Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pumpkin Leftovers

One of the best things about Thanksgiving dinner is the amazing leftovers you enjoy on the following days. We still have some turkey in our fridge that we can't wait to eat. But I also had some leftover pumpkin from the pies. I couldn't let it go to waste, so I made a couple unexpected dishes with the leftovers.

After making two pumpkin pies on Friday night, I somehow ended up with extra pie filling that didn't fit in the crusts. I saved it in the refrigerator, planning to make another pie this week. However, we also cut up two loaves of bread for the stuffing, and didn't use all of it. I remember my mom making some delicious baked French toast casseroles, and thought that the pumpkin pie filling was pretty close to the recipe for French toast - eggs, milk, spices, etc. So I layered the bread cubes with pumpkin pie filling in a glass casserole dish and let it set in the fridge overnight.

Yesterday, I sprinkled a little cinnamon sugar on top and baked it for about 50 minutes. One side was a little crispy (I kind of like it that way) because our oven has started cooking things faster in the back, and I don't always remember to rotate the dish halfway through baking. We topped the French toast with maple syrup and some extra whipped cream (can't let that go to waste either). The result: Thanksgiving in my mouth! It was amazing. Not to mention, it was a super quick meal, since all the prep work was done the previous night. I think this has become one of my new favorites. It would be perfect with some scrambled eggs and a cup of coffee on a snowy morning.

My other pumpkin dish did not technically use leftovers. I have actually planned on making pumpkin spice lattes ever since my very talented friend, Rachel, posted the recipe on her blog. It calls for a couple tablespoons of pure pumpkin. I knew I would be making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, so I restrained myself from buying a whole can of pumpkin just for the lattes. As I was making the pies, I took a little bit of pumpkin from each pie before mixing it with the spices and other ingredients, and saved it for a time when I could get around to making the rest of the drink.

Today, my friend, Nicole, and I indulged in a little holiday magic - pumpkin spice lattes and a Christmas movie. It was a special treat to enjoy the lattes since we don't live in the land of a Starbucks on every corner anymore. They were so simple to make and tasted just like the real thing. I made the pumpkin spice syrup a couple days ago, and combined that with strong coffee and frothy milk to make the most heavenly drink imaginable.

What better way to spend an afternoon than with a good friend and a cup of pure fall bliss.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving in Grenada

This past Saturday, we had Thanksgiving dinner with some of our friends here in Grenada. There were 14 of us all together, and I had the best time planning our menu and cooking the meal. Everyone contributed to the grocery expenses which was a good thing, because cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Grenada proved to be an expensive task! I think I made four or five trips to the grocery store, and the only thing I couldn't find was the French fried onions to top the green bean casserole.

I started cooking Friday afternoon, and I'm so glad I did. Things always take longer than expected. We were up kind of late that night, but it was worth it. I baked the pies (two pumpkin and one apple), put together the casseroles (asparagus, green bean, and sweet potato), made the cranberry sauce and a cheese ball, and chopped the onions, celery, and bread for the stuffing. I bought two 10 lb. frozen butterball turkeys at the store and made sure those were thawed by Friday night.

Yes, I wrote the baking instructions on the casseroles so I wouldn't have to dig around for my recipes on Saturday.

A couple friends picked us up around 12:30 on Saturday afternoon and helped us bring all the food to their house. Ryan and I immediately got to work on the turkeys. Fortunately, my dad had me do the turkey for Thanksgiving a couple years ago. After a refresher course over the phone, we were ready to go. Ryan actually did most of the (dirty) work on the turkeys - pulling out the insides and rinsing them out. I kept my hands clean so I could hand him the olive oil and spices. We used salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Both turkeys actually fit in the same oven, even though it was small.

The turkeys were in the oven by 1:45. Ryan and his friends spent the next couple hours studying. I watched a football game. Around 3:00, I got a call from one of Ryan's MPH professors asking if I was available to babysit her 4-month-old baby girl for a couple hours. I told her that if she wanted to bring her over, I'd be happy to watch her. So a few minutes later, I met baby Isabella for the first time. She's as good as she is beautiful. The guys entertained her for me while I peeled potatoes. Ryan fed her a bottle, and she loved him!

