. The types and preparations of chutneys vary across their native lands of Pakistan and India, though I did discover a traditional "rule" to chutneys. No raisins. Yay! (I don't like raisins). But of course, this rule has been broken and a raisin chutney was created for John Abercorn, 5th Viceroy of Calcutta. Darn viceroys.

You can eat chutney as a snack, a meal, or as an accompaniment to a meal. According to the research I've done, they are still popular in the Carri bean and the American South where they are used with pork and fish. Mmmm, pork...

Here's a good intro to chutneys along with lists of type and regional examples. It's also where I go most of the information in this post :) Thank you, Wikipedia :D

And if you're looking to experiment with chutney in your own kitchen, or you're just wanting another way to shake up the Thanksgiving turkey and madden all the staunch traditionalists, I leave you with THIS, THIS, and THIS. Don't say I didn't warn you. There's a lot of chutney out there!

18 November 2010

We're off to see the wizard!


awesome picture found here

Soooo.

Anyone else as excited as I am to see Deathly Hallows tonight?

Anyone?

Midnight showing, IMAX theatre, DAY OFF WORK TOMORROW! Check, check and triple check [hey, I know how bad those fire whiskey hangovers can be ;)]

Are you guys dressing up or just going undercover as a muggle? Me, I'm debating between wearing my "HUNH?" inducing combination of a Draco t-shirt with my "Dumbledore's Army" jacket or just wearing something muggle-ish and comfy for the 3 hour tour.

Have fun tonight, portkey safely and for heaven's SAKE keep your wands at the ready.

Jen
(Of the House of Slytherin)

16 November 2010

NaNo Blabberings

I've passed the halfway point and I'm still a bit clueless as to how this story is going to pan out. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write and NaNo helps to solidify this as my "go to" way of writing. Of course, this makes for all manner of plot tangles, rabbit trails and random characters popping up and the most inopportune times.

Ever had a character arrive unannounced and uninvited? It happens to me every time I start a story.

For example, this story was cruising along. My main character was looking out her second story window over the eerie Irish landscape when a voice spoke up behind her. We were both shocked. She was in the house alone. Her uncle was outside in his wood shop, working on a shelf unit for the village pub. My main character and I looked at one another and then looked behind. There was a young girl standing there, smiling, blinking at us as if we were the ones in the wrong place. I looked at my main character and sighed.

"Not again."

My MC looks to me for advice.

"Go with it," I tell her. "See what she has to say."

And lo and behold, this little girl is going to be the turning point of this story.

Oh, and did I mention this "story" has turned into something longer? Yes, dear friends, it seems I may have TWO books on my hands instead of just one. Surprised?
Don't be. If I were to sit down and write and honest to goodness one shot, I might faint.

Or dance around and cheer, scaring the cat and the neighbors. The neighbors I wouldn't mind, especially the one whose second hand smoke makes my lungs feel like they're going to collapse.

But I digress.

Tell me: do your characters randomly appear, seeking employment, auditioning for roles you didn't even know were there to audition for? Or are you one of the lucky ones who outlines and casts and has characters who only arrive when asked?

Just curious.

Ah, the ramblings of a mind that won't sleep. Did I mention I'm writing this at 2:30 am?

12 November 2010

Naan Success!

The Naan turned out fabulously! I do, however, have a few tweaks which (to me) made it better.

You do not need four and a half cups of flour! Dear Lord! There's a reason in the actual directions it says "add enough flour to make a soft dough". I started with one cup, stirred, another cup, stirred, and after the third cup was stirred in, I started kneading and added half of the fourth cup with my hands until the consistency was good. Use your own judgement in this.

Also, two TEASPOONS of garlic? For real? Come on. You couldn't even kill Edward with that amount. I added at least two TABLESPOONS and could have added more. Of course, you be the judge of the garlic in your own naan. Leave it as written if you don't like garlic. Or really love Edward.

The making of the naan turned into an entire Indian themed dinner. I even wore my punjabi pants (although I didn't think about it until I was in the kitchen and realized I'd put them on unintentionally). Dear Jon made dal makhani (black lentils to us non-hindi speaking folk) and chicken curry.

YUM.

And because I know you will all be clamoring for the recipes, here it is:

Buy a can of Jyoti brand Dal Makhani and a jar of curry and follow the instructions on the label.

Lame. I know.

But trust me when I say your kitchen will smell like India for days! And that's a very good thing indeed :)

Oh, one word of caution. We grilled the naan inside because we don't have a grill and it was rather cold. We have a cast iron stove top grill. The butter drips on the grill and causes clouds of smoke to fill up your kitchen and 20 foot high ceilings. Open the windows, turn on the fans, bundle up, and be prepared to tell the neighbors "It's alright! I'm a professional!"

Cheers!
Jen

11 November 2010

Updates and Garlic

NaNo is going pretty darn well. I've got over 24,000 words (hence the absence from the blog)!! According to the NaNo "official" novel stats, I should finish by November 21 at this rate. My official stats say I'm taking a day off! My arm is killing me!

I found a fabulous recipe for garlic naan which I'm going to try tonight. It's really simple and sounds exactly like what I had while in Delhi. The only differences I can tell from the recipe alone are the size of the naan and the amount of garlic and butter in the finished product. Talk about greasy! But oh so good...



(The original recipe -and the above picture- can be found at Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)
1/4 cup butter, melted

Directions
1.In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

2.Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

3.During the second rising, preheat grill to high heat.

