Tuesday, March 31, 2009

a quick word about peeling those baked beets

I think if you boil your beets, you peel them first. Peeling a beet after it's been baked is a bit more of a challenge, especially if you want to keep your pants purple-free. They're slippery, those baked beets.

So here's what I learned by trial and error:

1. Don't wear white. It's just asking for trouble.
2. Let the beets cool. They're easier to handle when you're only worried about them jumping from your fingertips rather than also distracted by their scalding heat. Today I baked beets in the morning so they'd be cool by the time I had to prep them for dinner.
3. With a vegetable peeler, peel a loop around the top or bottom of the beet.
4. Holding the beet by your fingertips at the unpeeled end, pull your fingers together over the peel toward the end. (Does that make any sense?) The peel should slip right off the beet.
5. If that maneuver doesn't work, just peel with the veggie peeler. A paring knife is a pain. I just learned that.

If I keep obsessing about beets, I'll post a picture or two. For now, here's the nutritional value of a beet. Mm.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

fabulous run

Just had a great run this morning. Did seven miles on the treadmill early and then met Stetson for a run around eight thirty. No particular route in mind, no watch. My guess is four or four and half miles. We got back to my place, took off our running shoes and socks, and jumped in the pool. Ahh. Then drank zapote juice, a favorite of mine I discovered up on the coast in Taganga. Good start to the weekend.

Friday, March 27, 2009

baked beets: a new favorite!

Justin is on a super veggie and fruit diet for a few days. Won't get into why except to tell you that it's nothing outrageously serious but the doctor did suggest that he limit his diet to only fruits and veggies for a few days. That isn't such a crazy change because since moving to Colombia we've both upped our fruit and veggie consumption and lowered our meat consumption. I like to make a game of checking off my "five a day."

And it's remarkably easy and cheap to eat an abundant variety of fruits and vegetables here. Olga, who works in the school's administrative offices, commented about visiting Whole Foods in the States: "It's like La14 but super expensive." And it is. La14 (La Catorce) is our local chain grocery store and it's great. Shop on Tuesdays for ten percent off all produce.

Anyway. At La14 I ran into Laura Elena and Ben which was fortunate because LE was just on a strict diet because (and this is the unfortunate part) she had dengue fever. So she knows her veggies and all the ways to prepare them. She offered a few suggestions - drinking aloe (4 Tbsp in a glass of water) for the stomach and gut, mashing steamed cauliflower, and baking beets. I went online and found this way to prepare baked beets. Here it is, with my modifications:

Baked Beets

1. Scrub or wash 4 medium beets. You can just dust the dirt off too. If the beets are wet, dry them before baking so you avoid steaming them. (I'm not sure why steaming is so terrible).
2. Place beets in covered casserole. I just wrapped tin foil over the top. Bake for an hour or an hour and half at 400 degrees. (Fahrenheit, goes without saying. But I just did).
3. Peel and eat. I'm still stuck about the peeling part. I read that it's supposed to be easy but I don't think it's that easy. I baked a bunch of beets at once (8 or 9) and used about half that night; the next night, peeling the cold beets was (slightly) easier.
4. Thinly slice beets and mix with a quarter cup of cream in a saucepan. Salt and pepper to taste. Right before serving, squeeze a lemon or lime wedge over the beets. Delicious.

Monday, March 23, 2009

take a holiday

I'll miss the three day weekends next year. Colombia, a Catholic country with lots of saints to celebrate, peppers its months with puentes or long weekends. I looked at our school calendar for next year in Kuwait and noticed a break in September, a few days off around Thanksgiving, and about three weeks for Christmas and New Year's. There's a spring break and, I think, a longer weekend for Easter. There are a few random days off for Muslim holy days. But not the liberal use of holy days I've grown accustomed to here.

Of course, next year I'll be on a Mom calendar with one day running into the next. Everyday's a weekend, right? But for our travel plans (Justin regularly leaves Internet tabs up, showing airline sites and tourist information for places like Amman and Goa), I keep track of the days off. Also, let's be honest, those are the days that I'll have Justin around to help corral the kid. Rather than just the evenings when we're both a little zonked.

So here's what we've been doing with our day off: We woke to a steady, thundering rain. I ran. I wanted to get twelve miles in and would've settled for eleven, but ended up with just over ten. Claire was a little insistent that I feed her compota de zanahoria y naranja and Justin had left for his bike ride by that time, the rain ending around nine o'clock. I made strawberry banana orange juice with spoon of honey and then I burned a pan of cookies. Angie dropped my bike off after borrowing it for the weekend, so I can bike to school tomorrow. Now we're preparing lunch. By we I mean Justin who is chopping tomatoes and onions for a scrambled egg. In the meantime, I'm lunch for a mosquito.

Still on my list for today: I need to figure percentages for one more class; tax junk; google exactly how much food Claire should be eating (I've been feeding her a little veggie or fruit baby food midmornings and rice cereal with formula or breast milk in the late afternoons. She seems to be wanting more but I'm not sure what amounts are healthy. She's still nursing four or five times a day too); maybe get an hour to write; and just enjoy one of my few remaining puentes.

