Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Soccer, Parties, and a Date

This weekend seemed to fly by with one fun activity after another. The best part is we now have less than 2 weeks until we're home! Friday night was a birthday party for a friend at The Beach House. The gorgeous setting was the perfect backdrop for our color scheme of white, cream, and gold. Decorating the tables and designing name cards kept me busy last week. We topped the white linen tablecloths with Birds of Paradise in rectangular vases surrounded by gold sashes. White and cream rose petals and gold beads were sprinkled around the tables. And a brown and gold wrapped chocolate sat at each place setting.

While the USA was still in the World Cup, we watched all the games with our friends at De Big Fish, a great little restaurant on the beach. Here are a couple pictures of Ryan and I on our way to the game this weekend. Even the sides of the road are beautiful down here!

On Sunday afternoon we had a barbecue at a friend's house to say good-bye to some of the favorite professors in the MPH program who are leaving after this semester. There has been a lot of drama among the faculty in recent weeks. A couple of the best and most qualified professors did not have their contracts renewed due to disagreements with the department chair. And a few other professors decided to leave when they found out. One of the professors who was asked to not come back is a Christian and has had a remarkable testimony of God's sovereignty in the situation. Ryan has enjoyed the time spent talking with him, and we'll miss him and his sweet family.

Yesterday Ryan and I stopped by the location where the banquet will be held next Friday. The restaurant has put together an incredible menu for us, and I can't wait to see it all come together. We'll have more pictures next weekend, but here is a sneak peek at the invitation and place card we created for the occasion. (Menu choice is listed on the name card to help the waiters.) The colors of the flowers match the decorations at the resort.

After our quick stop at the resort, Ryan and I headed to IGA. The grocery store is actually located at one end our little mall. We decided to check out the food court first, and ended up splitting a small cheese pizza. We both saw the Chocolate Espresso Milkshake at the same time and ordered one of those while we waited for our pizza. We ended up sitting in the food court and talking for a couple hours. I love spontaneous, unplanned dates!

These next two weeks will be a blur of banquet planning, baking cupcakes for another birthday next week, and packing our room. Yes, even though we are only gone for a month, we have to pack up our entire room and lock it in our closet. This also means we have to buy a padlock for the closet. We've been told that it is not wise or safe to leave anything accessible to the maintenance people or other workers who have access to our room. It makes for a lot of work and planning, not to mention that we are now trying to eat things we have on hand and not buy extra food unnecessarily. It will all be worth it, though, when we're back in Greenville spending time with our friends and family again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Culinary Experiment

I'm not quite sure what put the idea into my head, but tonight I attempted to make homemade ravioli and marinara sauce for dinner. I heard that once you make your own pasta, you'll never go back to the store-bought variety again. With only three ingredients, how hard could it be?

Making the dough was easy enough. You scoop two cups of flour right onto the table, which was pretty fun. Make a well in the center, sprinkle it with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and then crack two eggs into the well. I beat the eggs with a fork, then gradually incorporated the flour into the eggs. My dough was a bit too crumbly, so I added a couple tablespoons of water. Next, I kneaded the dough "until smooth and elastic." It took about 10 minutes kneading by hand. Apparently if I had a Kitchen Aid Mixer or bread machine, I could just throw all the ingredients in there and let it do all the work. But instead, I got in a good arm work out! Finally, I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

During that time I went to work on the marinara sauce. I sauteed one cup of diced onions in olive oil, then added two cans of diced tomatoes and one large can of crushed tomatoes, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, a little sugar, and 1/2 cup of water. After I brought it to a boil, I let it simmer on the stove until we were ready to eat. (Next time, remind me to take it off the heat a couple minutes before dinner . . . we had to eat our salad and bread while waiting for it to cool.)

I made the filling for the ravioli before starting on the pasta so it could have a chance to chill in the refrigerator. I love ravioli because there are a hundred different combinations for fillings and sauces. Tonight I mixed 1 cup of ricotta cheese, 1 cup of shredded Italian cheese blend (Romano, Asiago, Parmesan, and Mozzarella), 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives, 2 teaspoons of basil, and 1 egg. I actually have quite a bit of the filling left over, so I need to find another recipe where I can use it.

The hardest part of making the ravioli for me was rolling out the dough. I rolled about a quarter of the dough at a time. Without a pasta machine, rolling the dough out to the correct thickness by hand is quite a job because of its elasticity. It's also very possible that I did something wrong while I made the dough and the consistency was wrong. My first batch was pretty thin, but by the last one, my arms hurt, I was hungry, and Ryan needed to leave for class soon, so it wasn't as thin as it should have been.

Once I rolled out a section, I scooped about a teaspoon-full of filling onto half the dough, about 1/2" apart. I brushed an egg wash on the other half and folded it on itself. Next, I used a pizza cutter to cut out the ravioli, and I sealed the edges as best I could. My ravioli were odd little shapes and not perfect squares with crimped edges. I'll have to work on that for next time. I covered them with a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out while I finished rolling out the rest of the dough.