4.At grill side, roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

If you try it, let me know how it turns out! I'll be firing up the grill tonight (well, the cast iron stove top grill at any rate). Maybe I'll even whip up some type of curry dipping sauce to go with it.

How are you other NaNo-er's doing? Any of you reached the 50,000 mark yet? Is your story taking shape? Mine has definitely taken some bizarre twists and turns from my original idea but I'm happy with it. I think with some (read a LOT) of editing, I might have something here.

Cheers!
Jen

09 November 2010

Candy Shop of Horrors



Hey guys!

I know, I've been AWOL for far too long. I blame stress. Sounds good, eh?

NaNo progress is up, up, UP! I topped my count at just over 11,000 words on Saturday and I've got another chapter to upload tonight. I'm hoping to get at least one more chapter done by this evening. We shall see.

I wanted to post a bit about something I saw last night. A film, to be exact, only it wasn't a "hey let's all go to the movies" type of film.

"The Candy Shop" is a thirty minute film from director Brandon McCormick and Whitestone Motion Pictures. It stars Doug Jones of Pan's Labyrinth and Hell Boy fame. It is a film made to help raise awareness of and initiate a movement to stop child sex trafficking.

Frightening statistic: Atlanta, GA (my 'hometown') is one of the TOP cities in the NATION for sex trafficking. Sadly, most people are completely unaware that this is going on practically in their backyards.

I was first introduced to this horrific "business" about four years ago. A friend mentioned that she was working with a non-profit to raise awareness of child sex trafficking. I had no idea there was an actual name to this nor did I know that it was happening in Atlanta. I guess no one thinks horrible things like this happens in their hometown.

Several years later, at a photographer event with my husband, a pair of photographers spoke on the atrocities of human trafficking.

It was not until I was in India and met a 13 year old girl that it really hit me how sickening trafficking really is.

Pinkie is a sweet heart. I didn't get to really know her while I was there because she was the oldest girl in the orphanage and was at school most of while I was with the other, younger children. Happy, healthy, and in school. That's how all 13 year olds should be, right?

Had Pinkie NOT been in the orphanage, she would most likely have been either sold into sex trafficking OR (and this really floored me) MARRIED to a man AT LEAST 50 years old!?!?!?!?!

Married.

At 13.

To some perv old enough to be her grandfather.

Shocked?

It happens every day.

Every. Single. Day.

And it's not just in India, or Bangladesh, or any number of easily brushed aside third world statistic. It's in Atlanta. Portland. New York. My hometown and possibly yours.

Check out the trailer for the film The Candy Shop. Got to the Stop The Candy Shop website to learn more. Right now, the film has only been released in Atlanta but will be submitted to several national film festivals in the coming year.

It's not often I get on my soapbox here. But I couldn't let this topic pass by without some vocalization.

If you have a child, know a child, know someone who does, or simply have a soul, WATCH THIS TRAILER, learn about child sex trafficking and what you can do to stop it.

Yes, YOU.

03 November 2010

NaNo-Day Three (and other such musings)

First off (before I forget again), a big "hello, how are you" to my new followers. I see you over there. Thank you so much! I'll pay you a visit as soon as possible :)

Day three of this literary madness and I've got 5,000+ under my belt. Woohoo! Are they all genius? Not hardly, but they're words and words can be edited, words can be strengthened, tightened, filed down and built upon.

Needless to say, I'm excited.

So...butter tea. Yeah. I tried it. Around midnight Monday night. I boiled 6 cups of water, threw in one of those Lipton tea bags, let it boil for about 3 minutes. Then I dumped it in a large container, added 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a 1/2 cup of milk. And we whisked vigorously. The instructions say to shake vigorously or put in a blender. Our blender (quite honestly) sucks so bad I don't trust it to blend tea so that was a pass. The shaking was much more amusing. You know those Tupperware pitchers with the lids that stay on due to suction? You push the button on the top, press the lid into the container and *poof* it stays. Like magic. Wrong. Not with boiling water. The steam creates pressure and soon as you start shaking, the top blows off! We didn't lose any limbs, but it was rather amusing.

It looks and smells and tastes like the liquid residue left over from oatmeal made with too much water. Complete with the butter and salt. The tea somehow disappears in all that shaking. It's rather...well...as I said yesterday, it's not as bad as salted laasi (is anything worse than that?) but it's bad.

Now that I've had it, however, just let 'em try and get a laugh out of this American when they offer me an "innocent" cup of butter tea on my first visit to Tibet. I'll already know what to expect. Who knows. It might be better with yak butter and milk. Or it could be a lot, lot worse!

We're moving into India now, a country I spent two weeks in, two years ago. A fascinating conundrum of a country, one that you can't wait to leave but long for and wonder when you'll get to go back. The sights, the sounds, the smells are NOTHING a Westerner can prepare for. The closest I've come is the Dekalb International Farmer's Market here just outside of Atlanta and it doesn't even hold a candle to the chaos and baffling wonder that is India.

When I think of India, I think of the color brown. I was in Delhi (not where tourists go) and everything was brown: the ground, the cars, the buildings, the sky. Even the sky. Especially the sky. The people. Oh, the gorgeous, gorgeous people. Their skin varying shades of caramel and coffee. The women, all stunning, riding side saddle on tiny dirt bikes, pink, orange and blue saris decorating them, making them stand out like fragile Christmas ornaments on an already dead tree.

The children. I could have adopted every one of them! I spent two weeks sitting in an orphanage, watching, enjoying, interacting with over 30 children, ranging in ages one to thirteen. Let's just say if my suitcase had been a little bit bigger I'd have two daughters.

