Monday, April 14, 2014

silk tie dyed Easter eggs

This year for Easter we're making lots of pretty decorated eggs.  We have the PAAS box with little dye tablets for the girls to do this week but I also decided to do something different.  Last year I found gorgeous photos of pretty eggs that had been dyed with old silk ties.  I asked my mom to hit the local Goodwill and pick some up for me and I've been saving them all these months for this project.

Admittedly, this craft project was mostly for my enjoyment.  Almost all the work fell on my shoulders but the very last step of unwrapping the eggs to reveal the gorgeous colors, I left to the kids.  They loved it and it was so much fun.  If you spread the steps out over the course of a few days it's not really that time consuming.  It's certainly not difficult.

What you need:
White raw eggs
Patterned silk ties or cloth
Old white t-shirt or pillow case
Twist ties
White vinegar
Varnish or glaze

Step 1: Get out your selection of old silk ties.  The brighter and bolder the patterns the better.  Cut out the backing and open up the large piece of silk.

Step 2: Cut your tie into pieces that will wrap entirely around the raw egg.  We only have access to small white eggs so I was able to get 3-4 eggs wrapped with one tie.  With large white eggs you will get two eggs per tie.  Make sure the silk is tight and smooth against the egg.  Use a twist tie to hold the silk in place.  Cut the ends if they are long.

Step 3: Cut the old white t-shirt or pillow case into small pieces that you now wrap around the silk-wrapped egg.  It's not as crucial to make it smooth and tight but do your best and use a twist tie to secure the fabric.

Step 4: Place the wrapped eggs in a large pot for boiling, add 1/4 cup white vinegar to the water and set your temperature on high.  Once the water is boiling set your timer for 20 minutes.  After the 20 minutes is up, remove the eggs and let them cool completely.

This is the step I let the children complete.  It's the best part.  Unwrap the eggs and reveal the amazing patterns that have transferred to the eggs. Let them dry completely.

Step 5: Glazing the eggs.  This step is completely optional.  The eggs are certainly lovely without a sheen but we had a little bottle of Crayola bead glaze from another craft project so we painted the clear glaze on the eggs.  It enhanced the colors and made them extra gorgeous.  I've read that a little coating of olive oil would shine them up as well.

It's really fun to see which ties produced which patterns on the eggs.
We're displaying them in a pretty basket but since the boiled egg inside can't keep forever we will likely display them until Easter and then toss them.  It's not advisable to eat the eggs since you aren't sure what kind of dyes are being used and the glaze adds an extra unappetizing layer.  Better to eat the PAAS eggs!  But these ones sure are pretty.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

we're drinking a little more here in Ethiopia right now

We have less than two months until we say goodbye to Ethiopia.  Only a few weeks until the moving company comes and packs up our life.  It's sort of moving too quickly and not quickly enough all at the same time.  

For all the entertaining we've done in Addis Ababa, we've accumulated quite a sophisticated liquor cabinet.  Gorgeous bottles of port, bourbon, liquors for baking, gin! We're grown-ups now! In the last few months, we've been drinking casually on the weekends and even in the evenings.  I hate to see some of our collection get wasted since it cannot be packed to move on with us to our next post.  It's a problem all expats have.  Gotta get rid of the liquor!  I swear we're not turning into alcoholics or anything but if you're familiar with the home stretch of any overseas tour, you'll know a good stiff gin and tonic can ease the pain a bit.  

Anyway, now that you've thoroughly decided I'm not nearly as sweet as you thought I was...HA!

Last weekend the sun was hot and we sat outside and let the girls ride their bikes, splash in the water and enjoy the afternoon.  

Enter- plan to get ride of liquor:
My husband drinks his whiskey on the rocks (or rock I guess since it’s a single huge spherical ice cube).  But I like mine as a cocktail.  I’m not allowed to use the “good” whiskey but too be honest, I don’t care.  Jamesons or Jack Daniels is good enough for me.  A seventy dollar bottle of whiskey definitely shouldn't be mixed with sugar syrup! HA!