Cooking the ravioli was the easiest part. Simply drop the ravioli into a pot of boiling, salted water and cook for 5 minutes, or until they float to the top. Due to the thickness of my pasta, I should have cooked them for a little longer. But the flavor was fantastic! The filling was rich and flavorful and paired perfectly with the marinara sauce.

In summary, fresh, homemade pasta tastes so much better than dried, boxed pasta. But without a stand mixer or pasta machine, it is very labor-intensive. That's not so bad for me because I don't have anything better to do with my time. In fact, I'll probably try it again - maybe with lasagna noodles or fettuccine. I'd also like to try drying homemade pasta and see how that compares to the store-bought version. However, in a few years when we have little kids running around and I can't even remember what it was like to have free time, I'm sure I'll be back to buying pasta again. Unless Ryan wants to buy me a pasta machine!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Way to His Heart

While Ryan was away this past weekend, I occupied myself by watching World Cup soccer games and planning a week of Ryan's favorite dinners. His flight home on Saturday morning was inexplicably cancelled at the last minute. Fortunately, he was able to get another flight on Sunday, and spent Saturday at a baseball game and exploring the city with friends. So apart from another day apart and a re-shuffling of my meal schedule, everything worked out fine.

Sunday evening I baked Ryan one of his all-time favorite desserts - apple pie. I even splurged and bought some vanilla ice cream at the store. It's the first time we've bought ice cream since we've been down here since the store brand costs at least $6 for a half-gallon. If you want Breyer's, you'll easily pay twice that.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I did not make the pie crust (sorry, Mom!). But I have a good excuse. I own exactly one glass pie plate that also doubles as an oven-safe casserole dish. And because I was using it for our Sunday night snack, it was cheaper to buy a frozen pie crust in a disposable pie plate than just the pie plate.

Another one of Ryan's favorite foods is homemade nacho dip. I layer refried beans, sour cream, salsa, cheddar cheese, and chopped green onions in an oven-safe dish. Normally I would add ground beef flavored with taco seasoning, but I didn't have any on hand this time. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, add a couple bottles of our new favorite soda, and you have the perfect welcome-home snack.

A couple weeks ago, Ryan asked if I could make a quiche sometime. When I was growing up, quiche was my absolute favorite meal. I requested Mom's homemade quiche every year for my birthday dinner. I'm surprised I hadn't thought to make it in the two years we've been married! So last night I attempted my first quiche. My glass pie plate was free, so I made the crust from scratch. However, when I get home to Greenville, I will be digging through my box of kitchen utensils for my pastry blender. Cutting butter into flour with two knives is not an easy task. The recipe called for a filling of spinach, red bell pepper, and cheddar cheese. I added mushrooms and onions (because onions make everything taste better!).

The quiche didn't last long. We finished it at lunch today. Tonight we are having another dinner favorite - Japanese hibachi: sauteed beef, zucchini, onions, and mushrooms with brown rice and authentic Japanese white sauce. But I'm most excited about a couple experiments later in the week. We'll see how they turn out. For now, I'm off to peruse the Internet for next week's meals!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Only in Grenada

Last week I mentioned that we are now in the rainy season here. Considering that during the dry season we hardly had any water shortages, I wasn't expecting anything to change now that water is plentiful all over the island again. I failed to take into account that this is Grenada.

For the past week, we've had low water pressure every day. And last Thursday we went most of the day with no water at all. The low water pressure only comes at the most convenient times - when we've just come back from working out and need to shower, or when I have a sink full of dirty dishes and need to cook dinner. Usually when we lose water pressure, it's the cold water that is gone. And although it's miserable to take a cold shower, it's impossible to take a scalding hot shower (or do anything else with super hot water for that matter).

We found out on Sunday that the school is getting a third water tank and due to upcoming inspections, they have to empty out the other two (at different times) for cleaning. It does make the most sense for them to take care of this during the summer; the only people still here are 4th term medical students and MPH students, which is just a fraction of the number of people here August through May. Still, I don't take it for granted anymore that there is going to be cold water (or any water) available when I need it.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store to find something for dinner and stock up on a few necessities. Of course there were no tomatoes, bananas, oranges, or celery. And they rearranged all the egg cartons to cover the gaping hole where the milk should be. But they did have Chinese fortune cookies, wonton chips, roasted red pepper humus, and fresh goat cheese.

I wanted to make a nice dinner for Ryan since it would be his last meal at home before flying to Detroit. (He's the best man in his friend's wedding this weekend.) I found 2 sirloin steaks for only $5.60. The goat cheese is normally $10, but was on sale for $1.87, so that came home with me as well. We enjoyed a salad of romaine lettuce, goat cheese, caramelized walnuts, and diced green apples, drizzled with Balsamic vinegar. I marinated the steaks in Italian dressing and served them with roasted potatoes and sauteed zucchini and onions.