The food. Oh my gosh the food. Smells like you've never experienced. Tastes that baffle your tongue (and stomach) and make you beg for more. Curry in everything (even the Kentucky Fried Chicken...no joke!). Chicken briyani that comes in a bag no bigger than the foil bags of a Chick-fil-A sandwich yet when you dump it out, it could feed an army (or one, fifteen year old Indian boy). Salted laasi (that must be experienced to be believed) and pickled water buffalo (yum. Water buffalo).

By far the most bizarre thing I had over there was this strange, curdled milk, rice and red onion dish. It tasted interesting. I have no idea how to explain it except to imagine curdled milk with rice and red onions. Or better yet, don't. They eat it to settle their stomachs during the heat of summer (I was there in May). Note: it does NOT settle a western stomach. Not at all. Not hardly. But it does give you a fabulous excuse to eat nothing but french fries for the next two days.

This post turned out to be a long one. I won't bother you further. Just know that I have a connection with this next, virtual location. My goal for this trip is to make naan. Garlic naan. The one recipe that sounds authentic says it takes two days to make. I'll do some more research. Oh how I miss that greasy, garlicky goodness.

02 November 2010

I Has an Award!



Quinn over at Seeing, Dreaming...Writing gave me this awesome little bloggy award. H says that he has secretly coveted this one for a long time. Guess what? So have I :) and I can't tell you why, just that I'm happy to say it's found a home with me.

I gots to list seven things about myself and then pass it along. Here goes...

1) The only times I've "crossed the pond" while traveling was to go to countries that begin with the letter "I": Ireland and India. I have a sneaky suspicion that I'll be found next haunting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

2) I have a strange and overwhelming addiction to tales of the odd and otherworldly. For real. Even though they scare the socks off me, I keep reading them, keep watching them (Hello old X-Files episodes. How lovely to see you on Netflix :))

3) I secretly want to be an opera singer. For reals. Josh Groban...call me ;)

4) I have reoccurring fantasies that I somehow get enlisted by a secret society to investigate strange cases ordinary law enforcement can't solve. This is most likely encouraged by the aforementioned X-Files and an obsession with Sherlock Holmes.

5) During the past week, I have dreamt about or had someone reference in a conversation Scooby Doo. Those meddlin' kids and their stupid dog!

6) I'm an old soul. I don't "fit" in modern society. I'd much rather wear tweed than skinny jeans and have an obsession with Victorian England.

7) Butter tea is awful. Not as repulsive as salted laasi, but close. Imagine cooking oatmeal, salting and buttering it until the butter pools around the edges of the mush in the bowl. Strain it. Now drink it. I can officially say I DO NOT like butter tea. (More on this later...)

Now I get to pass it along. Hmmm, to whom shall I pass it? You know what? I know this might seem kind of lame, but I've seen it done and I like it. Besides...there's too many awesome blogs out there. So, here's the scoop: if you, like me, have always wanted the Versatile Blogger award, have at it. It's yours. With love and sincerity. Seriously. Not a cop out. Every blog I read, every blogger that stops by here is versatile. Seriously. How many of you blog in spite of life, family, jobs, obligations, craziness, alien abductions, land slides, zombie apocalypses (apocalypsi?) All of you face reasons (and darn good ones, too) NOT to blog. But you do it anyway. Faithfully. More faithfully that I do, that's for certain. So go on, you've earned it. Every. Last. One of you.

And go by and say hi to Quinn. His blog is a wonderful breath of fresh air :)

Cheers,
Jen

01 November 2010

aaaaand WE'RE OFF!

Aspiring novelists the world over are beginning their journey to writerdom over the next 30 days. Yes, kids, NaNoWriMo started TODAY! Technically, it started at midnight, but I wasn't about to start typing then. I had to get to work, but I'll be putting in the hours at random intervals during the next month. There's still time to sign up if you're interested: NaNoWriMo.org

Expect updates on my own NaNo experience, more writing related posts, and a rant or three!

We're also off to India this month. Apparently, the extreme altitude and climate of Tibet and Nepal didn't sit well with me (read: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome flare ups) but not to worry! I'm feeling better and I'm determined to take us through India. Even if I have to crawl.

However, I did want to share a few links that I discovered about those marvelous little Himalayan countries that we only touched on. I found several very informative sites while researching. Nepal in particular holds a special interest for me and I'm a bit bummed I wasn't able to pursue it's cuisine. These links will allow you to do so in your own time (and I'll be visiting them as time, health and budget allows).

Enjoy!

TIBET
Simply Tibetan
Yowangdu.com
The Infamous Butter Tea Recipe

NEPAL
Food-Nepal
SAARC Tourism
Nepal Home Page (Recipes)

BHUTAN
Asian Recipes (Bhutan) **Beware the annoying pop-ups!
Washington Post coverage of the Smithsonian Folk Festival of 2008 which featured Bhutanese Cuisine
A Brief Intro to Bhutanese Cuisine

Stay tuned for NaNo Madness, India (which is definitely madness) and that blasted butter tea which keeps mischeviously avoiding me. What I need is an accountability partner. How about....YOU! I will go home this afternoon and make butter tea to the best of my American supermarket ability. What do you say? Are you still curious> Have I driven this one so far into the ground you're thinking, "Gosh shut UP about the butter tea already!!"?

Can you tell it's Monday?

