31 March 2011

Travel Junkies Need Their Fix, Pt. 1

Summer is almost here and I trust that most of you will be off to somewhere far and away. At least I hope so! I wish I could say as much for myself. I have no travel plans until November when John and I are heading to Mexico on an anniversary cruise. I take that back, I'll be heading to Miami in June to help out with a conference for summer mission trips. I live in Florida though...can Miami count?

In preparation for all the summer globe-trotting I thought I'd post some travel favorites. I have a confession, though this may come as no surprise- I am not a fashionable traveler. I pack for comfort, I pack for roughing it, and I like it that way. Heels are no where to be found in my luggage and handbags are usually out of the question. I did my best to find some pieces here that I felt were both reasonable and fashionable...but reason and fashion rarely go together, no?

Up first in this series...


I hate checking luggage. And I whole-heartedly believe that doing so is unnecessary. I pack the same amount whether I'm going somewhere for one week or 3 months and it all fits in one piece of carry-on luggage and one backpack.

I love this Anne Klein hard case luggage. Not only because it is my favorite color, but because it's carry-on, rolls 360s and has a harder shell to prevent busted luggage. You can purchase it here.

This is my all-time favorite hiking pack. I've owned others that failed miserably, but this one has stood the test of time and even though I try, I can barely put a dent in it. It fits quite well on a woman or man and the back is breathable. I was able to fit absolutely everything I needed with space to spare. Purchase here.
I have owned this bag for nearly 7 years, and it doesn't have a rip or scratch on it. This little day pack is great because it goes over the shoulders and helps balance the weight on your body if you're going to be on your feet all day. It is also a little more theft-proof since it's much more difficult to pull a pack from across your chest than it is to snatch a purse from off your arm. It is certainly not the most fashionable bag ever, but it's not ugly either. It's just boring and unnoticeable. I like that about it. Purchase here.
I want this. I need it in my collection. I You can purchase it here on Etsy from a shop called Infusion. I like the old fashioned look of it. I feel like I need a cane fishing pole to carry around while I wear this. It would do great overseas while on a day trip or a long ride train ride.
Next up in the Travel Junkies Need Their Fix series- Accessories!
Is there any travel pack you can't live without?

30 March 2011

Chicken Vegetable Lasagna

My mother has been cooking this recipe for years and years and passed it on to me when I got big and moved out. It is great for guests as it makes so much so there is no need to worry about whether or not you made enough. I like to make this on the weekends when I know a busy week is ahead. Leftovers will cover 3 weeknight meals which means less work for us! Enjoy!

Chicken Vegetable Lasagna

2 tbsp margerine
1 medium yellow onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups eggplant, peeled and diced
2 medium zucchini, halfed and sliced
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 tsp dry oregano
1/2-1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 lb cooked chicken breasts, diced
1 cup shredded carrot
1 28oz can whole stewed tomatoes, drained and chopped
16 oz low-fat ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
8 cooked lasagna noodles
1 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
12 oz mozzerella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a large skillet at med-high. Add next 8 ingredients and cook for 15 minutes or until the vegetable start to soften and cook through. (While you are doing this cook the chicken and boil the lasagna noodles.) Place the vegetable mixture into a large bowl and add shredded carrot and cut tomatoes into bowl. Dice cooked chicken and mix into bowl. In a seperate, small bowl mix together the ricotta cheese and beaten egg. Once combined, stir into vegetable mixture. In a 13x9 pan build your lasagna...

1. Place 1/3 of the mixture in the bottom of the pan. Cover with 1/3 parmesan cheese and 1/3 of the mozzerella. Cover with 4 lasagna noodles.

2. Repeat step 1.

3. Place the final 1/3 of mixture on top of the noodles and cover (no cheese this time). Bake for 30-45 minutes.

4. Uncover, and sprinkle remaining cheese on top and cook for another 15 minutes or until bubbling.

5. Switch oven to broiling to gently brown the cheese on top for 2-3 minutes.

6. Serve hot!

29 March 2011

Hookah: Fueling Friendly Discussion Since 1588

I may have alluded to this before, but my husband and I have a thing for the Middle East. We certainly don't think that Arab or Persian culture is in some way superior to all others. It just so happens that we both have traveled to Arab nations and loved it, and that the majority of our international friends are either Arab or Persian. Our friends have a way of rubbing off on us and often we can't get enough of it. I feel like our Middle Eastern friends are usually the ones that are most open and emphatic in sharing their life experiences, ideas, and culture with us. Perhaps this comes from a great pride in their culture, but I also get the impression that discussing such things is engrained in their culture.