Ryan left around 5am this morning, and I'm missing him already. But I have a few things to occupy my time until he comes home. Tomorrow I'll spend the morning at the pool and then go out to dinner with some friends. Friday morning I'll be watching the US World Cup soccer game at a restaurant on the beach with some other friends. And then on Saturday I'll get our laundry done and bake a few of Ryan's favorite foods to surprise him when he gets home. Here's hoping I have plenty of (cold) water and a stocked grocery store this weekend!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Best of Summer

Living in a year-round tropical climate can make you forget that in other parts of the world, there are actually different seasons. We've been enjoying warm sunny weather since we arrived here in February, but summertime is just beginning for our friends and family back home. One of my favorite summer memories is eating dinner with my family on our screened-in porch almost every evening. The grill was put to good use as often as possible, with Dad cooking everything from barbecued chicken and flavorful steaks to fresh vegetables and juicy hamburgers. Mom made sure we had plenty of potato salad, baked beans, watermelon, and iced tea. There is nothing better than enjoying delicious food and spending the evening talking with family.

This week, as I obviously have been thinking about summers at home, I decided to try some new recipes that would remind us of all the good times we've enjoyed. Tuesday night I found an easy but classic breaded chicken recipe. I'm sure everyone has their own version, but I love the fact that it is easily adapted to whatever spices or ingredients you have on hand. I crushed a few whole wheat Ritz crackers and added Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, ground pepper, basil, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. After dipping the chicken breasts in an egg wash and then in the crumb mixture, I laid them in a disposable aluminum pan and put a few pieces of butter around them. They cooked perfectly in my little oven (which I am loving, by the way). Ryan loves glazed carrots, and I finally remembered to save some carrots to make them for him.

Tonight I had a lot of fun planning and preparing the meal. I found an easy, low-fat baked macaroni recipe and made one of Ryan's favorite meals - Skillet Meatloaf. I found this recipe before I had an oven, but we still love it. I add breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and a little bit of milk to ground beef and shape it into hamburger-sized patties. They cook in a skillet for about 8 minutes. We love to top them with a sauce of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. Of course summer isn't the same without baked beans and deviled eggs, and I made corn muffins as well. Homemade sweet iced tea was the perfect complement to the meal. I think I'll make another pitcher to have on hand for these hot summer days.

Right now we're enjoying our own version of summer here in Grenada. But in just 4 weeks, you can find me on my parents' back porch, talking well into the evening with a tall glass of iced tea in my hand.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Everyday Life

This week I was reminded how blessed I am in so many areas. I have a loving, godly husband who is working hard (and succeeding) at the training necessary to have a job one day that will provide for our family and enable me to stay at home. And I have the opportunity during the next couple years to support him, indulge my love for cooking, and also have free time to relax, read, and pursue a couple hobbies. After 2 years of working 50-60 hours a week at a stressful, high-pressured sales job, I promised Ryan that I would never complain about being bored down here. And although life is much slower and quieter now, it is anything but boring. Each day presents a new challenge or experience. Here are a couple pictures from the week.

Sunset on Campus

Colorful Caterpillar

The dry season here in Grenada is from January to June, and this year it was particularly dry. A lot of people living off campus experienced water shortages at some point. Fortunately, we never had more than a couple hours without water. But overall the island has been pretty brown since we arrived. That is, up until a couple weeks ago. We are officially in the rainy season now, with characteristic rain showers almost every day. It rains quite often at night, and we usually have a brief but torrential downpour at some point during the day. The downside to the rain is all the mosquitoes swarming the island. We try to put on insect repellent, especially in the evenings. Yesterday I made a quick grocery run around 5:30. I had to wait for the bus for about 15 minutes, and consequently counted over 20 bug bites on one leg when I got home. (I also have a few on my arms.) Looks like I'll be making another trip to the store for some Benadryl.

Of course, with all this rain, the island has become lush and green almost overnight. Here are a few pictures of the SGU campus.

I couldn't ask for a more beautiful place to live!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Pretty in Pink

My fun project for the weekend was baking and decorating 6 dozen cupcakes. One of Ryan's professors is expecting a baby next month, so the MPH students and faculty had a baby shower for her this afternoon. I spent yesterday afternoon baking the cupcakes 6 at a time in my toaster oven. It took a few hours, but fortunately I had a couple good movies to watch. A friend came over in the evening, and we had so much fun decorating the cupcakes with pink and white frosting and sprinkles and all sorts of yummy toppings.

One of our favorite sodas here in Grenada comes in these pretty bottles. I've been collecting them over the past few months, and decided to use them for the shower as vases. The pink and white flowers are plentiful on the island. I cut some this morning a couple miles from campus. Here are a few pictures of the cupcakes and flowers at the baby shower.

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