28 October 2010

Tips to Avoid a Novel Distaster

Unless of course, disaster is your thing. In that case, you can stop reading.

As many of you know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer's Month) is soon to be upon us. There will be thousands of otherwise sane (*snicker*) bloggers writing their fingers to a pulp during the month of November. While there will be no time for editing during this process, the finished result will, most likely (read: DEFINITELY) require some revision.

We writer's read all sorts of sage advice: read great books, write daily, lather, rinse, repeat. And while this is all excellent and most needed (especially the rinse part), we're kind of tired of the monotony of it.

Well, I stumbled upon something rather...wait for it...NOVEL!

Yes, that was necessary.

Ahem

About.com has this marvelous little ditty written by author Kris Saknussemm called "Five Tips to Avoid Total Disaster as a Novelist". While they may be obvious at their core, the delivery is most refreshing. I especially enjoyed #5:

Unless you are willing to face the unreasonable in yourself -- unless you are willing to entertain some strange notions (and deal with them when they stick around) -- unless you are willing to get lost, confused and even terrified -- then what you’re doing won’t have any meaning.

Wander on over. It'll only take a minute. You might even learn something. I know I did :)

Happy Wanderings,
Jen

27 October 2010

New Website Worth the Wandering



Ok, how many of you spend more time at work daydreaming than actually working? You know who you are! And I'm not talking about those Great American Novel day dreams either.

I have a confession. It's not so secret. If you've ever spent more than five minutes in conversation with me you'd know I LOVE to travel. That I would love to travel 300 days out of the year. Seriously. No joke.

In the course of this daydreaming (between the howling phones and droning space heater) I found a most marvelous diversion:

Briefcase to Backpack

It's a neat little place that tells the stories of REAL people taking time off to REALLY travel. How did I find them? Heck if I remember, but the site which directed me there talked about the sad fact that Americans don't travel or have the luxury of regular holidays or the opportunity for career breaks and sabbaticals .Sure , we can quit our jobs, but there's no security that we'll have it when we get back. Or the simple fact we aren't given vacation time (or enough of a pay check to put aside for vacation).

Things are different in different places. This I know to be true. But how much healthier and happier of a people would we be if our society endorsed breaks, vacation, time off in general?

Until that time, here's a nice little website to help with your wanderlust. It might also encourage you to make some daring travel plans of your own!!

Happy wandering,
Jen

26 October 2010

NaNo Panic in the Air



Just a quick writing related, non-yak butter tea related post :) I'm feeling a bit better, but now my tendinitis has decided it wants to make it virtually impossible to use my right arm. Nice! Thank God I'm (somewhat) ambidextrous. It certainly makes typing a bit of a challenge!

And just in time for NaNo too. Yippee.

No, my NaNo work won't be about food (though the probability of butter tea or deep fried spiders ending up in a future work is quite high). I'm letting my dark side out to play with some supernatural fiction. Definitely looking forward to that.

Any more NaNos out there? Seek me out and buddy me if you are so inclined :) I'm hiding out over there as JChandler :)

Why do we do this every year? Because what better way to get a novel written than the constant time crunch pressure of thirty days and knowing that 1,000s of other writers are watching?

Madness, plain and simple.

21 October 2010

All in All...

...I'm doing okay. I haven't been able to do any cooking, due to health and time restraints. Thankfully, my fabulous husband has been doing all the cooking. Tibetan, however, has not been on the menu. Seems I just can't get him to cook up any yak burgers or butter tea. Ah well.

That being said, I'm hoping to be back to posting next week. The plan was to trek through Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan during October. Alas, that isn't going to happen. However (and this is a BIG however), there is the possibility that I can do some summarizing of the three countries cuisines next week. Seeing as it's the last week in October, it's my last big hurrah to get to India by November. And I KNOW we can cook up some Indian food (because even if I'm still down and out, my husband cooks some MEAN chicken curry!).

I just wanted to post a quick update so you'll know where this little blog stands. I miss it, I miss you guys. I'm trying to research a new book idea that I'm tackling for NaNo next month at work and that, combined with work obligations, compounded by CFS/Adrenal Stress Disorder, isn't lending me much time for the more enjoyable pursuits of blog browsing :)

But I am working on a new manuscript.
And I AM going to continue this long trek across the continents.

Perhaps I bite off more than I can chew, but the truth of the matter is, I'm not happy if I don't have several burners lit at once. I just can't function as a productive member of creative society sitting at a desk all day, staring into cyberspace oblivion whilst deleting 500 names from a database, listening to people tell me I should tell those they wish to speak to to get off the other line and talk to them instead because they're just as important. That last part is true. Word for word. CA-RAZY.

So, in case your wondering, the blog project, the new manuscript, the health and work issues aren't all that's brewing in the aether. It's become a balancing act, however, and the things that just aren't as important are winning the battle.

But they won't win this war.

Take care, dear bloggers. We shall meet again soon.

18 October 2010

Quick post

Hello dear readers!

I know I haven't been very active in blog-ville lately. I've been under the weather since last Wednesday. Do forgive the absence both here and in reading/commenting on your blogs. I miss your delightful posts!

Hopefully I'll be up and running at full capacity in a day or two!

Cheers!
Jen

14 October 2010

It's a Conspiracy I Tell Ya!


(photo found here)

They're everywhere! They found me in China, hounded my steps, haunted my dreams. I thought I'd left them behind but noooo-they're in Tibet too!

What on earth am I blabbering about?

Dumplings.

No joke. They're here.

