color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

Tasty Tuesday – Picnic Food

So, I just now realized that I didn’t get around to any posts other than my Tasty Tuesday last week. Must have been busy, right? Considering we’ve been working on the exterior portion of our house, and the fact that we had 15 people for supper on Sunday (for which I made most of the food – yay!), I would say “busy” is a suitable adjective.

In light of the fact that we just had a big BBQ to celebrate our new home on Sunday, and you all will be celebrating Labor Day this coming weekend in the States, I thought it fitting to focus on the classic American picnic staple – Coleslaw.

What do you think of when you hear the word “coleslaw?” Is it made of shredded cabbage and carrots, or is it all minced up KFC style?  Does it have finely sliced green apple or fennel in it (yum!) or chopped celery? Is it creamy or does it have a light vinaigrette? Are there crunched up dry ramen noodles and broccoli stems as well? There’s many different types of slaw out there, and everyone has their favorite – or, if you’re me, you have several. Now, though I may not have one particular as my favorite, I do have one I know I don’t like – the super creamy, thick, mayo laden kind that just seems to glisten with cholesterol and form one big sticky lump on your plate. Yech.

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August 31, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | Leave a comment

Tasty Tuesday – Greek… kinda

There are times when I think I should have been born in another country.  Why?  Because I either identify with a particular aspect of the culture, or I really enjoy a wide range of foods from whatever nation that may be.  Let it be known that I love pretty much any kind of Greek or Mediterranean food, and I will never tire of it’s freshness and flavors.  I’m drooling again just thinking about it…

Here’s what I made for supper Sunday evening.

You should have seen how antsy Brook was getting as I plated this up so he could take a photo of it for me (my little camera’s battery died, so we had to pull out the big DSLR).  It was cute.

So what is it?  Chicken souvlaki on fresh homemade pita, with red onion, shredded lettuce, diced cucumber & tomato, with a bit of light and refreshing tzatziki sauce.  Some serious eats, if you ask me.  If you like fresh food, with bright clean flavors, that will even be friendly to your hips, this is a meal for you.

Let’s start with the base: pita bread.  You can either buy some pita or soft flatbread from your local grocery, then warm it before serving so it becomes flexible… or make your own.  I’ll link you to the recipe that I use, and boy is it fun to watch them puff up in the oven.  It’s like they’re alive!  Recipe: Homemade Pita Bread

Now, the toppings: seed and dice a couple of tomatoes and a whole cucumber, dice or thinly slice (up to you!) some red onion, and shred your choice of lettuce.  I tend to make my dice pretty small to keep the veggies from falling out of my pita all willy nilly, and make it easier distribute the flavors through every bite.  But, do it however you like it best.  After all, YOU are the one that will be eating it.

For the Chicken souvlaki: you’ll want to go ahead and prepare your marinade at least a few hours ahead, if not the day before, so your meat will have plenty of time to soak up the flavors and get tender.  Combine all of the following in a plastic zip-top bag, shake or massage to be sure all chicken is coated well, then place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

  • about 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast – cut into bite-size pieces or strips
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T white wine vinegar (though regular vinegar works fine as well)
  • 4-6 cloves of fresh garlic, minced (however garlicky you like!)
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 3 T Greek seasoning (or click here for a recipe to make your own)

When you are ready to prepare your meal, remove chicken pieces from plastic bag and thread onto skewers for grilling.  If you are unable to grill – like us, as it was raining again – you can go ahead and just cook the pieces in a skillet on your stove.  (Note: This chicken is also wonderful on top of a salad, or even on a pizza!)

Finally, the sauce that I pretty much want to put on everything: tzatziki.  You may have had tzatziki before, or you may not.  This sauce is one of those things that tends to vary slightly depending on your location or whoever is making it.  However, three things are always the same – yogurt, cucumber, and garlic.  The quantities may differ, and other things may be added, but those are the base.  This is how I make mine – and, as always, use this as a guide, but feel free to alter the amount of each ingredient to your liking.  After all, I never really measure anything, and these are just my estimates.  Combine everything below, and allow to chill for at least an hour before serving.

  • 2 single-serve containers of either Greek yogurt, or plain yogurt (we only have single-serve available here, so that’s why I measure it that way)
  • start with 1/2 T each of lemon juice and white wine vinegar (regular white also fine), then adjust to taste
  • 1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced finely or shredded**
  • 3-4 large cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • salt & cracked black pepper to taste
  • either fresh chopped or dried dill to taste (optional – I always add this, just because I love dill!)

** Be sure to give prepared cucumber a good squeeze (between a few sheets of paper towel) to remove excess water before adding to yogurt, or your sauce will become runny.