She was very content to have me hold her and to watch everyone. Ryan was a huge help and not only mashed and seasoned the potatoes for me, but he also carried the casseroles and stuffing to the oven in the upstairs apartment and kept an eye on them. I didn't even have to think about them at all. And they were cooked perfectly and right on time!

Everyone loved having a baby around the house and were sad when she had to leave a couple hours later. I felt like I was having a vision of our life in a couple years! All that was left for dinner was putting the crescent rolls in the oven and getting the food on the table. Ryan had the honor of carving the turkeys for me.

Thanksgiving Menu
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole
Green Bean Casserole
Grandma's Asparagus Casserole
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Crescent Rolls with Honey Butter Glaze
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Savory Cheeseball with Strawberry Preserves

Somehow, we managed to save room for pie. I had warmed them in the oven while we ate dinner, and they were delicious with a dollop of whipped cream.

The girls and I cleaned up the kitchen and made up plates of leftovers for everyone to take home. Then we played a game of monopoly, watched football, and enjoyed a scrumptious cheese ball and crackers.

I am so thankful for a wonderful day spent with Ryan and good friends. We definitely missed being with our families, but we were glad for the opportunity to provide a Thanksgiving meal for those who were away from their families as well. My favorite moment from the day was when they asked Ryan to "give thanks" for the food as we all held hands around the table. What an amazing oppportunity for them to hear us thank the Lord for His provision and goodness. We pray that our lives will continue to be a testimony of His work in us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks

If we were at home right now, we'd be participating in our church's annual Thanksgiving Praise Service. It's a special time dedicated to sharing with each other the specific ways the Lord has blessed us this year. I think this is the first one I've missed in 25 years. It's one of my favorite events of the year. I love hearing firsthand accounts of God's goodness. To me, this service is what Thanksgiving is really all about.

Every year around the holidays, we hear people remind us to remember the real meaning of Christmas. We're encouraged to look past the gifts and decorations and busyness of family gatherings and focus instead on the birth of Christ. I think that the same principle should apply to Thanksgiving as well. Sadly, on a holiday set aside specifically to count our blessings, most people are more concerned with honoring family traditions, creating and eating delicious food, spending time with friends and family, and watching football. None of those things are wrong, and can all be perfectly fine ways to celebrate the holiday. However, if that is all this day means, then you are missing the point.

Just as giving gifts at Christmas time is a way of remembering that God gave us the perfect Gift in Jesus Christ, so should our actions on Thanksgiving reflect a heart of gratitude. Spend time with your family. Enjoy a beautifully roasted turkey and Grandma's pumpkin pie. But more importantly, set aside time to thank the Lord for the blessings in your life. If this year, you were, for some reason, unable to be with friends or family, eat a typical Thanksgiving meal, or play a game of football in the backyard, you should still be content to celebrate Thanksgiving. Because it truly is simply a time to "give thanks." Of course, more than likely the Lord has blessed you with people you care about and you will be able to appreciate the well-loved traditions of the day.

This is our annual Thanksgiving Picture from a couple years ago (not to be confused with our annual Cousin Picture, which is taken on Christmas Day). These are my sisters, my cousins, and my brothers-in-law. And although we can't be with them this year, I am so incredibly thankful for each one of them!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Plans

My simple Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us has transformed into a full-blown holiday with about 15 other people. Our friends asked if I would be willing to cook Thanksgiving dinner for all of us, and they'll pay for the groceries. We'll be celebrating on Saturday since Ryan and the others have class all day Thursday. I'm very excited to have a chance to cook a real Thanksgiving dinner. And I am immensely grateful that my parents have taught me well! Tomorrow I will be heading back to the grocery store for the third time this week, and I hope to have all the shopping done by then. Fortunately, our friends live in a big house with three separate kitchens, so I will not be lacking in oven space or refrigerator space.

This Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful to be living in a country where I can still buy the food we are used to eating. Although it's not home, there are so many places in the world where there is much, much less. God has been very good to us this year.

I'm not sure yet how I feel about spending the actual Thanksgiving Day alone. More than likely, I'll be at the pool with some friends for a couple hours which will make it seem even more unlike a holiday. But I do plan to watch football all afternoon. Ironically, this is one of the few years that my team is playing on Thanksgiving, and I'll miss watching it with my family.