So we steal from their culture from time to time and work it into our own. Some nights we say, "screw Lipton, we want Iranian tea!" or "Gravy on rice? I think a yogurt would go better!" Sometimes we just miss being overseas, and on those nights we prep the hookah, sit outside with friends, play a little Nancy on the radio and transport ourselves to another place.

A hookah is a water pipe used for smoking loose leaf tobacco, most often flavored with apple, cherry, or strawberry (etc.). The pipe orginates from India, but is most commonly used today in the Middle East.

Hookah Pipe, a.k.a. Nargeela, Shisha, Shishe, or Argeela

Pictured above is our hookah. John bought it from a friend he made while living in Jordan one summer. His friend owned a hookah shop and gave him a great deal on it. We treasure it. It's so beautiful in design and not like the cheap and tacky pipes you might find at your local smoke shop. John and I often talk about going into business with him to import Jordanian and Syrian hookahs for sale in the U.S. Maybe one day...

If you're in the market for one, be sure to put in a little extra for it. It is worth the price to get one that has been imported and hand-painted. Not only for conversation purposes, but in the name of design! So go out and get one. Got it? Ok, now let me show you how to use it in 10 steps...

1. Fill the base with water to cover the iron rod that goes into it by 1-2 inches. Throw a couple ice cubes in there as well, it helps cool down the smoke and I've heard it enhances the flavor. 

2. Pull a little bunch of tobacco from the pack and press it between two paper towels to dry it out a bit.

3. Put the hookah back together and remove the cup at the top. Loosely fill it with the flavored tobacco of your choice. (see below)

4. Cut a square of foil and fasten it around the top of the cup. Be careful not to pack in the tobacco. Then use a sewing needle, toothpick, or if you were desperate like us, a knife, to poke small holes on the top of the foil. (see below)

5. The next part deals with fire and starts the smoke process. Hookah doesn't leave a strong smell in the house like cigarettes or cigars do, but if you would rather move things outside, now is the time to do so. At the smoke shop the sell quick heating coals for hookahs. You'll need one of these, some tongs and a lighter....

6. Hold the coal with your tongs and heat the coal with the flame of your lighter. Sparks should fly a little bit. Make sure you heat the coal evenly...

7. Once it has been thoroughly heated, blow on it to allow the heat to permeate the coal until it glows red.

8. Place the now gray coal on top of the foil and let it sit for a few minutes. Throughout the evening you may need to shake off the coal in the plate of the hookah to prevent inhaling ash. If the coal starts to crumble get a new coal and start the process over.

9. After 5 minutes, inhale through the pipe and see if you are able to produce smoke yet. If not, let it sit a little longer before trying again.

10. When it is ready, smoke till you heart is content and you have exasperated all avenues of interesting conversation.  Smoke tricks may also be employed to entertain the company. See Nate below...

As I mentioned previously, hookah is a big part of Middle Eastern culture. In some areas smoking is only for men. In others it can be done among and with mixed company. It's a great time to sit together for hours on end and chat. The tobacco burns slowly, so there's plenty of time to relax and waste time with good friends. Hookahs come in many sizes, and you can also buy attachments to add multiple hoses. I happen to like just using one, it adds a sense of community.

Etiquette varies by country when it comes to whether or not it is acceptable to smoke in public. Jordan has a hookah place on every corner, whereas in Morocco they are rarely found. Etiquette in passing the hose also can vary by country. In some places it is acceptable to pass the hose with the mouthpiece up. In others it is appropriate to fold the hose so the mouthpiece is facing back toward you and pass it that way. In keeping with every cultural "rule of thumb" I've ever mentioned...just copy whatever the nationals are doing. : )

Have you ever smoked hookah? Do you enjoy tradition that surrounds it?