The best cocktails are made with the freshest ingredients so slice some juicy limes and make a sugary syrup.  I like using the “raw” brown sugar found in Ethiopia.  It’s a dark brown color with a hint of molasses. 

Sara's Whiskey Sour
1 shot whiskey
Lime juice from 1 lime
Dash of sugar syrup (Just heat sugar and water 1:1 ratio until sugar dissolves)

Pour whiskey over ice and add the sugar and lime juice.  Stir.  Taste.  Add more of this or that to taste.  Some people like it sweeter, some more sour.  It’s up to you.  Have a few lime slices to garnish your drink.  

Sit back and sip while you make mental lists for pack-out!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lemony sweet crepes

I’m in love with crepes.  They’re so versatile!  Everything from cheese, ham, mushrooms, nutella, bananas...the list is endless.  They can be an entire meal or just a snack.  Have you ever made crepes from scratch?  It sounds a bit intimidating at first, but really it’s like making a very thin pancake. 

I've written about a basic crepe recipe before.  I like to replace the oil with browned butter now.  

Use a 9 inch non-stick skilled if you don’t have a crepe pan.  Heat it nice and hot (over medium heat) and rub on some butter for the first crepe.  The batter should sizzle and as you turn the batter to let it run and cover the entire pan, bubbles will form.  Within a minute the edges should start to peel up and this is when you flip.  Wait about another minute then slide it off onto a cooling wrack. 
Lemon juice on pancakes is typically a German treat.  If you want a quick sweet snack or even breakfast or dessert this simple crepe recipe is the perfect thing.  I made one for dessert yesterday and then had to make a second.  I ate both!

Lemony sweet crepes
Lemon wedges
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp browned butter. 

I use enough browned butter in my baking that I usually have a little bowl in the refrigerator that I can warm for this recipe.  If you don’t, here’s how you brown butter.  Place a stick of butter (or less if you like) in a sauce pan on medium heat.  Let it melt and bubble and sizzle until all the water in the butter has evaporated.  You will know this has happened when the bubbling and sizzling noises stop.  Use a heat proof spoon to stir the butter and you will notice that it’s browning.  Scrape up all the bits from the bottom and let it brown a bit until it smells nice and nutty.  Be careful not to brown too much, pour it into a heat proof glass bowl. 

Back to the lemony sweet crepes. 
Put a large skillet on the stove and heat over medium heat until nice and hot.  Place one crepe in the bottom and drizzle one tbsp of melted brown butter over the crepe, use the spoon to spread it over the entire thing.  Sprinkle on the sugar and let it cook for about a minute or two.  The sugar will bubble and dissolve with the butter.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon wedge on the crepe.  Turn off the heat and fold the crepe in half, then half again.  Eat it nice and hot with all that lemony sweet brown butter dripping over your fingers. 

Simple, yet decadent.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Warm roasted garlic bacon vinaigrette

I haven't made a green salad in weeks, maybe a month or more.  This is totally unlike me and I realized the reason behind this boycott has been simply lack of inspiration.  I am kind of done with the lettuce, tomato, cucumber balsamic vinaigrette routine.  Boring!  Am I right?

Just like most days I decided what I was making for dinner after surveying the refrigerator and seeing a few ingredients that needed to be used and I knew I could be creative with.  That's when I was inspired.

Enter: Squash, leftover cooked bacon, garlic and lettuce.

I introduce the roasted squash and walnut salad with warm roasted garlic bacon vinaigrette.  This salad is entree worthy and decadently delicious. The roasted garlic sounds like a lot but the flavor is actually quite mellow (since it's roasted) and when blended with the other ingredients makes the vinaigrette thick and creamy.  It's heavenly.
The last step, crumble the bacon in the roasted garlic vinaigrette and blend.
 Make this!  I promise you will not be unhappy you did.

