Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve 2010

It has been a quiet day at home. David went shopping while I made a couple of big pots of black-eyed peas for a party tomorrow. If you are from the southern US you must eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day to ensure good luck for the rest of the year. I have no idea why, I just know that every year of my life January 1st found me eating a big bowl of them. As a child I hated them with a passion but Mom was firm, they were going down my throat one way or another. As an adult I have grown to like them a bit although I pretty much think once a year is enough for me.

The kids have run about like little heathens all day and are filthy and happy. The tortoise is still here in spite of my "No you can't keep him!" edict. It has been named Squirtle and identified as a male Bell's Hingeback Tortoise. He has been lost and found a few times, but seems destined to be a family pet for the time being. The kids started working on a pen for him today after I stepped (barefoot) in turtle poo in the khonde and ultimatums were made.

Now it is dark, in the distance I hear firecrackers going off and David and the boys are making noise about setting off some of our own. I better wish everyone out there a Happy New Years and get outside before I miss all the fun! See you all here in cyberspace on cyberones in 2011!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in the Tropics!

The Weather outside is frightful,
A fire's too hot to be delightful,
And since I can't catch a plane,
Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain….

The Day After

The Day After

It’s the day after Christmas and we are hanging out relaxing. The boys are watching National Geographic, David is talking to his sister on Vonage, and I am blogging and drinking a beer.

Kuche Kuche Beer, the Pride of Malawi, the name makes me giggle every time.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas Y'all

I didn't get Christmas cards sent out this year. I really meant to. I even bought cards made here in Malawi by a talented artist in the embassy community. I forgot one thing though. Stamps. I didn't ship stamps to post and you can't buy them here but you do need them to send outgoing mail. We are ordering some and will be back in the snail mail business soon. In the meantime a bloggy Christmas greeting to all my family and friends will have to do. Merry Christmas to everyone!

This is our tree this year. It is so encrusted with ornaments it is hard to see the tree. Just the way I like it!

Some of the ornaments like this pretty glass leaf were gifts from dear friends over the years. This one dates back to my teaching days. It is one of a set of three and they were a gift from my co-teacher, another Shannon. We ran the 2nd grade Shannon and Shannon show for a few years. Good times!

Some of the ornaments like this Snow Baby were inherited from Dave's mom Annette and her husband Ray. We miss them still but can't help but to smile as we hang the ornaments on the tree for their grandkids each year.

A lot of the ornaments are ones we have collected over the years. Each person gets a new ornament each year. With six people in the family that adds up to a whole lot of ornaments real quick. The pewter ornament with the three little bears is my ornament from 1998. That is the first year David, Dakota, and I spent Christmas together as a family. This year is the first year we will spend Christmas without Dakota. Where has the time gone?

This year my favorite ornament is this little mouse who has climbed up onto the spire and is all tangled up in the lights. He is just too cute sitting up there all by himself.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Marshmallowy Goodness

As I mentioned yesterday I decided to try making marshmallows from scratch, mostly because I didn't think to order any for hot cocoa this year. I distinctly remember seeing some at Shoprite, but there weren't any when I did the Christmas shopping. I don't know why I found this surprising. Malawi is one of those places where if you see something for sale and you think you might want it, you better buy it on the spot because it is virtually guaranteed to not be there when you go back and it may be months before it shows back up again, if it ever does.

We always have hot cocoa and marshmallows on Christmas but there are no marshmallows to be had. Thankfully gourmet homemade marshmallows have been all the rage the last few years with stores like William Sonoma selling them for ridiculous prices so there are tons of recipes out there right now. I have to admit that if I had a bag or two of Jet-Puffs I would never have tried this but like many of my cooking adventures desperation sent me to the internet searching for recipes.

My cookbooks all (or almost all) disappeared somewhere along the way during our first international move so I spend a fair amount of time searching the net for recipes. I have a few rules for recipe searches. Stick to sites that have have a way for people to post reviews. Choose recipes that have good reviews and actually take the time read the reviews before starting. That way you can see where people may have run into problems, and how they fixed them. My favorite sites are,, and There are also a few cooking blogs that I follow. In some ways I am glad that I lost my cookbooks. My repertoire of recipes is certainly much more diverse than it used to be.