If you’ve done everything above, it must mean you are now ready to eat!  I find it best to use the pita more like a gyro, rather than a pocket, so the sauce doesn’t soak through the bread too quickly.  Now, go assemble your pita with however much of each thing you want, and enjoy!

>> Not in the mood for chicken?  I have also made these before with meatballs, and they’re just as good!  Simply add some Greek seasoning to your favorite meatball recipe, and use them in place of chicken. <<

August 24, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | 4 Comments

Teachers

I think the people who were born to be teachers have to be of a slightly different breed from the rest.  Strange creatures they are… and the better a teacher they are, the stranger they must be.

After all, who would want to spend their entire day, every day, 180+ days of the year with kids?  Who could stand the tension between being both a nurturing force and disciplinarian for so many young lives?  Why would anyone ever want to give of their time, their energy, their heart in order to teach someone else how to think and live for themselves?  What kind of person would ever want to bear the responsibility for forming the minds and hearts of a bunch of motley kids into (hopefully) responsible, kind, and productive individuals who could one day be running our very nation?

Teachers would.  What an odd bunch.

Over the course of the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet all kinds of people, from all different backgrounds, all different States, and all different countries.  As I begin thinking about how we are going to one day educate children of our own, while living in an international setting, I’ve done a sort of unofficial survey among these people about their experiences in school.  The more I hear about what people were taught and how the knowledge was administered, the more thankful I am for the education I was fortunate enough to have been given throughout my formative years.  I always knew my teachers were special, a cut above the rest (how’s that for a classroom slogan?), but these conversations have really helped solidify that reality for me.

As a kid, I loved school.  I hated missing a day when I was sick, and I looked forward to going back.  The teachers I grew up with really did make school fun and interesting!  But, even more than that, I can remember specific days, specific times, specific events when each of my teachers reached out to me.  I still have notes of encouragement I received from teachers in middle school during periods where my father’s health was declining.  They cared enough to know about what went on in my family outside of the school walls, and that meant a lot.  I still hang on to photos of my (awkward) young self with teachers from both elementary and middle school, as they provide some measure of comfort to me as I look back upon them.  And yes, some of the catch-phrases from classroom bulletin boards still haunt help me today.

Why was I so lucky?

I don’t know… but, what I do know is that these teachers had a lot to do with who I am today. After graduating from Huntington University, getting married, and finally finding my way out into this world, I naturally had to find a place of employment.  After all, bills don’t pay themselves, right?  My degree from Huntington was a BS in Ministry & International Missions (essentially, a combination of all gen-ed requirements, theological studies, education, mission history & theory, and language acquisition), which is intended for use in ministry settings or overseas mission work… but, we still needed some time to pay off debts before leaving for the field.  Interestingly enough, there happened to be an opening at a grades 3-5 school in the next town for an aide position working with special needs kids right when I needed a job.  I thought – “Are you serious?  A job that entails working with kids, getting to be a part of an environment that I already know I will love (c’mon don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to go back to class parties, field days, and being able to constantly learn new things!), getting to tutor those who really need it, and have a fraction of the paperwork that regular teachers do?  Sign me up.”

I worked in that school for almost 3 years before leaving to pursue our life in Thailand, and I loved it.  Sure, there were days I drove home crying (if you are a teacher, and you have had difficult students, you will understand)… there were days I spent an hour chasing an unruly student down the street or tackling a violent child in the hallway.  But, the chance to see so many kids growing up, knowing I had the ability to show them love, consistency, and be a positive voice speaking into their lives outweighed it all.  During my years at the school, my eyes were opened time and time again to just how much my own teachers must have poured themselves into me.  I had some awesome examples to follow, that’s for sure.  And, I can only hope that somehow I was able to impact the lives of those kids in the same way my teachers did for me.

So, with that, I say thank you.  And, honestly, I don’t know that those measly words could ever be enough.

Though all of them were good, and I learned a great deal from every teacher I had, there are some whose voices I can still hear as I go through my life today.  You may not have any idea who they are, and most of them will probably never read this blog, but I felt like I needed to name them anyway.  That being said, if you’ve lasted this long already and are ready to be done, you may stop here.  All others, continue at will.  In no particular order…

Back in Lansing-
Mrs. Berry
Mr. Cushing (I am hooked on Bull’s Eye caramels to this day because of his classes!)
Mr. Hayes
Mr. Kompier
Mr. Buchnat
Miss Bludzius (now Sandack)
Mrs. Garrison at the HMS office
Mrs. Harris
Mrs. Wickersham
Mrs. Francois

And those who influenced me in high school –
Mrs. King
Mrs. Thomas
Mr. Turner
Mrs. Dykstra
Mr. Wadley

August 20, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Personal | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesday – Lemon Bars

Last week was limes, this week it’s lemons!  Glorious, yellow, tartly sweet, juicy, fragrant lemons.