For the salad:
Any lettuce will do.  Spinach, Romaine, Bib lettuce.  Whatever
Purple onion sliced very thinly in rounds.
2 cups cubed squash
1 cup walnuts

For the dressing:
1 1/2 heads of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
3 tsp fresh squeezed lime juice
Zest from one lime
3 Tbsp fresh coriander leaves
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp agave nectar or honey
6-8 slices cooked bacon

Prepare the salad
Slice off the tips of the garlic bulbs, drizzle with olive oil,  wrap the head in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet.   Add the squash to the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and salt.  Roast both ingredients at 400 degrees, 20-30 minutes for the squash or until they are tender but not mushy and 50 minutes for the garlic.  When finished, set aside at room temp.

Roast the walnuts on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  They should smell nutty and be slightly browned.  Set them aside as well

Tear the lettuce and place in a bowl with the onion and a few sprigs of coriander leaves.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare the vinaigrette
Removing the casings from the garlic and place the soft pulp in a bowl with tall sides or a glass measuring cup. Add the oil, vinegar, lime juice, zest, coriander, milk, and nectar and use an emulsion blender to combine.  If you don't have one you could do this in your blender or food processor.  My husband gave me an emulsion blender for Christmas this year and I'm in love with this gadget!  It's so handy!  Taste the dressing and add pepper and just a pinch of salt.  Add the bacon and blend.  Taste again. Season with more salt and pepper if needed.  Adding more citrus, oil or vinegar is definitely your preference and perfectly acceptable.

Assemble the salad
Warm the roasted squash slightly in the microwave.  Warm the vinaigrette just barely above room temperature.  Pile your salad from the refrigerator on a plate.  Top with a drizzle of dressing.  Add the squash and roasted walnuts.  Drizzle with more warm roasted garlic bacon vinaigrette.

If you're like me, snap a photo, then dig in!

Lessons from Ethiopia: staying busy is key to your happiness in this country

Side note before I start: This is what's keeping me very busy!  
Side note #2 the photos are sort of random in this post.  All are recent creations either for Ladytroupe Sweets or meals for my family.

It's widely known that keeping oneself busy with engaging and satisfying activities is great for a positive psyche.  In general, I am much happier and content when my life is full of interesting work and hobbies.  Finding this type of engaging activity is absolutely crucial as an expat in Addis Ababa.
Kofta pita sandwiches with hummus and tzatziki

At home I could get by with telling people that reading and shopping were my hobbies!  HA!  Here in Ethiopia, I identified the things that have always interested me (writing, photography, cooking, baking, crafting, decorating, styling.  Phew! That's a lot of interests) and focused my attention on them.  Instead of just viewing them as interests, I started viewing them as my skills, area of expertise and even my profession.  Doing this kept me busy in Addis and in turn, kept me happy.  More than happy, truly thriving.

I have some theories as to why I waited until moving to Ethiopia to really start mastering my interests. Looking back over the past two years, here are a few I've rolled around in my head.

As a family, we moved from the baby phase to the kid phase during our time living here.  I started Ladytroupe Sweets when Ashlynn was almost a year old.  She was still very young but I felt the need to pursue my interests.  I suddenly had the energy and maybe knowing that our family was complete and I didn't want to have another child helped me to really buckle down and get to work.  As a stay-at-home-mom I have more time for my interests now that the girls are getting older.  This theory probably has the most to do with my success with my business.  Not being pregnant or nursing while living in Ethiopia freed up a lot of my mental capacity and time to pursue other things.  Imagine that?!
Birthday cake for a first birthday party

Life in Addis can feel a bit isolating as a non-working parent of small children.  Our homes are all walled and gated, our friends are often in different neighborhoods.  I had large stretches of my day alone to sort through my ideas and write, work on my photography, develop recipes and ultimately launch Ladytroupe Sweets.  During some of this isolation, I knew that to stay sane I needed to stay busy (I'm always busy with my children but I'm talking about a different kind of busy.  A self enriching kind of busy), even if that meant I made the work for myself.