Marshmallows. Surprisingly easy, incredibly sticky! I used this recipe from that was originally published by Gourmet magazine. I didn't need any special equipment I didn't already have, just a stand mixer and a candy thermometer. It only took about 30 minutes to turn sugar, corn syrup, water, egg whites, vanilla, and gelatin into a tray of marshmallow goo. Several hours later it had dried into a giant marshmallow waiting to cut into smaller marshmallows.

The basic idea is to soften the gelatin in a bit of water and beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and a bit of salt and boil it until it reaches 240 Fahrenheit. I went just a bit over that thanks to some kid distractions and it still worked. Then pour the hot syrup over then gelatin, stir until it the gelatin dissolves and then beat on high until it forms stiff peaks. This took long enough to make me very glad I was using a Kitchenaide stand mixer and not my old hand mixer. Then add in the vanilla and egg whites and beat it some more. Pour it into a a greased pan and let cool uncovered for several hours. I just left it overnight and it worked perfectly. That's it. It was pretty easy.

When trying to find out more about making marshmallows I ran across this blog about making marshmallows. It was totally hilarious. I didn't have the same problems she did but managed to run into other problems of my own. The hardest thing for me was cutting the marshmallows. Everything was sticky. I had a hard time getting the slab of marshmallow out of the pan. It stuck to the pan, it stuck to my fingers, it stuck to the knife, it was just plain sticky. I started throwing powdered sugar all over everything and that helped, a lot. One of my favorite food bloggers said to oil the pan, put parchment in the bottom of the pan then oil that too. I will definitely try that next time. I tried cutting the marshmallows with a knife and very quickly switched to a pizza cutter. Eventually I ended up with a beautiful pile of marshmallows and a counter (and floor, and stovetop, and coffee pot) all covered in powdered sugar. It looked just like snow. It finally looks a little like Christmas here in the tropics.

Yes I used a ruler!

I tried to get David to pose with a cup of cocoa with melting marshmallows for this blog post and suddenly realized why it is so hard to get the kids to all pose nicely when I have a camera. It's genetic! I am including these pictures for your Christmas enjoyment! Merry Christmas Y'all!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmasy Food

What do you eat on Christmas? Do you eat the same thing every year? Do you use that day as an excuse to try fancy new recipes? Thanksgiving has the turkey, what foods spell Christmas to you? In our house Christmas day usually means ham. Too bad the only ham we could find costs a fortune and is at a store that has had ongoing problems with it's cold storage system resulting in random meat spoilage. No ham this year. This is truly the first year I can remember without a ham.

To add to the culinary failure in progress Christmas Eve means tamales and chili. Since I made tamales and chili a few weeks ago as part of Dakota's week long leaving home feast we are all tamaled out, although the kids have let me know they will take another Big Red, thanks. So what to do this year? How to make it feel like Christmas despite the 90 degree weather, no ham, and tamale overload?

David suggested gnocchi which is one of our favorites, but there was a unanimous "Not Knee-Yucky!" chorus from the kids. Sick little critters. In fact pasta was shot down across the board as not "Christmasy enough". There were suggestions for turkey which I politely ignored, once a year is quite enough. I thought of steak but somehow that seems more like summer BBQ than Christmas dinner. Of course it is summer here, so maybe it isn't such a bad idea.

We finally settled on baked chicken with green beans, potatoes au gratin, cranberry sauce out of a can (BLECH), homemade bread, and creme brulee for dessert for Christmas Eve. Christmas Day we will have a beef stew, fresh rolls, and apple pie with ice cream for dessert. Simple, homey, comfort food. Well except for Colin's creme brulee and even that's not too hard to make.

In case you think I for got about breakfast on Christmas Eve we will have pancakes made by Alonzo. He makes the best pancakes light and fluffy and just a tiny bit sweet. On Christmas Day will will have beignets otherwise know by my kids as donut holes. And while we are opening the presents hot cocoa with marshmallows. Yummy!