28 March 2011

Black-Eyed Pea Salsa

Is it starting to feel like spring where you live yet? Word is, last weekend much of the U.S. experienced moderate temperatures and sunshine! I like to think that I have something to do with that. It feels like summer here in Orlando and I like the idea that everywhere I go, whether in person or in the blogosphere, I bring a little Florida weather.

Now that the outdoors are becoming more hospitable for picnics I recommend this recipe. I adapted it from one I picked up from a Publix lady cooking up an Apron's recipe. It makes about 2.5-3 cups, so if you're bringing it for a party you might want to double the recipe.

Black-Eyed Pea Salsa

2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 trp garlic powder
1 (15.5oz) can black-eyed peas (drained and rinsed)
2 tbsp finely diced red onion
1/2 cup fresh diced tomato
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1-2 tbsp freshly chopped cilantro

Whisk together first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Chill, and serve with plain pita chips.

Weekend Update| March 28, 2011

My Dad and I at Benihanas

This weekend update is brief. Great for me because it means my weekend was relatively uneventful (and I like that sometimes) but not so good for blogging purposes. I'll stick to my guns and update you none the less. Despite large amounts of down time I was able to have a bit of a social life, which is exciting. Ever since we got married our social life has really taken a hit, so getting together with friends and family is always a welcomed event.

On Saturday we got together with my dad at Benihanas. It was my first time at that particular franchise, and I have to say I was quite impressed. So many hibachi places overload their grill with soy sauce. So much so that you can't taste the flavor of the food, just salt. Benihanas does not adulterate their food in this way. It was great to hang out and catch up with my dad. He's a motivational speaker and spends a good bit of time on the road. He and my step-mom are headed to Hawaii this week for a month-long vacation! I'm so excited for them but will miss getting together. No doubts about that.

Note: The old couple in the photo and their family not pictured are from China. The grandparents now live in Toronto and the kids in Hong Kong. It was so much fun to hang out with them and welcome them to the tourist capital of the world! Their little girl was going to Disney World for the first time ever after the meal!

Nate setting up the hookah

On Saturday night, our buddy Nate came over for a little dinner, a little discussion, and a little hookah. Nate shares our affinity for all things Middle Eastern. We really enjoy talking about current events (he had just gotten back from a protest and fundraiser for Libya) and is a fellow believer that enjoys discussing theology and philosophy. Pretty much he's an awesome guest to have over. Both he and John smoke hookah, so we all headed outside for a lovely evening on the patio passing the hose around. I don't smoke hookah much, I blog...

Sunday we went to church and I cooked. I cooked my little heart out. I have tons of ammunition for the week, so get ready for some awesome recipes! Sunday is our rest day, and we did a lot of resting. And cooking, did I mention that? ;-)

What did you do this weekend? And, if you're married, did you find that your social activities decreased after you tied the knot?

25 March 2011

Discovering Culture in Fashion

It's not often that I write about fashion on here. The closest I have come to doing so was to show you the skirt I had made a month ago and I'm under no illusions that it qualifies. It is certainly cute, and certainly something you can wear on your body, but a far cry from "fashion" to be sure.  

This video, however, struck me. Not only because I enjoy gobbling up anything featured on The Sartorialist, but also because I felt it made an interesting connection to culture. In the last 3 minutes of the video he mentioned that by capturing street fashion on film, it allowed the moment, the trend, the culture at that moment to live forever. It got me to thinking, is fashion really that much a judge of culture? And if so, what are we saying about our culture through our fashion trends? Is fashion a product of changing culture, or vice versa? Basically, the chicken and egg dilemma.

I don't know the answer, but I would love to hear some feedback about what you think of the above video, and about fashion as culture. Let's get a little discussion going.

24 March 2011

Close to the Harvest

Gerbera Daisies about to blossom.

Gardening has become, for me, time well spent. I amaze myself with how much time I waste doing things I don't really care for or that don't offer any real satisfaction. Most of these things are a matter of convenience and entertainment. I think I want them, but once I'm done with it I feel like I've wasted time I can never get back. I never feel that way after gardening. I always feel like I've contributed somehow, like I made a connection to the source of what matters. I know that sounds all new-agey or "mother-earthy," but it's true.