Ok, so they aren't called dumplings. They have a better name. A name that kind of makes me snort when I say it. In Tibet, the little meat or veg stuffed dough balls are called...

momos

Yep. Momos. I love it. And I'm going to make some. Soon.

There's more recipes out there for Tibetan food than I thought! Momos, noodle and potato soup, fried bread, sauces, desserts.

Oh. And guess what else I found?

A recipe for butter tea.


(photo found here)

I doubt it will be made with yak butter (there's a shortage of yak this time of year in Georgia) but I'll make due with what I have. I'll let you know how it tastes. If it went down or if it gets sprayed all over the kitchen.

There's a noodle soup called Then Thuck that is made with hand pulled noodles. Sounds fun (and perhaps video worthy?).

I hope your week is going well, dear reader. Mine's been a bit...eh...well...we'll leave it at that. I promise I won't spend weeks making dumplings. I mean momos :). Just one post. Then I'm on to other dishes.

You know.

Like butter tea.

*grin*


(photo found here)

11 October 2010

My Heart and My Hands

My heart and my mind have been here, friends. They have. I think about travel (the real and the virtual kind) and food (always the real kind ;)); they permeate my dreams. I'm always wondering what marvelous culinary concoction I'll discover next. Something I can share here. Something I can cook at home. My hands, however, have been entering quick text for program codes since Tuesday of last week. Hence the unplanned absence. If the posts seem a bit erratic (or rather, more erratic than usual), you now know why.

I'm trying not to get frustrated. You know how it is: you have all these plans, these ideas and they sit...right...there...just out of reach.

I had a couple of free minutes this morning, before the madness, so I'm going to eek out some tasty Tibetan tidbits :).

The main thing I'm discovering about Tibetan food is that it's spicy. As in HOT. They like their food on fire! Which is just fine with me. As long as it has flavor, I can handle the heat (well, that's almost true. There was this one time my husband doubled the curry in an Indian dish...).

Tibetan food has been influenced in some ways by it's neighbors, India and China, but it makes use of many ingredients that are indigenous to the Himalayan Mountains. Their cuisine is similar to that of Nepal (which we'll visit next). Barley seems to be a staple in Tibetan food and there are very few vegetables. Kind of hard to grow veg at 16,000 feet! The barley is made into a dough called tsampa and it is usually rolled into noodles or made into dumplings called momos. Yak, goat and mutton are commonly used in meat dishes. Meat is either dried (out in the elements where the extreme cold kills any bacteria) or stewed with with spices and potatoes. Mustard seed is grown in the country and is featured heavily in their cuisine. Also, yak butter, yogurt and cheese are eaten regularly. There is usually some dairy served at every meal.

So far, the most interesting item I've found is salted butter tea. From what I understand, black tea is boiled and then churned with yak butter and salt. They also make a sweet tea with black tea, fresh milk and sugar. I get the feeling the salted butter tea is faintly reminiscent of a cup of lassi I had in India*. If it is, my stomach is already turning somersaults. Still, it sounds interesting... now if I can just get my hands on some yak butter.

That's about all I have time for today! Not too shabby, huh? I'm off to clatter in some more code. Yay. Have a fabulous Monday and hopefully we'll soon be cooking up some Tibetan dishes and yak butter tea. Mmmmm...

Jen

*a side note about lassi. I have found multitudes of recipes for sweet mango lassi and I've heard countless testimonies of how yummy and refreshingly sweet lassi is. That's wonderful. I'm sure it is. However, I had salted lassi OR a similar drink called chaas. It is NOT sweet. It looked like homemade lemonade (cloudy, rather yellow, with stuff floating in it). It did not, however, taste like homemade lemonade. It tasted like a cup of the Atlantic mixed with soured milk.

06 October 2010

Into the Wild


(photo found HERE)

It took a bit longer to traverse the mountain ranges from China to Tibet (read: work got crazy and I was rather burnt out the past few days), and for that I apologize.

Tibet has always held this mystical power over me. These next three countries, in fact, have carried my imagination since I was a child. “The Land of the Thunderdragon”, Kathmandu, Shangri-la. They exist, in reality; all I need is a plane ticket and about a year and a half to explore them.
Or I could just blog about them, and their food. I’d rather board the next flight out, but let’s face it: the Internet is free and plane tickets into Kathmandu are not. At least, not that I know of. If any of you have any tips on free airfare to the Himalayas, I’m listening!


(map found HERE)

We’ll start in Tibet. It butts up against China and will act as a doorway between destinations. Tibet is roughly the size of Western Europe and is currently occupied by the People’s Republic of China. Tibet’s history is a turbulent one and the people there still suffer under an oppressive government. If you’re interested in learning more about Tibet in general or the fight for basic human rights for the Tibetan people, check out freetibet.org.

I had the honor of meeting several monks from Tibet years ago while in college. Our cultural department brought in a group of Tibetan monks who performed haunting music, several traditional Tibetan dances and told stories in their native tongue. The Telfair Art Museum in Savannah hosted a mandala event and I was fortunate enough to be studying Art History at the time and was required to take a peek at the creation of the mandala. Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle and is used in Hindu and Buddhist traditions as a means of spiritual teaching, prayer, and meditation. Wikipedia has an excellent entry on mandalas.


(photo found HERE)


The one I saw being created was at least twelve feet across and was “painted” using colored sand. The monks prayed and chanted as they created it, asking for peace on earth. I got to chat with some young monks who were gracious and very joyful, eager to answer my questions about their home and their religion. Sadly, all of these monks were in exile from their home in Lhasa, living at the time in northern India.