Today's adventure was making the marshmallows. I have looked all over town and can't find a bag of marshmallows anywhere so I tried making them. I say tried because I am not sure yet if they are going to set up the way the are supposed to but when I licked the bowl it tasted like the best marshmallow fluff ever. So my fingers are crossed it all worked out and we will have pretty homemade marshmallows melting in our hot cocoa come Christmas morning, if not I am just putting a big spoonful of marshmallow fluff and calling it good enough. I will post an update later with pictures if they work out. If you are dying to try making some yourself the recipe can be found at

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Look What Showed Up

Yes that is David reading to Colin from my brand new Kindle. It showed up this week. Awhile back I blogged about my birthday present gone awry. In fact I broke the bad news to a number of people that their electronics were being held hostage by the pouch and wouldn't be arriving at post as expected, but I never told the rest of my story.

Unlike a number of people who were told their computer/ipad/camera was in the warehouse, I was told mine had been returned and was not at the warehouse, BUT Amazon had not received it back so we were out the money but had nothing to show for it. We held off contacting Amazon to request a refund because there was still so much confusion as to what was going on. What would the new official policy be? What about all those computers and things in the warehouse? Eventually policy was set and cables issued: "No more lithium ion batteries!" There would be a one time shipment to clear the warehouse. That hurt since my kindle was returned to sender but others would be receiving their electronics. The shipment showed up this week and lo and behold there was my kindle, duly stamped return to sender, but obviously NOT returned. I am a happy camper, let me tell you!

The best thing about the kindle is all the free books! There are hundreds and thousands of free titles out there for e-readers. Some are the classics which are no longer protected by copyright law due to age. Others are special offers by publishers to get you hooked on a series or author. I have already downloaded a half dozen free books to read and have a list a mile long of titles I want either for myself or to read to the kids. Here are a few of the free books I already have or will have by the end of the week. Did I mention they are FREE???

A Christmas Carol by Dickens
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Beauty and the Beast by Marie Le Prince de Beaumont
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank
White Fang by Jack London
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco
Alaeddin and the Enchanted Lamp
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
Anne of Green Gables by L. M.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown
Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent
Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving--and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell
Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Slow Ride: A Rough Riders Story by Lorelei James
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Emma by Jane Austin
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Irresistible Forces by Brenda Jackson
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know by Hamilton Wright Mable

I still love the feel and the smell of a real paper book. I will always have real paper and ink books around me, I love them and that isn't going to change. It's simply a magical feeling to pull a book off the shelf and fall into a new world. If I had access to a library and a bookstore I might not be so excited about an e-reader but I live a few airplane flights away from such luxuries. To be able to have a new book to read with a few key strokes (and some patience with the internet) is amazing! Even better when the e-books are free.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And Then There Were Two

One week ago today I kissed my first born goodbye and sent him off to make his own way in the world. Today exactly one week later I kissed my second born and sent him off to his first ever sleep over camp. He will be gone all week so now I only have two kids at home. How weird is that going to be?

The house is unnaturally quiet and empty. I think I may find a book and a cup of hot tea and read for awhile. I could get used to this. The boys better watch out, I have heard about this thing call boarding school....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stanley Update

I have to bring you some bad news. Stanley has passed on to where ever wind scorpions go when they die. RIP Stanley. The boys sill miss you. I'm just praying all those eggs don't hatch. Does anyone out there happen to know how long it will take the eggs to hatch?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

And the Kitchen is Officially Closed!

I swear all I have done this week is cook, cook, cook, and cook some more. I have made lasagna noodles from scratch, turned milk into ricotta cheese, steamed homemade tamales, kneaded bread for cinnamon rolls, and pressed corn tortillas so that we could have enchiladas. I have sent more time in that kitchen this week that I usually do in a month. It was all in a good cause, Dakota's last week at home was full of all his favorite foods. I managed to make every single thing he requested. Now he is on his way to the airport and the kitchen is officially closed. If someone in this house is hungry may I suggest raman noodles? Alonzo knows how to cook those.