Can you tell I haven’t had the luxury of tasting, using, or holding a lemon in my very own hand for a while?  It’s true, over the course of 13 months living in Thailand, I have only seen lemons 3 times.  This time, I splurged and bought one.  Actually, I bought three.  They’re pretty rare over here, and as far as I know, the Thai language doesn’t even have a word specifically for them – you simply use the word for “lime” (which they use prolifically in Thailand), then classify it by calling it big and yellow.

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August 17, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | 1 Comment

ไม่เหมือนกัน – Not the same!

It’s one thing to simply learn a foreign language in order to be able to both understand and speak its words well. It’s another to understand the culture from which the language comes. And, it’s a whole other thing to try combining the two so you can understand what people actually mean when they are speaking to you.

Oh idioms, how I love you and hate you all at the same time.

Every language has idioms (a word or phrase that has a figurative meaning contrary to its literal meaning, such as “spend time” or “kick the bucket”). Every language has its own collection of slang.  Every language has sayings and proverbs… But, do they always use the same words and contexts to convey the same idea? Absolutely not. That’s where things can get tricky, confusing, and sometimes downright humorous, when trying to communicate in a foreign land.

This morning, I was going through lessons with my language helper, reviewing some substitution sentence patterns, when we came to a section using the phrase “เปรียบเสมือน,” which means “to liken to” or be compared in similarity. We read through perhaps 4 or 5 different sentences before coming to the last one:

ผู้ชายเปรียบเสมือนผีเสื้อ

Man is like butterfly.

I read through it just like the others, not thinking much of it, until my tutor gave a small giggle and asked me if I understood the sentence.  Of course I did.  Simple words, simple structure – I understood what I read.  She asked me again if I understood.  She could tell I was confused, so she asked me a third time, asking if I understood not what I read, but what it means. Ohhhhhhh, there’s an actual meaning behind it.  Nope.  Still don’t get it.

It’s a widely known fact that infidelity in marriage runs rampant here in Thailand.  It is partly due to the battle that still rages on as far as equality between the sexes goes (perhaps battle is too strong of a word, but I don’t know what else to use at the moment), and the rest could be attributed to the well-known flesh trade that occurs all throughout the nation.  According to this phrase, a man is being compared to a butterfly, and what do butterflies do?  The butterfly (butterfly = man) flits and flops around from flower to flower (flower = girl), not spending too much time with any one flower, though it may revisit one or two from time to time.  Get the picture?

I giggled at first, because I thought, “how silly to compare a man to a butterfly.”  After all, in American English, it’s the girls that are more often compared to butterflies if they are socialites, super girly, or tend to be a bit on the flighty side as far as academics go.  I thought it was just a silly phrase, maybe about young boys as they flirt around at school or the mall (which it does apply to as well)… but, apparently it also refers to a heavier, not so funny aspect of adult life.

Hmmm.

My new friend and I had a good little chuckle over this sentence today, the fact that I had no clue what I was reading, and so on.  But, it looks like I’m going to have to work just that much harder at understanding this new language of mine.  For now, I suppose I’ll just keep playing the blonde card.  (Oh yeah, they don’t get that phrase here… everybody has black hair.  Shoot.)

August 13, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand | 1 Comment

Tasty Tuesday – Lime Meltaways

You may remember a certain cookie that I mentioned in a previous post called Lime Meltaways.  I told you then that the recipe would follow, and today’s that day.  I don’t have pics of my own cookies, as they got packaged up too quickly last time!  So, I’ll provide you with a photo from the site I found the recipe on instead.

Does anybody else remember those lemon cookies (I can’t remember the brand for the life of me!) you could get at someplace like Walgreens, that were light and crispy, coated in powdered sugar, and almost tasted cold because they were so tart??  I swear I’m not going crazy, and it drives me nuts that I can’t think of where we got them when I was a kid… whatever they are, that’s what these cookies remind me of.  They’re light, crisp, citrusy, and just a little bit sweet.  Refreshing.  Delicious.  Simple.  Yum.