I guess I feel like there's certain things us humans were intended to do. And when I garden it stirs some deep place in me to recognize it's calling. Suddenly the smoke screen of my daily life falls and I see life the way it is meant to be lived. Simply. Sustainably. With dirt under our nails and no corners cut. 

Caladiums unrolling.

Since I finished school last December I have a thing called "free time." Have you heard of it? If you currently don't have it you don't know what you're missing. You need to stop and re-evaluate life, right now, to make room for it. Finally I am able to do things I want to do. Finally I learned what it means to have a hobby. I feel like a brand new person, honest to goodness. They say a hobby is something you enjoy doing even if you don't get paid for it. Gardening is one, and cooking is another. When I graduated and had the "ok, what now?" moment I thought, why not go back to school to get your culinary arts degree?! But then I realized I just want to cook like a chef so I can do so for my family, not so I can own my own a bakery or restaurant. See? Hobby! 

Bibb lettuce, almost ready for pickin'.

The best thing about a hobby is that, often, it is something you can do on your own, without help, so you can not only find a little solitude, but a little confidence in your craft. I love gardening because it gives me some quiet time to think. Thinking is my all time favorite hobby, and when combined with the outdoors the mind just explodes. I learn so much from each plant, and my brain takes what I'm doing with my hands and translates it into something meaningful. For example...

My petunias, if not watered daily, will start to look lifeless. Also, if you don't pluck off the dead blooms it will stunt growth and stop new blossoms from growing. Hmm...there's a life lesson.

My tomatoes are prone to leaf-miners. If I don't keep an eye on them every day so I can catch the bug early, it will ruin the entire arm of leaves. Lesson.

My mandevilla loves to climb, but it's not a naturally vining plant. It needs to be trained back and forth around the trellis. However, you can't just push them here and there,  you have to do it gently, training each piece as it grows at its own pace. If you aren't gentle, the plant won't go where you want it to go. Lesson.

I'm learning so much, and can't wait for the biggest lesson- one that will come with the harvest. You'll see my tomatoes and peppers below are so close I can almost smell them simmering in my pan. Grow, my babies, grow!

Tomatoes just weeks away from harvest.

Red bell pepper so big I needed twine to keep the stem erect!

23 March 2011

Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potato Fries

Tonight I made spinach feta turkey burgers again. My mother-in-law came over for dinner before flying out of OIA and I thought it would make a quick and easy meal...that and I can't get enough of them. As always, we had a great time hanging out and catching up on life. I am endlessly thankful to have such great in-laws. I know so many people get stuck with the family from hell and know it is truly a blessing to fit nicely in a family you don't actually share blood with. I'm pretty sure we are the exception and not the rule. You tell me. How do you like your in-laws?

I'm very excited because my husband's whole family will be flying down next weekend to visit for a week. I can't wait to get pictures up on that! Two of my siblings are adopted from China and just make for adorable photos that drive you to make gushy noises and giggle. They're just good blog material! ;-) But more on that next week...back to the fries!

These made a perfect healthy side for the almost healthy burger. Once you've made your own fries straight from the spud there is no turning back. It's quick and relatively easy, the only hard part is keeping one eye on them while in the stove.

Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Potato Fries

2 medium russet potatoes
1 large sweet potato
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Crushed Rosemary
1 Tsp Garlic Powder

1. Heat oven to 375.
2. Cut potatoes into fries (equal sizes). Toss in olive oil and spread onto a baking sheet.
3. Sprinkle and toss with rosemary and garlic and sprinkle with salt and pepper to your liking.
4. Put in oven and bake, stirring often, until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

22 March 2011

A Super-Sunrise

This past weekend there was a lot of talk about the supermoon. I had every intention of viewing it, but got caught up laundry and before I knew it the magic moment had passed. I hear it was beautiful, and lived up to its name. I felt like I missed out on something big, that is, until...

Monday morning. I pulled on the street and saw this glowing in front of me. I spent the rest of my drive trying to capture its awesomeness with my camera and saying "wow" out loud to myself a number of times. Had the earth moved closer to the sun? Why am I not being singed to bits? Did the tectonic plates shift and now my continent is located where the African plain used to be?  It looked that big, that red, and that beautiful you guys!

The super-sunrise

Did you get to see the supermoon or a super-sunrise this week?