We're also getting to the point where I need to start taking an inventory of our toiletries and make a list of what needs to be purchased over the break. Then starts the process of deciding what clothes to bring home. That will be especially easy this time seeing as how we'll be coming from 85 degree weather and heading towards 30 and 40 degrees. I am now starting to think about using up the food we have on hand and buying as little as possible. This always makes meal preparation interesting. But I know that if we can make it through the next two and a half weeks, we will be greeted with plates of Christmas cookies, amazing snacks, and delicious meals back at home. We're almost there!

More Crafted Items

It's been a little while since I've posted a knitting update. I think I'm coming to the end of my projects for the semester. It's too close to flying home for me to start something, but I feel a little lost without some yarn and needles sitting by my bed. Here's what I've completed recently (and no surprise, they are all baby hats):

First, a chunky brown beanie made of organic cotton. It was knit on large needles so it's extremely soft and stretchy. This little hat was a quick knit as the large needles required only a small number of stitches. I experimented with the look and ripped out a couple hats before coming up with this one.

I also made a pair of matching Mary Jane booties. I don't have a picture of those, but you might be seeing them a little later.

Next, we have a soft pink lacy hat. I think it will be cuter on a baby, because the picture on the pattern is absolutely precious. This was a free online pattern from Lion Brand Yarn.

Finally, I've been a little obsessed lately with baby earflap hats. I think they are just the cutest and can be for little boys or girls. I found a simple pattern on Ravelry and used a beautiful gray bamboo/wool blend with a couple cream stripes. (Sidenote: If you are interested in knit or crocheted projects, check out http://www.ravelry.com/. It is the best online resource for finding new patterns - a lot of which are free.)

If I make this hat again, I will start the stripes a little lower and probably make three instead of two.

I also am almost done with an adorable cardigan hooded sweater. The only problem is I ran out of yarn. I know, I know - one of the first lessons any knitter learns is to buy enough yarn to complete the whole project. Technically, I did have enough yarn, but I used some of it to make the blue slouchy hat and honestly thought I had another ball of yarn in my bag. I'm hoping that A.C. Moore still has that yarn in stock while I'm home, or else I guess I'm ripping out the hat! A hoodie with no hood and only one arm probably wouldn't be much use for anyone!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Everyday Inspiration

I've recently been watching old episodes of various cooking shows on my computer. If I could have only one TV station, I would choose Food Network. The chefs are so creative and concoct the most decadent, luxurious, complicated foods I can imagine. I always think, "I could do that!" Then as soon as the show ends, it becomes, "Yeah, that's not going to happen." Suddenly, it doesn't seem so impressive that I substituted rosemary for parsley on roasted potatoes. My dream is to one day take a cooking class from a famous chef. I'm thinking that since we'll be living in New York City for a couple years, that would be the place to make that happen! Ryan said he would do take a class if it was one where Bobby Flay teaches guys how to grill. I'd better start saving for that now. Although, I'm sure there will be more pressing needs for our money in the meantime. You know, little things like groceries, gas, and airline tickets.

So tonight, I was online researching said airline tickets, and couldn't help wishing for a sweet dessert. We finished off the batch of chocolate chip cookies days ago. I made, and ate, vanilla pudding earlier in the week, and we now have nothing resembling dessert anywhere in our 2 cabinets. But on my third trip to the refrigerator, where I open the door and hope something delicious will magically appear, I noticed a half container of fat-free plain yogurt. This was our "sour cream" last week in our chili and nacho dip since IGA was out of real sour cream. I was hoping to make something with chocolate, but due to my new-found cooking shows, I wanted to also add an unexpected flavor to try out my Iron Chef skills.

I combined the yogurt with unsweetened cocoa powder I had on hand. I sweetened it with pure Grenadian honey and added a splash of lime juice. Some heavy cream would have been nice, but all I had was 1% milk. Thanks to google, I learned that adding melted butter to milk was a quick substitute for cream, if you don't mind the extra fat. Since I'm never opposed to adding a little butter to food, I gave it a try. As it turns out, it cut the tartness of the yogurt just fine. I poured the mixture into small glasses, put them in the freezer for about a half hour, and then topped them with blackberries before serving.