There is not much to do in Ethiopia with kids.  Yes, we hike, travel and spend days with friends at one another's homes but if I had time or the desire to go "do something", there wasn't a whole lot that I could do.  There's no shopping, no gym, no parks to picnic in. Especially no fun kid events at the library or other kid friendly community activities.  This meant that I focused my attention on exploring photography and blog worthy things in Addis alone.  Making a point to go visit some things I wouldn't take my kids to do in the city and bring my camera opened up a whole new world of interesting photo journalism for my blog.  Instead of just taking pictures of something with the rush of the kids around, I tried to work hard at taking in the scenes, framing photos in my mind and telling a story with the photographs back on my blog.  This activity kept me very busy for the first year and a half in Ethiopia.

Ladytroupe Sweets' inception has a lot to do with the lack of good baked goods available in Addis Ababa.  I love food and I've always loved to cook and bake but I quickly realized that if my family and I were going to eat the way we like to eat here in Ethiopia, I would have to step up my skills and do it all myself.  Some of the first things that inspired me were my pies.  I had always felt a little unsure of my pie making abilities.  One day I just decided to start practicing my pie crust and got the idea to make little hand pies.  The idea that I could try something, work at it, develop the recipe and perfect it over the course of a few days, blew my mind.  Since then, and having worked at it for the last year and half, I now have the confidence that I can create anything in my kitchen.  If I work at it, I can do it.  We've eaten like royalty while in Addis and I've moved from an average home cook to a real working professional.  I've worked hard and Addis truly inspired me to create good food not only for my family but for others.  Not having any "quick" or "prepared" meal options forced me to make everything from scratch and once I started doing it (making my own tomato sauces, salad dressings, bread, buttermilk, cakes, name it), it became easy and everything sure tastes better!
Apple, walnut and blue cheese crostini for a catering job

Ethiopia is a mecca for creative individuals.  There are very few hurdles to go through to work with other artists.  As a creative person you can take the time to perfect your art and then immediately market it to other people.  Since there are very limited options for retail in this town, people are excited to embrace and buy your work.  As a freelance photographer I found it very exciting that I could walk into a business and speak to the owners about taking photos.  The openness I experienced about using my photos on my blog and in turn providing the businesses some free PR, was liberating and exciting for someone like me who was practicing her craft.

Ethiopia might be the perfect storm for me.  All the stars aligned, everything fell into place, etc.  All my theories work together to make my time in Addis a perfect time for me to pursue all my creative interests.  I will forever be grateful for this country giving me the time, confidence and inspiration to do what I love.  That and my husband, who truly is the one supporting our family and allowing me to pursue the things that make me happy.

No matter where you are, stay busy, pursue what you love, get serious about your interests.  But especially do this in Ethiopia.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lessons from Ethiopia: Boycotting foodborne illnesses

Last weekend I was heartbroken after I was hit with a case of food poisoning after eating dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.  We've gone to Antica Pizza for two years and never had an issue with getting  sick from their food.  It was reliable.  Their pizza was on the rotation of only a handful of trusted meals that we eat out as a family here on the weekends.  We don't go out to eat in Addis for the amazing dining experience or the sensational food (although Sishu gets both of those categories right), we go out to eat for one reason and one reason only; to give me a break from the kitchen.  Three meals a day seven days a week I am preparing meals, not unlike lots of moms I know.  Like most mom/chefs, I need a break once in awhile.  Justin makes pancakes for breakfast on Saturday mornings and we go out to eat at least one meal on the weekends.  But, when you can no longer trust your most tried and true restaurants, what is a tired cook (read: Mom) to do?

Real life in a developing country comes with many challenges and the one I've learned endless lessons about, is how prevalent food borne illnesses are. 