I will do the same for each of the boys as they leave home. Everyone deserves to be spoiled a bit before they are kicked out of the nest for good. All the same I really hope that the next boy (Alonzo) heads out for bootcamp or college he wants to eat at all his favorite restaurants during that last week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Dakota came home today with a new board game. It's called bao. It's like mancala on steroids. Dakota decided I needed to learn this game tonight at about 9 pm. I have been up since 5:30 am. I have home schooled Alonzo, mixed up enough masa to make 10 dozen or so tamales, prepped the meat for the tamales, made cookies for tomorrow's Christmas parties at school, cooked the requested beef rendang, cleaned house (sorta), washed enough dishes that I hope I never see another dish again and did two loads of laundry. Oh and I may have had a glass of wine or two sometime this evening.

I lost. I still have no idea how to play the game. What I do know the is the board is very pretty and I want one of my own just so it can look all decorative and cool sitting next to the fireplace with all my other board games. It is just so much cooler looking than Scrabble or Battleship. Don't you think?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bidding Advice Malawi

If anyone in your family has a fascination with bugs, or has ever wanted to be an entomologist, then Malawi might just be your dream post. I know I am spending way too much time talking about nasty creepy crawlies, but I live with five males all of whom seem drawn to critters. The grosser the better.

Today Dakota comes home from work and says "I have something to show you, it's in the van." Dave piped up "You really should go look." So off I go, all unsuspecting. I am slow that way sometimes. You would think I would learn by now, Huh?

Dakota pulls out his SeaWorld cup that I bought him at last summer. Note to self: Throw away the Seaworld cup when he leaves!! He opens it up and dumps out this nightmare.

That's a waterbug, no not a big cockroach, a giant water bug. Also known as a toe-biter. To all my girls back in the hood who are looking smug right about now thinking that these things don't live in Texas, get over yourselves, they totally do. Of course those are little bitty things only around a inch and half long. We found several at our house in San Antonio so I recognized this thing right away. Mostly because they bite and I make a point of knowing what critters in the neighborhood are likely to hurt me.

Look at this face. He is so pleased with himself that he has found a new yucky bug to gross me out. Like Stanley and the termite swarms aren't already taking care of that. You know after looking at this thing I am liking Stanley more and more.

In case you are wondering Dakota did not glue the bug to the ruler. He set the bug on the ruler so he could get a picture of it showing how horrifyingly big this thing is. The bug immediately grabbed hold of the ruler and refused to let go. I think it was hanging on for dear life. Smart bug, I would have stomped on it if I got a chance.

When he was done playing with the bug did he stomp it like a good son, saving his mom from the horrors of the insect world? No he released the nasty thing in our pretty little pond full of fish and helpless tadpoles.

It took it a minute to let go of the ruler. For a second I thought perhaps they would pull it out of the pond and I would still get a chance to grab my boots and stomp it into oblivion. But then a tadpole swam by and in a flash it let go of the ruler and turned into the predator it is. Now it is loose in the pond. With my luck it's pregnant and soon instead of a pond full of fish and tadpoles I will have a pond full of nightmares.

Wordless Wednesday - Caught In the Act

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stanley Update

Stanely laid eggs. It is reproducing. Oh yay! In case you missed it, this is Stanley, she lives in my living room. I can't tell you how excited I am by this blessed development. More Stanleys. I can't wait.

This morning when I drank my coffee and read a few blogs I got a message. The first two blogs I read both had the same message: Let go of the anger and welcome blessings into your life. What a great message to receive first thing in the morning. I am trying to figure out how this is a blessing but I am coming up a bit short. Any ideas? Anyone?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Special Menu

When you are leaving home for good you should get a bit of spoiling before you go. Right? So this week I let Dakota make the menu. I didn't even complain when a few (or all) of the things he choose are major pain in the behind to make. Remember we are in Malawi. I can't just run to the store and grab some tortillas and we won't discuss the price of cheese around here but when it is available it is precious stuff. Here is what baby boy wants for his going away week.