Now go make some for yourself.  🙂

Lime Meltaways
(adapted from Cookies)

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) (170) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup (60g) powdered sugar
Grated zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (274g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (18g) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-2 drops lime green food coloring (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting

  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch and salt and set aside.
  • In a large bowl beat butter and sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy (if using a stand mixer use the whisk attachment for this step). Add the lime juice, zest and vanilla and beat the mixture until fluffy.
  • Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixer to the butter. Mix until combined.
  • Ready a two 8″x12″ pieces of waxed paper or parchment. Divide the dough into two equal portions and roll into two 1.25″ diameter logs. Wrap the dough tightly in the waxed paper or parchment. (The cookies pictured are slightly larger, at roughly 2″ in diameter. You can also form a single 2″ diameter log, but keep in mind at this size they’re not sturdy enough to toss in powdered sugar.)
  • Chill for at least an hour before baking. The dough can keep for a couple days chilled in the refrigerator or frozen for up to two months.

When ready to bake:

Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Slice the cookies 1/4″ thick and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, rotating halfway through baking, until they just barely start to take on some color. Allow to cool until just warm. Fill a plastic bag with a 3/4 cup powdered sugar and add a few cookies. Working in batches, toss the cookies to coat. One can also coat them by sifting sugar over the cookies.

Store the cookies for up to two weeks in an air tight container.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | Leave a comment

August Newsletter!

Here it is again – the e-copy of our regular mailable newsletter. There may not be much new to you if you follow either Brook or I here on our blogs, on Facebook, or even on Twitter… but, go ahead and check it out anyway.  🙂  Just click the image below to begin downloading.

If you are not currently receiving our newsletters and would like to get them delivered straight to your email inbox, please fill out the online form here!

Thanks for your ongoing prayers and support…  Life has been crazy over here and we look forward to sharing more and more about our lives here in Thailand!

August 6, 2010 Posted by | Newsletters, Thailand | Leave a comment

Tasty Tuesday – It’s American?

When residing outside your country of origin, it’s pretty interesting to see which bits of your home culture are pulled out and used to identify you by the people in other nations.  Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes it can make you laugh, sometimes it can make you angry.  Whatever it is, it’s what they will use to create an identity for you and will help them know how to relate with you.

I find myself chuckling quite often when I read or hear poor English translations going on around me, especially when the language is being modeled after American English.  But, the best… oh, the best is when I find things that are labeled as “American,” and then I find myself completely and utterly confused.  Why confused?  Because there is actually no such thing back in the States!  And, just as soon as I come to the conclusion “oh, it’s just this particular restaurant/store/street vendor’s marketing strategy… they’re just trying to seem cool and exotic in order to sell more of _____ and _____,” that’s when I discover the same thing is being sold throughout the entire country.  My, my, my.

So, what’s an example of this sort of thing?

American Fried Rice.  Yes, I said “American fried rice.”  There is no such thing.  Americans generally do not eat much rice, nor is it fried when they do.  Sure, we like a lot of Chinese food (which has also been a bit Americanized), but it’s Chinese food – not typical American fare.  And, the combination of ingredients used to make this particular dish, are not something out of American cuisine at all.  Individual elements, yes – but, putting them all together?  Not so much.  So, what is it?  Look below.

American fried rice is essentially rice stir-fried with ketchup and raisins, sometimes adding some mixed veggies (carrot, corn, and peas are the standard).  But, don’t worry, there’s always raisins.  Also, in the American tradition, your rice will be served with a fried chicken drumstick, a few slices of pan-seared ham, a fried egg, deep fried hot dog “blossoms,” and a small and strange looking pile of sliced tomato, cucumber, and white onion.  All of this is served with a cup of ketchup for your enjoyment.  (Other common variations include adding a handful of deep fried croutons or using bacon when ham is not available.  Check out this Google image search for more plates of American fried rice.)

Ummm…

This is American?  Apparently, many Thais my age and younger do believe this is an American dish… but, thankfully, the older generations know it is not so.  According to my research, this concoction was created by a collection of cooks during the Vietnam war, when certain areas of Thailand became a temporary home for loads of US soldiers.  They were trying to come up with something that would appeal to the Americans, as well as use local ingredients and cooking styles.  Perhaps you could say it was an early form of “fusion” cuisine…?  Today, this meal is sold all throughout the country (and has migrated to Malaysia, though the pork products are substituted with chicken due to Halal requirements), and is quite popular as a children’s meal.  You are not likely to see it on the menu at a Thai restaurant in the States, but if you do, don’t be alarmed.  It’s not really American, and you need not be confused.  (And, trust me, America has done the same thing to other foods that you think come from other places, too…)

So, now it’s settled.  American fried rice is not actually American.  I don’t need to wonder every time I see a menu anymore, and I no longer have to feel silly when a young Thai friend can’t understand why I don’t recognize a meal that supposedly comes from my own home country.  🙂

(In case you were wondering, no it doesn’t taste bad.  It’s just a lot of fried meat and the raisins take some getting used to.)

August 3, 2010 Posted by | Food, Fun Fact, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 1 Comment