Dance Me Around the World

I have my dancing shoes on today, metaphorically speaking. Actually, I'm wearing an adorable pair of black patent leather, pointy-toed, kitten heels with little bows on the back. Professional. But when I go to the copy room I get my moves on. 

I think the best ways we can learn about a culture is through its music, its dancing, its religion, and its food. I found these videos and they're great because you get two of the four. The first up is belly dancing. The dancer, Sadie, isn't actually from the Middle East, but she does a darn good job faking it with those hips. I really love this video and find it fascinating that people can train their muscles to move like this...

Next up is some dancing from the Punjab region that strattles India and Pakistan. This is from a group of young Indians and Pakistanis that are trained in traditional dance (with a twist) that won best group dance at the Bruin Bhangra competition. I seriously dare you not to clap by the end.

Chinese dancing. *sigh* So beautiful. So quiet. So fluid. I love how the motions never really stop. They dancer may hold a pose but the toes move from point to flexed or the pinky moves just this or that way. It's breath-taking. Here's a chinese dancer performing The Lotus Flower.

We can't talk about Russian dance without talking about the ballet. Just the other day I watched a great documentary that followed students through the years dancing for the Mariinsky Theatre company (previously the Kirov), it's called Ballerina and you can get it on Netflix instant queue. The following is Anastasia Volochkova playing Odette in Swan Lake.

What is your favorite cultural dance? Be sure to leave me a link to a video of your favorites!

21 March 2011

Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers

So, I have a bit of a stalking problem. I love Jenna's Eat Live Run blog. I seriously can't get enough of it. Her stories are great and the recipes are delicious. I found this one a few weeks ago and she demanded her readers make it for dinner. I did, and they were amazing!

I kept everything the same when it came to the burger, but changed the toppings to suit my tastes and those are the only changes I have made to the recipe below. If you haven't already, check out her site and give her some blog love. Then cook this for dinner!

Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers
makes 4 burgers


1 lb ground turkey
1 egg, slightly beaten
5 oz frozen spinach (about half of a bag), defrosted
3/4 cup feta cheese
1 tsp salt + pinch of pepper


Mix together all ingredients with your hands and form four medium sized patties. Cook patties in a greased skillet for about 6 minutes per side, or until meat is completely cooked. Serve on toasted buns with thinly sliced red onion, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.

16 March 2011

Grey's Anatomy Relationship Drama Helps Heal

Can you folks believe it? I'm sick. Again. I seriously can't remember the last time I was sick this much. Actually I can, it was from 1996-2000 when I lived in North Carolina and was allergic to every native tree and pollen. But I swear ever since I moved to Florida I've been healthy! Something is seriously wrong with this year, and if it keeps going this way I'm just going to hide out until 2012.

I went to the doctor today only to find that I had a full blown case of bronchitis with a side helping of pneumonia. Bronchitis and pneumonia? Yes please...NOT! On the patient forms I was asked "have you tried to decrease the amount of prescription drugs you are taking?" Apparently they did not read my chart well because they prescribed me three. THREE! Any of you who know me well know how much I hate taking pills. Although, it's not a shock that they don't read my chart. Why is it that you are forced to fill out an entire ream of paper on your health history, current medications, and date of last period before seeing the doctor if they are going to ask the same information when you get in the room? Anyone else sympathize? From now on I'll respond to these questions with "well, you'll see there on my chart that I filled in that blank...can you read what is says?" Yeah, that'll teach 'em.

 I'm just not a happy camper right now.

My husband told me to blog. He said, "maybe your readers will wonder where you went." That's sweet and all, but I think the writing thus far has proved that I am in no mood to be quick and witty or smart and fun. But in the spirit of "doing life together" it is probably best. Each of you share little pieces of yourself with me, good and bad. So it's only fair for me to reciprocate. I'll try to wrap this up with a happy face. :)

I've been trying to kick this bug from the comfort of my hand-me-down couch situated just in front of our T.V. I added all the seasons of Grey's Anatomy to our instant queue and started from scratch Tuesday afternoon. I'm already over halfway through season two and honestly believe that this show may have healing powers.