It probably would have also worked to add the berries to the mixture and put the whole thing in the blender before freezing it. But, for using only ingredients I had on hand, and also satisfying my sweet tooth (for the time being), I would have to say it was a success. And if I can do this, anybody can!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

One Month Away

This semester is absolutely flying by for some reason. We'll be home in just 4 short weeks. Ryan has much to accomplish in that short amount of time. The material continues to be piled on each day, and finals are quickly approaching. I'm getting close to the time where I have to be careful about how much food I buy at the grocery store so we don't end up with extra groceries when we are ready to leave. Before that time comes, though, we'll be enjoying a traditional, if somewhat quiet, Thanksgiving dinner. I've already been stocking up on things like pumpkin pie filling and cranberries as I see them in IGA. Hopefully, I can find a turkey that will fit in my little toaster oven.

This past week was busy and full of new and exciting things. On Monday morning, I went with a couple friends to renew my visa. Each time we come to Grenada, I'm granted a visa that allows me to stay in the country for 3 months since I am not the one in school. That means that if we are on the island for longer than that amount of time, I have to renew my visa. No one is exactly sure what happens if you don't get it renewed. I asked if I would be deported (free trip home!) but was told we'd probably have to pay a hefty fine at the airport instead. Or they wouldn't let me leave the country. That seems counter intuitive to me, but I'd rather not take my chances.

So, armed with my passport, a letter from the school stating that Ryan was currently a student, and a book to read, we made the trip to the Immigration office close to downtown St. George's. When we arrived, I filled out my application and handed it, along with my passport and letter, to the officer. I thought everything was going smoothly, until I was told that my name was not on the letter. Apparently, they need the school to specifically ask that I be allowed to stay on the island for the duration of the semester. The school must have someone new writing the letters, because this has been a standard letter they've issued hundreds of times a year. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything I could do except head back home, get a new letter, and make the trip back up there before my visa expired on Friday. At least I knew where to go now.

Once I made it back to our apartment, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and spend the afternoon at the pool. As it turns out, I met a really nice girl who lives in the building next to us. We talked for a couple hours at the pool and had a great time together. Ironically, Ryan and her husband met at the library that day as well. I've gotten to know her better this past week and she and her husband have recruited us to join their kick ball team next semester. Ryan has already informed me that we will be practicing over our break.

Thursday morning, I went with another girl to try again to renew our visas. This time, it could not have gone any smoother. We were out of there in less than half an hour with no problems. They even extended us an extra month at no charge.

Last night we had a cook out with a few of our friends off campus. I spent most of the day watching my newly-discovered HGTV channel on the internet and making potato salad, pistachio fluff, and a red velvet cake. We had a great evening together and it was the perfect end to a busy week.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chinese Cuisine

I meant to post this last week, but somehow I never got around to it. A few weeks ago, I made deviled eggs for a tailgating party. While I was boiling the eggs, I noticed one of the shells must have cracked because there were little ribbons of egg in the boiling water. It reminded me of egg drop soup, and I was curious to see if the recipe for egg drop soup was made in a similar way.

Egg drop soup is one of my favorite things to order at a Chinese restaurant. But I'm always disappointed that it comes in such a small bowl and with only a couple mushrooms (and green onions, if I'm lucky). I found a super easy recipe online and gave it a try last week. The only problem I had was that the grocery store had absolutely no chicken stock or broth. I had to use vegetable stock instead. It probably would have been better with chicken, but it was actually pretty tasty! I loaded it up with mushrooms and green onions. And I was fortunate enough to find white pepper at the store. Add that plus a little ginger and soy sauce and you have the perfect broth. Once the soup is simmering, pour in slightly beaten eggs and they immediately turn into the delicious little ribbons just like in a restaurant.

In addition to the egg drop soup, I made a quick chicken and vegetable stir fry. The vegetables would have been better in a Japanese stir fry rather than Chinese, but you use what you have down here! With a glaze made from combining soy sauce, local Grenadian honey, ginger, and garlic powder, the meal became one of our new favorites.

I'm hoping to find chicken stock sometime in the next few weeks so I can try the soup again, along with a new recipe I found for orange chicken.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How to Survive a Hurricane

Friday started out just like any other day. Ryan spent most of the day in class. I worked on some knitting projects, sent a few emails, went to the gym, and made my grocery list. We had planned to go out for dinner later that evening and then stop by IGA on the way home.