Enchilada casserole
Tres leche cake
Butter chicken
Beef randang
Indonesian chicken curry
Breakfast tacos
Cinnamon rolls

I think I am going to be spending a lot of the week in the kitchen. I still think it is totally worth it. I hope he enjoys every bite.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

That Would Suck!

One week from today Dakota, my firstborn baby will be wheels up and winging his way to Naples Italy, then onward to Great Lakes Illinois for Navy boot camp. I am an emotional mess. But that's not what this post is about. The younger boys have been talking a lot about what they will do when it is their turn to leave home. (This is not perhaps the most helpful conversation to have in front of a very emotional mama. One baby leaving is bad enough, I do not need reminding that eventually they will all leave home.) Tonight's conversation took a turn to the hilarious.

"When I leave home I am going to be a lawyer." Says Colin, my argumentative one. I have to say it is a good choice for his personality.

"Not me!" piped up Alonzo. "I am going to go to the Navy academy so I can be an officer and Dakota will have to salute when ever he sees me."

"Oh man!" Dakota with a horrified look on his face. "That would suck!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Foreign Food

This week's Weekly State Department Roundup is being hosted by Lauren at Global Geraghtys. The theme this week is "I've Never Eaten That Before." Be sure to click over on Friday to find out what strange things people have eaten during their travels.

I have always been open to trying new food, unless of course it came out of the ocean. I don't like most seafood, so fish are safe around me, otherwise it is fair game. Growing up we raised a lot of our own meat. In addition to the standard cow and pig a year we also raised ducks, chicken, geese, guineas, turkeys, rabbits, goats and occasionally other birds if my mother found something new in the poultry catalog. Yes, you can mail order live poultry. Dad hunts so we had venison most years. Dad also fancies himself a gourmet so we would eat any weird meat he found for sale: rattlesnake, bear, alligator, crawdads, frog legs, you get the idea.

Lest you think we ate only meat we had a large garden and we grew what ever weird thing was in the Burpee seed catalog. Blue potatoes, kohlrabi, yellow tomatoes, spaghetti squash. If something strange showed up in the catalog it was a safe bet it was going to show up in our garden that spring.

When we moved to our first post in Jakarta I was ready to try new things. I very quickly found out that tropical fruit is an acquired taste. By tropical fruit I mean tropical fruits other than pineapples and mangos. There are bunches of fruits that are available in every market in SE Asia that you will never find in your average grocery in America. There is salak (snake fruit), mangosteen, dragon fruit, jackfruit, guava, jambu air (water apple), longan (dragon's eye fruit), rambutan and so many more. Some of these I liked, usually the ones with mild flavors, most I found repulsive. The flavors, smells and textures were just too weird. The kids quickly grew to like them all.

There was one fruit none of us were brave enough to try. A fruit that smells so bad, it is illegal to take it on trains, planes, or into hotel rooms. A fruit so vile that even Andrew Zimmern of Bizzarre Foods can't stomach it. The man eats bugs and likes it, but he can't eat this fruit. And yet this fruit is considered a delicacy.

The undisputed queen of asian tropical fruit is of course the durian. It looks like a big spiky melon of some sort. It actually grows up in trees. I can only imagine it would be fatal to have one fall on your head. The smell is pungent, overwhelming, nauseating, and totally unforgettable once smelled. Shortly before we left Jakarta we finally decided we couldn't leave without trying durian at least once.

Dave found the taste a cross between diesel and overripe pineapple he managed to swallow his bite. I can't even describe the taste but I won't willingly put that in my mouth again and I spat it out much to the amusement of the gathered drivers, pembantus and gardeners. Alonzo and Dakota refused to taste it. Colin and Grayson claimed to like it but I noticed even they didn't line up for a second bite.I just couldn't swallow the durian. Blech!

David didn't like it much either but he did better than me.

I am sure there will be many other culinary adventures in our futures, some good, some bad. I can tell you one thing I won't be eating though, mouse on a stick! Not. Going. To. Happen.