In the last sixteen episodes I have laughed, cried, and swooned. I've watched Meredith kiss Derek, reject Derek. Kiss Derek, and reject Derek. Izzy is starting to like Alex. George got syphilis and continues to wow in the OR. Christina kissed Preston, rejected Preston. Kissed Preston, and then got knocked up. Numerous patients have died. Even more have been admitted and treated with unthinkable diseases. (Seriously, what hospital gets such interesting cases so frequently?!)

When I stand back and look at it skeptically I see how ridiculous this show is, how much like a soap opera it tends to be. But I really do enjoy it. I can't wait to see what happens next and although it may not actually improve the state of my illness it does help me forget about it for a moment or two.

That's all for now folks! I hope to be back soon once I've gotten a little bit better and have done a thing or two with my life interesting enough to blog about. I'll leave you with one burning question...

What's your favorite "I'm home sick" T.V. show? 

14 March 2011

Tuna Macaroni Salad

I don't usually cook with canned tuna. I feel like there's a lot of lame surrounding any dish that contains it. Tuna sandwiches are always the ones laughed at in the school lunch line, and tuna casserole...it's the signature dish of the stereotypical "bad cook" wife. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a tuna sandwich once in a blue moon. And a tuna melt has been known to knock my socks off. But this tuna macaroni salad could end up on my plate every lunch time for the next year and I wouldn't complain. It is so light and refreshing, and when I make it I find myself hesitant to put anything else with it. It just doesn't work as a side dish. One batch makes enough lunch for the week which means a happy stomach and a happier morning when packing lunches.

Tuna Macaroni Salad

16 oz macaroni, cooked al dente
2 cans tuna (in water), drained
1 box frozen petite peas
1 cup celery, sliced
1/2 cup finely grated onion
1 & 1/2 cup mayonnaise (or until moist and held together)
2-3 T lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to box instructions and mix together with next 4 ingredients. Mix the mayo, lemon juice, salt and pepper together and pour over pasta salad. Stir until mixed and let cool before serving.

13 March 2011

Weekend Update | March 13, 2011

Since my husband has been away all week in Dallas my mom came to visit so we could have a "girls only" weekend. We had a wonderful time and covered a lot of ground in just to short days. My mom is my best friend and I always love having her up here to knock around with. Here's some pictures from our weekend...

Morning tea on the patio.

Newly planted mandevilla , me with no makeup, and lollicup boba tea in background (yum!)

Newly planted caladiums...a gift from my mother's friend.

My first orchid. My mom got this for me as a gift when we visited our local Asian market. Thanks mom!

One of my dearest friends got hitched this weekend! Isn't she lovely?

My friends and I at the reception. I finally got to meet my Facebook friend, L (center), in real life! Always fun. :-) 

Our friend the Duck. We met him this morning on the way in to Mimi's Cafe for breakfast. Cute, no?

I just whipped up a cherry pie and some wheat berry salad in preparation for the week and as homecoming gifts for my love whose been gone all weekend. I can't wait to see him! Just one hour to go...

What did you do this weekend?

11 March 2011

My Pepper is Ginormous!

A few weeks ago I gave you a little tour of my garden. Since then I found this great site and my brain is bubbling over with ideas for my porch. Inspired, I picked up a gerbera daisy plant and planted some bibb lettuce as well. I really do have so much space and I don't know why I'm not using it to its full potential. My next project are these soda bottle hanging planters. I hope to expand my herb garden this way.

Here's an update on my garden's progress. We had a good rain yesterday and they all looked so green and perky. I'm just beside myself with excitement and can't wait to reap my harvest and continue adding to its bounty!

My ginormous red bell pepper! In the background you can count 9 (!!) others starting...

Newly planted bibb lettuce. Can't wait to make these puppies into a salad!

Green bell peppers. This plant is looking very healthy and I expect much fruit.

Ah! Sweet success. This is one of my first tomatoes. There are about 5 growing right now...all at this stage.

10 March 2011

Soy un perdedor.

I was thinking the other day about how much the last 5 years has changed me…here’s a list of things I used to do that I would never desire now. I’m a loser-pants. Just wait till I have kids…oh god!

Jump out of an airplane.

Go down big water slides.

Jump off a high dive.