Sometime during the afternoon, I noticed a few friends here in Grenada started posting things on Facebook about a tropical cyclone heading our way. I had never heard of a tropical cyclone, much less that we were within a few hours of experiencing one. After a little research, I discovered that according to NHA, a tropical cyclone is the broader term for a storm that can be further classified as a hurricane, tropical storm, or tropical depression. I also saw that Tropical Storm Tomas was heading our direction and was scheduled to hit sometime on Saturday.

If you're like me, I had no idea where Grenada was located before we moved here. We are actually one of the southernmost countries in the Caribbean, just a couple hundred miles north of South America.

Typically, most hurricanes or tropical storms hit to the north of Grenada. One memorable exception is Hurricane Ivan which devastated Grenada in 2004.
Ivan passed directly over Grenada on September 7, 2004, killing 39 people. The capital, St. George, was severely damaged and several notable buildings were destroyed, including the residence of the prime minister. Ivan also caused extensive damage to a local prison, allowing most of the inmates to escape. The island, in the words of a Caribbean disaster official, suffered "total devastation." According to a member of the Grenadian parliament, at least 85% of the small island was devastated. Extensive looting was reported. In all, damage on the island totalled $815 million. - Wikipedia

Although Tomas was still catagorized as a Tropical Storm, the island was a little chaotic Friday evening. I heard someone outside our room say that businesses were closing at 4pm to allow employees time to make preparations. I immediately started doing laundry so we'd have clean clothes for a while if we lost our power and water during the storm. I also filled a gallon-sized pitcher with filtered water so we'd have some extra on hand. When Ryan got home from class around 5pm, we decided to leave for the grocery store immediately. At the bus stop, we saw that 50-60 other people had the same idea. We knew it would take a while to get on a bus, and began to call friends that we know have cars. As it turns out, one of those friends drove right past us as we were calling him. He was kind enough to pick us up and take us (along with a couple other friends) to the grocery store.

The usual 6-7 minute trip took over 20 minutes because of the traffic (and because there are no traffic laws in Grenada - you can drive wherever you can fit your car, pull out in front of people, pass on a two-lane road, and stop on the road to talk to someone on the sidewalk). As we pulled into the grocery store, huge rain drops started falling. We ran to the entrance, and saw that they closed at 5pm! I'm not sure if they ran out of food or if they just wanted to get home themselves. Either way, we piled back in the car and drove to Food Fair a couple minutes down the road. Fortunately, it was still open, but I'm quite sure they violated some fire code (if one exists down here) for the number of people in a building at one time.

The scene was chaotic! People were filling their carts with anything they could get their hands on. Apparently, they thought they wouldn't have access to a grocery store for a couple months. One person had 3 or 4 bags of flour and sugar in their cart. I'm not sure that's going to be much use if the island loses power, though! The five of us filled a couple small baskets with cereal, crackers, peanut butter, boxed milk, bottles of water, and juice. Then the fun began. The line for each cash register was literally to the back of the store. We probably waited in line for almost an hour and a half. A couple of our friends went next door to Rick's and ordered a few pizzas for dinner. We snacked on our crackers while we waited in line.

Finally, we made it through the craziness, and enjoyed a delicious dinner. By this time, the rain had stopped, and things looked relatively calm again. But we still expected the majority of the storm to hit on Saturday. That evening, we called my family, watched a movie, and went to bed praying that the storm would pass quickly.

The next morning, we woke up to gray skies and a very light rain. We checked the weather online, and we were no longer in the path of the storm! Tomas had moved north of us during the night. It was still expected to become a hurricane as it continued on it's path, but we were so thankful to be spared from it this time! I called my family again to let them know we were fine, and Ryan headed back to the library for the rest of the day.

We actually experienced a little more of the storm during church on Sunday morning. Heavier rains and wind came through the area, but nothing dangerous at all. So our first experience with a hurricane in the Caribbean was a little anti-climactic. Not that anyone is complaining, though! I'll be heading to the grocery store again this afternoon to get some real food for the week as we can't live on peanut butter crackers for very much longer.
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