My husband and I were riddled with parasites, E. coli and salmonella in Manila, Philippines. The city is full of restaurants and good food but the risk of getting sick was still high.  In Ethiopia, the risk is even greater.  Sanitation is poor, personal hygiene is even poorer.  Sewage pools on the side of roads.  People are defecating and urinating in public everywhere you look.  Food preparation and storage practices are unsafe.  There isn't a week that goes by that I don't hear of a friend who has been hit by food poisoning, parasites or bacterial infections.  It's so common that the embassy's medical clinic has a stack of laboratory sample forms that sit at the ready to hand to patients as they walk through the door.  Everyone keeps plastic stool sample collection cups at home in case of an episode.  It's just part of our life overseas.  An unfortunate part but one that we've become accustomed to.  We even have coined a term for the week following a bout of food poisoning.  We call it the "week of whatever".  After dropping a few pounds from being ill, you can get away with eating pretty much anything.  This past week I enjoyed a big bag of peanut M&Ms.  Yum! 
When we moved to Addis, and had to learn how to wash all our produce and eggs in bleach, I vowed that I would never let my family get sick from eating here.  I do all the cooking and food prep myself which means we've been really healthy here in Addis.  No parasites or bacterial infections!  We aren't adventurous about new restaurants.  We wait for recommendations from friends and we only go to a few places that have proven to be safe and clean.  This was all working in our favor until last weekend.  I ate a certain pizza and within an hour or so already could feel the stomach cramps and pains starting.  I was vomiting all night and sick most of the next day as well.  I was heartbroken.  It reminded me that nothing is safe here.  At any time our trusted meals outside of our home could make us ill.  I was sad and frustrated and just little more ready to leave Ethiopia.  Seriously Antica, you let me down!

What was this tired cook going to do?
I was told this is red basil but it looks more purple to me.  Made an amazing pesto!
I made pizza. All Saturday afternoon. The best damn pizza in Addis Ababa.  I proofed my yeast. I kneaded the whole wheat dough. I hand crushed the garlic into the purple basil pesto. I grated the Gruyere and sliced the mozzarella. I rolled out the dough. I heated my pizza stone.  I slathered on the sauce, layered on the toppings. and flipped it off my pizza peel.  I watched the crust bubble and crisp, I cut it with my pizza slicer and served it to my family.  I opened a bottle of fancy South African red wine (from our trip to Cape Town) and poured my husband and myself a glass.  Because the best damn pizza in Addis Ababa comes from my own kitchen and it's nice knowing I won't have my head in the toilet tonight.  

This tired chef decided to buck-up and boycott anymore belly aches in Ethiopia.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Lessons from Ethiopia: the low maintenance version of me

There was a time in my life where I wore more dresses and heels and in general cared more about my physical appearance.  That was before I moved to Ethiopia.  One aspect of different cultures, that is hard to ignore, is the influence of fashion or lack there of and how it changes the way you view yourself and package yourself within that culture.

In the Philippines I had no problem assimilating to the always dressed to impressed culture.  For much of my three years in Manila, I was either mothering a toddler, pregnant, mothering a newborn and nursing a child.  That stage of my life definitely dictated some of my physical appearance.  But leaving the house at any time meant that I put something "nicer" on.  I shopped a lot at the boutiques, had dresses and other apparel made, upgraded my makeup routine and regularly had hair cuts and highlights done.  It wasn't unusual for me to get a mani/pedi and I had regular facials and diamond peel treatments.

I felt pampered in Manila.  It was so easy to do.  Everywhere you turned there were cute locally made clothing for sale and salons. Fashion and pampering is part of the culture.

Ethiopia is a different sort of place for appearances*. Western fashion comes to Ethiopia by way of Chinese-made rejects. Pampering is a luxury average Ethiopians find foreign.  As my time has gone on, I have become less and less focused on how I look.  Almost to the point of not thinking about it at all.  It's extremely liberating!  Working in the kitchen all day from home requires comfortable shoes and work clothes which is usually jeans and a t-shirt.  If I am leaving the house, I put on a different pair of tennis shoes, a scarf, hat and sunglasses.  No makeup required.  Sometimes I comb my hair for a pony tail.