Ride a wooden rollercoaster at a theme park. (Newer ones are ok. The wooden ones hurt my back…)

Go to bed later than 10:30 on a weekday.

Eat frozen lunches.

Sit down with the entire carton of ice cream.

Smoke a cigarette.

Eat at Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Checkers. (Unless road tripping.)

Drive over 80 miles an hour.

Swim in the ocean in January.

Sleep in past 9:30.

Get a tattoo.

Wear a mini-skirt.

Pull an all-nighter.

Listen to punk rock (with the exception of Flogging Molly.)

Listen to heavy metal or goth rock (with the exception of Sisters of Mercy.)

Hang a band poster on my wall.

Go without showering for more than 3 days.

What are some things you used to do that you would never do now? Don’t worry, you won’t be a loser-pants. We’ll just call it “gaining some sense.”

Taco Soup and Tortilla Chips

Oh, this soup is so good. This was passed down to me from my mother...like all my best recipes. :) This makes a ton at an affordable price, so if you're feeding an army, I recommend this recipe. Most times I freeze up half of the soup that way in a few weeks I have something yummy to enjoy on a week I don't feel like getting my cook on. Enjoy!

Taco Soup

1 lb ground beef  (browned)
1 medium yellow onion (chopped)
1 tsp salt
1tsp pepper
3 small cans green chilis (chopped)
Drain and add one can of each:
     Pinto beans
     Lima beans
     Kidney beans
     Hominy beans
1 pkg. each of taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix (dry)
1 cup frozen corn
3 cans stewed tomatoes with liquid (chopped)

Also need: shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips

Brown the meat with the onion and salt and pepper. Add remaining ingredients. Let simmer for at least 30 minutes. 

Bowl the soup and serve with a dollop of sour cream and a small handful of cheddar. Dig in with tortilla chips!

09 March 2011

Engaging in Cross-Cultural Experiences

Meeting friends at an international student hospitality dinner at our University

In the last few months I've touched on some cross-cultural etiquette (see here and here). There will be more to come in posts like these, but I wanted to give some outlets for cross-cultural outreach before going further. Perhaps many of you already have friends from here or there, where others may live in a place that offers little diversity. Sometimes diversity can be difficult to find if you don't have the eyes to look for it. If you keep an eager eye out I promise you it'll come your way. These resources may also be of help in your journey to reach beyond your borders. Though many of these are intended to fulfill some need "out there" I promise that the rewards of cross-cultural outreach come back ten-fold. It is such a blessing!

Remember, it is not their job to come to you. They are GUESTS in OUR country. It is our job to be hospitable and reach out!

Here are some ideas:

-Volunteer with refugees. The International Rescue Committee is just one of many organizations working with displaced people that have been forced to flee their countries because of war or crisis. Check it out here to see if there are any offices to volunteer at in your area.

-Ethnic churches. This is another way to mingle with people of other nationalities. Search the internet for houses of worship for specific groups of people. In our area we have Chinese, Arab, Korean, Indian, and Iranian churches to name a few. As a Christian I enjoy worshiping with my brothers and sisters of other ethnicities. But even if you're not its a great way to meet good friends from other cultures.

-Visit your local temple, synagogue, or mosque. This is a great way to learn more about other people's culture and belief system. I remember visiting one of our local Hindu temples a while back. The people were so gracious to give me a tour and explain the meaning behind each deity. Also, check and see if there are any "societies" you can visit. Such an an Islamic or Buddhist society of your area. They would be happy to help you connect with people in the area.

-Universities and international student groups. What a great place to make friends! If you have a big university in your area I would bet my left foot they have international students there studying, and maybe even an international hospitality group trying to connect Americans with visiting students. This type of friendship building is so easy and so fun. Many of these students are working on their PhD and are in labs all day. Getting off campus for a little fun and experiencing American culture in your home is a great blessing! If you aren't a student anymore, maybe consider "adopting" a student and being their American family while they are staying here.

-Practicing English. There is almost always a university, community college, or language school nearby. Often these schools will have conversation times where Americans can volunteer to help and international learn English. This is a great way to offer a service and build relationships.