When the mandala was completed, a blessing was said over it and the public was invited to walk with the monks several blocks from the museum to the Savannah River for a blessing ceremony. A friend of mine joined me and we watched as the monks chanted and prayed over Savannah while dumping the sand from the beautiful mandala into the river, praying for peace over our city and for the entire world. It was a very moving experience and I’m very thankful I got to participate in such an interesting cultural event.


(photo found HERE)

Since Chinese occupation, the Tibetan religious community has lived in exile in northern India and in Nepal. Their culture, traditions and language are under constant threat of extinction. I was a bit anxious as to whether or not I’d be able to find anything on Tibetan food but LO! The Internet doth prove itself once more.

There’s not a lot (and I honestly don’t know how much of it I’ll be able to reproduce at home), but I do want to share with you what I’ve found.


(photo found HERE)

Tibet is a fascinating country with beautiful traditions that sadly carry the burden of persecution. I hope you’ll join me as I wander the virtual Tibetan realm. I’m really looking forward to this part of our adventure.


(photo found HERE)

04 October 2010

Two Reasons (a choose your own excuses story)

I'm not posting today (well, not a REAL post).

Reason #1: I'm overwhelmed, stressed, and my eyes are starting to melt...I've been staring at this computer at work for far too long.

Reason #2: My trek from China into Tibet is taking longer than anticipated. Our Sherpa vanished, a tribe of yeti have been stalking us and an avalanche has cut off our only way back to safety. We must press on, hopefully making it into Tibet and the safety of Lhasa before the sun sets.

Now excuse me while I go tend to the campfire :)
~Jen

30 September 2010

Leaving China


(Image found HERE)

September has come to an end and that means we must bid farewell to China. I don't know about you, but I learned a lot about Chinese food that I didn't know before. I honestly had no idea they had traditional bread recipes. That sounds ignorant, but do YOU ever get baskets of hot coconut buns at Chinese restaurants prior to your Egg Fu Yung? If you do, call me! I want to eat where YOU eat :)

China was my test run for this new blog adventure and I think it went off quite nicely. There was so much I learned that I wasn't able to share (time constraints, you know) but it's info that I'll take with me and hopefully be able to explore in depth at a later date.

For starters, I'm drinking more green tea. Practically every day! It's good for you, you should try it. Tazo makes a really refreshing one with lemongrass and spearmint, aptly named "Zen". I've met many people who don't care for green tea and I think I may know why. They steep it too long. Black teas and herbal teas, which we as a culture drink more of than green and white, can be steeped up to five minutes without getting that pungent, bitter taste that many green tea haters lament. Green tea, however, needs to be steeped for no longer than three minutes in water that JUST CAME TO A BOIL. That's the other secret. Don't use water that's been boiling in the kettle for a minute and a half. It goes against all convention, but watch that pot. When you start to hear the water simmering, pay close attention to the spigot. When steam starts to come out, turn the heat off and pour the water over the green tea. Set your time for two and a half minutes and voila! Green tea without the burnt bitterness.

I also discovered that I'm in love with wontons and could eat them every day. Seriously. Yum. In fact, the more I think about it, I wonder if I could fill them with cheese. You know, like ravioli. Ravioli soup. China meets Italy. Could there be any greater culinary delight? Yes, I'm well aware that I'm a bit strange.

China has SO MUCH to offer, not just in food, but in culture and art. I'd have to spend a year (or more) reseraching and exploring these places in order to communicate all my interests and fascinations. If you have the time and the inclination, do a little Google searching on your own. I think you'll be amazed at what you find! And feel free to drop me an email with your discoveries. I'd love to hear about them.

So what's next for our virtual trek? October will find me gallivanting across the Himalayas in search culinary delights and random facts from Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. I'm not at all ashamed to say that I harbor a deep seated desire to visit these three, mysterious countries. Kathmandu calls to me. Yak butter tea intrigues me. The idea of a country who's sole concern is Gross National Happiness as opposed to Gross Nation Profit sings with promises of Shangrila.

Until next week, dear Vagabloggers, I bid you adieu. Or, as they would say in China,
yī lù shùn fēng and mànmàn chī!
(bon voyage and bon appetit)

Jen

28 September 2010

There will be BUNS

Yes my friends, there will be. Just as soon as I post this teensy update!
The blogfest was a SMASH hit!! I've met so many fabulously talented bloggers/writers already and I still have over half the list of participants to go! It may take me the rest of the week, but I'll make it by. I shall! And I'll bring coconut :)

(The blogfest is officially over, but you can still read all the posts! Get in on the hooplah HERE.)

Now then, coconut buns. Or, more professionally, Cocktail Buns (pay no attention to the photo in the upper left hand corner of the original recipe site. Mine look nothing like that. Mine are more compact and portable! Pocket-sized, for your convenience.)

First off, you need to make your dough which is super easy and gives plenty of time for other pursuits as it rises. Like house cleaning, novel reading, a rousing game of mahjong.... (original recipe HERE)

You'll need:

•1/3 cup very warm water
•1 teaspoon granulated sugar
•2 teaspoons active dry yeast
•1/3 cup granulated sugar
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•3 tablespoons cooking oil (I used vegetable oil)
•1/4 cup boiling water
•1 large egg, fork-beaten
•Approximately 2 1/4 cups white bread flour

Stir warm water and first amount of sugar in small dish until sugar is dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over top and let it stand for ten minutes. Stir to help the yeast dissolve.