Because, here's the deal.  There is no where to go in Addis where you would be dressing to impress.  No one will see you and if you run into your expat friends you will notice they have the exact same outfit on.  No physical pampering going on.  I call it the Expat in Addis Uniform.  Heels are out of the question because they will get dirty and there are little or no sidewalks where you can walk anyhow.  The weather is cool enough for jeans and a t-shirt almost year round. It's almost as if you are dressing for a rugged outdoor camping adventure every day.

Some of my other routines have become low maintenance as well.  I wash my hair only twice a week now.  I use dry shampoo on  the other days.  Occasionally, I will skip a shower all together and it's not the strange incident that it used to be.  I shave my legs only when I know I will be wearing a dress (I've not gone completely hippie though-I shave under my arms every other day).  I wear sunscreen on my face and waxelene on my lips every day and that's it.  I have had two pedicures in two and a half years.  I only trim my hair every 3 months and get highlights every six months at the salon.  Which is why my hair is almost a foot longer than when we arrived in Addis.

Truly, the biggest change with becoming more low maintenance with my physical appearance is the time that it gives me to use my brain on other things.  I'm not kidding.  I used to spend a significant amount of time self assessing my appearance.  Adjusting myself, fussing with how this or that looked. Worrying about what others thought! Wow, that was probably the biggest time waster of all.  It's a wonderful feeling to just be myself and look more natural and be OK with it.  Let's be frank, age could have something to do with it.  As I get older I find I am more comfortable in my skin and like my body and my face more and more the way they are.  It's also because I am a busy person and I'd rather spend my time more efficiently.  But I know Ethiopia is influential in this transformation.  I love packing for family trips here.  My bag is full of just the bare essentials.  A bar of soap, toothpaste, sunscreen, hiking boots, pullovers, scarves and clean undies.  It's like packing as a man!

I do enjoy going the extra mile with my beauty routine for special events, dinners, balls or parties.  The extra special me looks so pretty for these things.  It's almost a shock!  But the daily me is someone I have come to love too.  I've come to love and embrace the lines at the corners of my eyes.  I like how it makes me look extra happy when I smile.  I like the feel of my worn jeans and the way my apron drapes over anything I wear.   I like the paleness of my skin after being diligent about sunscreen for years.

Ethiopia is not a place to show off your amazing Brazilian shoe collection.  It's not a place where you are trying to out-dress your friend to show off your wealth.  In a country where most people own just a few, often second hand garments, it's just not appropriate to make the gap between you and them any larger!

When we return to America this summer, I am sure that I will adjust my appearance accordingly.  America's fashion and personal maintenance culture is different from Ethiopia and the Philippines.  I am sure I will get back in the habit of shaving more frequently and wearing nicer clothing.  I am honestly, excited to shop in the States.  I do love shopping and look forward to upgrading some of my wardrobe.  But hopefully this more dressed down version of me mentally and physically won't entirely disappear.  I'm hoping to hold on to some of my low maintenance routines.  As long as I can keep the physical appearance part of me in perspective I'll be happy.

I'm thankful that Ethiopia has given me this new found freedom and insight into who I am deep down.  It's been nice focusing on the inner me instead of the outer me.  I like the low maintenance me and I'm going to embrace a few more months of it.

*It's worth noting that Ethiopian women are naturally very beautiful.  Their skin, eyes, hair.  It's all enviously gorgeous.  My loose observations as an outsider have been that it depends on an Ethiopians class, and whether they are from the countryside or grew up in Addis Ababa as to the style of beauty they are influenced by.  The traditional Ethiopian dress, hair styles, makeup, jewelry and even facial tatoos are amazing.  Women's beauty is a source of pride and many Ethiopian women take great pains to display and maintain their beauty.  My experience as an expat woman is very different.  The more relaxed style here seems to be reserved for expats.  Lucky me, I fit that category.  But seriously?  How do Ethiopians manage Addis in those insanely high heels?  It's a mystery!