-Ethnic Food Stores. This is one of my favorite ways to meet people. It may never go beyond knowing a name and checking in on how their family is doing, but frequenting your local ethnic market is a great way to make friends. When I lived closer to our local halal market I would make it a point to go in every couple weeks even to buy a little carton of juice just so I could say hello to "Eddie" and ask how his week is going.

-Ethnic Restaurants. Not ideal for building relationships, but a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture, appreciate the food, and be kind to your waiter. It is most fun to make an international friend and then go to a restaurant that serves their particular types of food. It's a great way to share together and they will totally enjoy teaching you a little something!

-Your children's schoolmates. I don't know the last time you checked out your children's peers but I'd bet they have tons of playmates with different backgrounds than their own. Consider making a play date with these children. Your kids need to be immersed in other cultures as much as you do. And it helps to develop a well balanced character and an appreciation for other cultures in your children.

-Survey your area. It may sound a little stereotypical to say "go to their side of town." But its true. Let's face it- we all gravitate towards what we know and its no different for internationals living in America. Here in Orlando I know exactly where to hang out if I want to meet a particular group of people. Thank goodness for this, because without it we would all be completely clueless. So go where the people are. Get out of your comfort zone and be with the people where they are comfortable!

-TRAVEL! This point speaks for itself. This is great for two reasons. 1) It is guaranteed you will meet people unlike yourself and give you experience interacting with people from other backgrounds. 2) You will finally be able to understand what it is like to be the new kid in town. The one who looks different and eats different and talks different. Everyone needs to understand what it is like to be a foreigner living in a strange place. If we all understood that we would be much more willing to reach out.

I hope this gives you a starting point for reaching out if you haven't before or a few new ideas if you're a seasoned cross-culture enthusiast. If you have any questions, concerns, or more tips to add leave a comment below!

Blueberry Pound Cake

So apparently I'm all about tube pans this week. But they look so professional, no? They are easy as cake (hehe...) to make and they come out looking like you slaved over it all day. Any cake baked in a tube pan earns major girly points. Not that any us of need those...

I got this recipe from my Best of Cooking Light cookbook. I can never say no to a cooking light book. If you find them, buy them. They're the best friend you'll ever have in the kitchen. This recipe is one of my favorites and people love it. When I offer to make desserts for events this cake often gets requested. 

The recipe calls for a small cup of lemon yogurt. I have a heck of a time ever finding a small serving of lemon yogurt so I usually buy a cup of vanilla or plain and use the zest of the lemons from the glaze instead. Also, I know it says "fresh or frozen blueberries" but it really should say "FRESH ONLY!" because it just tastes that much better.


2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light butter
1/2 (8-ounce) block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) carton lemon low-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cooking spray
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°.

Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg white, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 2 tablespoons flour and blueberries in a small bowl, and toss well. Combine remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with yogurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in blueberry mixture and vanilla; pour cake batter into a 10-inch tube pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool cake in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan. Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl; drizzle over warm cake. Cut with a serrated knife.

07 March 2011

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

1 box Devil's Food cake mix (without pudding in the mix)
1 small box instant chocolate pudding
8oz container fat-free sour cream
8oz egg beaters
4 Tbsp instant coffee or espresso
3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp warm water
3 Tbsp oil
1/2 chocolate chips

-Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour bundt pan.
-Mix together all ingredients but the chocolate chips. The batter will be pretty thick. Fold in chocolate chips. c
-Bake for 45 minutes-1 hour, or until knife comes out mostly clean. Enjoy!


Copyright All rights reserved by Randy P. Martin

I found a link to Randy Martin's photostream here and instantly fell in love. If ever there was a cure for wanderlust, one that could be administered without leaving your office chair, this is it. Well, I don't know if it is a cure. Flicking through the pictures I felt as if I was shooting heroin- a temporary alleviation that, after wearing off, only makes you ravenous for more.

Copyright All rights reserved by Randy P. Martin

It's Spring Break here in Orlando. Here I sit at my desk, begrudgeoned, looking at pictures of other people traveling...not being bothered  by phones or people walking in because our clientele is also out on vacation. But thank God for these pictures. They are a little something to get me through today. As I click through them I wander off to another time and another life.

It works for today. And one can only hope that come tomorrow, I've found another fascinating thing to pass the time. One can hope...