Stir the second amount of sugar, salt and cooking oil in large bowl. Add your boiling water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in the egg and the yeast mixture.





Slowly work in enough flour until soft dough forms. I worked my flour in a half cup at a time and ended up adding the remaining 1/4 as I was kneading.





Turn out onto lightly floured surface. The original instructions say to knead for 10 minutes but mine was ready in about 5. You want it to be smooth and elastic but don't over work it. Place the dough in large greased bowl, turning once to grease top.





Cover with greased waxed paper and tea towel. Let stand in oven with light on and door closed for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until doubled in bulk. (I'm not sure of the significance of the turned on oven light but at least you'll know the dough won't have to sit in the dark. Alone.) Punch the dough down, re-cover and let rest for 5 minutes.



(as you can see, I took the suggestion of a tea towel quite literally)

While the dough is resting, it's time to make the coconut filling (and preheat that oven to 350 degrees!):

•1 1/3 cups coconut flakes
•1 tablespoon granulated sugar
•2 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted
•1 large egg yolk

And the lovely egg and honey washes for the finished buns:

•Egg Wash:

•1 large egg
•1 tablespoon water
•Honey Wash:

•1 tablespoon honey
•1 tablespoon water

Process coconut and sugar in blender or food processor until very fine. Dump into a small bowl.



Stir in the melted butter (or margarine) and the egg yolk until it's got a paste-like consistency. I ended up using my hands for this. The recipe said it makes 2/3 cup of filling but I ended up with more. This isn't a bad thing :). The original recipe also only calls for half of the dough recipe. THIS I did not read prior to making. So, instead of 6 cocktail buns, I made 11. See. I told you having more than 2/3 cup of filling wasn't a bad thing :) I stretched it to fill almost a dozen and could have made another had I not made two of them rather plump!



Divide the dough into 11/12 portions. Press and stretch each portion into 5 X 3 inch oblong shape. It will try to shrink on you. Squish it good. Place about 1 tablespoon filling lengthwise along the center of each piece. Bring long sides up and over filling, pinching all edges together to seal.



Place, seam-side down, on greased baking sheet. Cover with greased waxed paper and a tea towel. Let stand in oven (again, with the light on and door closed) for about 1 hour until doubled in size. Make sure you grease that waxed paper! This dough is really sticky.



For the egg wash, beat the egg and water together with a fork. Brush over the buns.

Bake in 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.



For the honey wash, combine honey and hot water. Brush over warm buns. Serve warm.



Verdict:
My husband said, and I quote "These are the best rolls I've had in a very long time."

Happy baking!

27 September 2010

Banned Books Week



It actually started Saturday, but my Internet at home has been down. It seems the gods of the aether are angry. Ah well.

I know this is NOT going to a popular subject with some folks. And that's fine. Everyone has a right to their own convictions. In fact, I encourage discussion on this topic by those who agree and those who disagree with me. We are all free to our own opinions and have the right to speak out. Popular, unpopular. "Acceptable", "Un- acceptable". That is, after all, what this is all about.

Banned Books. Hmmmm, such a bizarre notion. Seriously. Why ban a book? Because some people decide that they should decide what we should or should not read.

I have a big, BIG problem with that.

There are those who would stand up to me, tell me that it's for the best, for the children that books are banned. Is it? Would you really want to raise your children in a world where someone (not YOU, the PARENT) tells them what they can and cannot read? Do you really want someone else dictating what's ok to put into your child's mind?

I don't.

Yes, there are books out there with some heavy material. There are books out there children are too sensitive to read, or, quite frankly, shouldn't read. BUT...

NO ONE has the right to tell me, my child, my family, my nieces, my nephews, my friends WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE. That is a decision based on free will and the parents of said children.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Not just because I'm a writer. Not just because I believe in free speech for all, but because

THE MINUTE YOU ALLOW SOMEONE THE POWER TO DECIDE WHAT WE CAN AND CANNOT READ, YOU GIVE THEM THE POWER TO TAKE AWAY OTHER FREEDOMS. Freedoms such as what we can and cannot write, watch, wear, think, say, do. Be.

Are you really willing to go that route?

If you really want to do something for the sake of the children, teach them. Read to them. Talk to them. Let them explore and find their wings. Be there to guide them, to hold them, to protect them from the monsters when things get out of hand. But if they're never allowed to face the monsters, how will they grow? How will they realize they really are strong.

And if you would take away their strength, their means to communicate, by taking away their books, you are taking away their choice, their thoughts, their dreams.

That's not protection. That's control.

You also might be taking someones ability to open up about something that happened to them, that they can relate to. Something horrible that they need healing from. Something that may never before have been able to be talked about until they read it. In a book.

Yes. Books are THAT powerful. Perhaps that's why some people want them banned. It's an interesting fact that during a revolution, some of the first people to be imprisoned or killed are writers and artists.

I'm willing to fight for books of all shapes and sizes. If I don't, it may be mine story that's banned one day.

And I will not let them silence me.

Thoughts?

Read more on this:
American Library Association
Mad Woman in the Forest
Operation Awesome
Through My Eyes
Ten Surprisingly Banned Books
Amnesty International
Celebrate Your Freedom to Read
American Booksellers Foundations for Freedom of Expression

24 September 2010

Writing Compelling Characters

It's bonus day here at Culinary Vagabonding! You get two (TWO) posts for the price of one!

This post, however, is writing oriented whereas the first one is just plain weird food oriented. If you missed it (and are vaguely interested, HERE you go).

I am a writer, first and foremost. This blog has been through so many different changes and the culinary vaga-blogging is my way of taking a respite from the YA trilogy that is sitting on my desk. Glaring at me. Boring holes into my soul.

The Ever Fabulous Elana asked for writers willing to blog about a topic of her choosing. Being the adoring fans, we followed blindly and over 150 of us are blogging about characters today. How cool is that? I love being a minion ;)

Characters are the meat of any story. They are the reasons you pick up the book, the reasons you keep reading. Characters can be ordinary humans, supernatural beings, a Sasquatch with a penchant for poetry. A character can even be a setting. I, however, am not Ernest Hemingway so I shall refrain from attempting that form of characterization.

For me, the most compelling characters are those that make me angry. Love them, hate them, if they don't do something that elicits a "what the FLEEP are you DOING!!!!" loud enough to startle my cat and six neighbors, they're just 'eh' in my book. I've thrown books across rooms because of characters (that one's for you, Samwise Gamgee). I've cried, yelled, slammed doors. Even sworn never to read another book by that author again because of what they did (or didn't do).

One of my favorite created characters has a moment where he goes all jerk on the main character, even though he knows better. To put it bluntly he has a major pity-party-melt-down. And I love him for it.

I've heard it before (in fact, read it in some of the other posts on this theme), that flaws make the character. It makes them believable, yes, but it also makes them relateable.

Because we all have flaws. We all have those little annoying things that grate on everyone's nerves, including our own. I write my flaws into my characters and not just my bad guys. Nasty flaws like short tempers and whining (not that I ever whine...). I find those are the characters I love the most. The ones that show me my own shortcomings in a believable light and, lo and behold, come out all right in the end.

One of my favorite characters is Meg Murray in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. She has horrible self esteem, pretty much hates herself, thinks she's ugly, is clumsy, has a nasty temper and tends to point fingers at everyone but herself. And you know what? When I first read her I saw myself. A confused, scared teenager who just wanted to be seen for who she was, with dreams bigger than the confines of her high school and the peer pressures put forth by her friends. To this day, when I'm feeling particularly lonely, I go to Meg and remember that things turned out ok for her.

I'm pretty sure they will for me too.

(Make sure you follow the link above to Elana's place to click on the links of everyone participating. It'll keep you reading all weekend!)

Mental Filter Busted

Proceed with extreme caution. Author has not had much sleep or chocolate in the past 14 days. Her appropriate blog material filter is busted.

You know, the filter that tells you "don't post that! it's disgusting/irresponsible/not suitable for children under the age of 115". Yeah...that one.

On the agenda for the weekend: Coconut dinner buns!!
So, I haven't made any of the delicious bread I posted Tuesday. I've thought about it (though not dreamed about it) and have decided that this weekend I shall bake me some buns! (why does that make me giggle?)

As I was pondering some bun baking last night, I realized that next week is our last week in China! Honestly, I've not done as much as I'd wanted to with the first month of this blog, but I consider the first month of anything a learning phase. I know what works, what doesn't, what I'm going to have time to do, and what is simply me wishing I was Wonder Woman. The upside, however, is that I've learned a lot about Chinese food, found a library of links on China and Chinese culture (for further perusal on a rainy day) AND I've eaten more fried rice in the past four weeks than in the past four YEARS!

Thank you all for putting up with my erratic posts and even stranger personality :)

Seeing as it's Friday (*cue the trumpets, marching band and juggling elephants*), I wanted to do something fun. And what's more fun than

WEIRD FOOD

Have you ever Googled "weird food"? It's a lesson in what the Internet can produce. It's also a reminder of how thankful I am that I inherited my father's iron stomach.

Things weren't too bad at first:
fish head soup
fish flotation bladder
live shrimp swimming in a bowl of rice wine
birds' nest soup (actual birds' nests kept tightly woven by the little birdies' spit)
jellied blood
camel tendons
baby mouse wine (a bottle of wine with baby mice stuffed inside. Ew.)
(all of these are courtesy of weird-food.com)

I also saw scorpions, cow heads, unmentionable parts of male bulls. But the thing that did me in was this:



photo found HERE

Deep. Fried. Spider.

Ok, so it was found in Cambodia. Not China, but still an Asian food that popped up in the Google search of "Weird food China" (oh, ps: DON'T click on the image tab if you Google weird food. Of course, now that I've told you not to, you're going too *insert evil grin*. Seriously, though, it's not something you want to look at if you're even the least big queasy. I'm not and it was a bit...gruesome. Interesting to my bizarre (and slightly twisted) curiosity, but it could do damage to young minds (or anyone eating anything that remotely could be mistaken for giant, hopping spider/bugs...

Yeah.

Fried spider. What possessed me to even put the picture on my blog? Shock factor. I am a very adventurous eater yet severely arachnophobic. I just don't know if I could do it. I think I may have met my culinary Waterloo.

But, it's Friday, and I wouldn't DREAM of leaving on the notion of fried spiders and six legged cows (wait, did I fail to mention THAT picture? *shudder*)



photo found HERE

There. Now we can all die happy and slightly less disturbed.

Happy weekend!
Go eat something adventurous! You can thank me later ;)
Jen

PS: I WILL make coconut buns this weekend. I WILL! And I shall post pictures for you next week. Promise ;)
PPS: I have 133 followers!!! Thanks, guys! Bear with me; I'll be by to thank you new-comers as soon as I'm able.