Friday, March 20, 2009

pioneer women abound

Stetson emailed me this site today, presumably after reading my last post. Let's just say that Etsy may have been usurped by The Pioneer Woman as a place for me to lallygag. I haven't explored too much of the site but did check out her Cooking page: scrumptious.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

learn something new: nonfiction!

I was a CA (same as an RA) in college for a year and a half. I liked it. Not the roommates stealing from each other or finding the occasional co-ed passed out in the bathroom or the puke on the stairs or the cranky three a.m. calls about noise. No, what I liked about residential living (we weren't supposed to even whisper "dorm") was the hall barbecues and the organized trips to the skating rink and making everyone who walked by the front desk play Jenga. I also liked making bulletin boards. Our hall director checked to make sure we changed our boards once a month and she always complimented me. I think I even got nominated for a Best Board award or something. Of course, I also won the Door Knob award, but that's another story.

Anyway. Oh, think if I'd just spent those hours tacking on a second major instead! One of my favorite boards was Learn Something New, a sort of command to my freshman residents. I posted quirky magazine articles and lists of odd statistics. I'm a sucker for things like that. I love learning new things. Well, most of the time.

Five or six years ago, I asked my students to set a reading goal for themselves. I set one for myself: to read more nonfiction books. Outside of magazine and newspaper articles, I didn't touch much nonfiction. Since then, I've been hooked. Here are a few of my favorites:

Jon Krakauer. I first read his chronicle of Chris McCandless' life Into the Wild. It remains one of my favorite books. I first started it in college when a friend named James loaned me a copy (which I kept). I didn't finish it then but revisited it a few years later. Since then I've reread it three or four times. The movie is a good adaptation, keeping the spirit of the book but, of course, the book is better.

Since I taught an excerpt of Krakauer's Into Thin Air, I decided to read the entire book. Into Thin Air is an personal account of one of the most disastrous days on Mt. Everest in May 1996, and adeptly challenges the value of crowding the summit with adventure tourists.

His Under the Banner of Heaven is an entirely different subject matter from his previous books. This book begins with the 1984 murders of a mother and her toddler committed in the tight, closed community of fundamentalist Mormons. From there, Krakauer details the history of the Mormon church, including its fundamentalist sects, ultimately seeking to understand what motivated the killers.

I haven't read his most recent books but I'll be checking them out when I'm back in the States this summer. I think Krakauer is a careful, precise writer. He wants his facts to be accurate and he delivers them eloquently.

Mary Roach. I read Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers first and still like that one best. I'm a little nervous that she's locked herself into a Sue Grafton type title deal: Stiff was followed by Spook was followed by Bonk. Oh well. Spook was okay and parts of Bonk were hilarious while other parts were just a little too uncomfortable. Perhaps we don't all need to be so informed. So read Stiff and take or leave the other two. I'll still check out her next book. And, yes, I'll be irritated if she passes on the single word title.

Michael D'Orso. I finished reading Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska and immediately looked up other titles by the author. Eagle Blue is one of the best nonfiction books I've read, following a high school boys' basketball team through their season. You read the book and get to know the boys, their families and teachers and coaches; you develop a sense of the community. D'Orso gives the background knowledge you need to appreciate the tribal life and explains the current challenges to that same way of life.

I loaned the book to a coworker who taught in Alaska for a number of years. She told me that she recognized the names of the little towns in the interior and that the descriptions made her nostalgic. Her husband, in fact, coached basketball and remembered some of the teams.

It's a tough life that far north and I finished the book with a greater respect for the men, women, and children who live in the interior. Part of me wishes I were brave enough to learn that culture. A bigger part of me doesn't want to have to defrost the house every morning.

Lillian Schlissel. I have this thing about pioneer women. I love pioneer women. I began reading their diaries and about their life on the trail and out west when I was in college. I think it started in a history (my minor) class and carried over into an independent writing project for creative writing (my other minor). Lillian Schlissel wrote one of my favorite pioneer women books, Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey. I've read it a couple of times now and am always amazed by the women's endurance. Women's Diaries is honest about the hardships women faced on the trail. The entries are exciting, mundane, complaining, anticipatory, worried, depressed, content.

Schlissel teamed up with Byrd Gibbens and Elizabeth Hampsten to write Far From Home: Families of the Westward Journey. I actually taught an excerpt of this book which is divided into three parts, each focusing on a different family. The three families' experiences give a broad view of what it was like for families to make the decision to head west. For one family, the Malicks, it was a way of life. They'd moved before. Another family, the Browns, thought it'd be a chance to start over, make some money. And the Nehers, just arrived from Eastern Europe, saw a shot at the American Dream.

Post your own nonfiction recommendations if you have them. I'm starting a book list for summer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

running wild & reduced rent

Running Wild
On Saturday, Stetson met me for a run. Outside. I did seven miles on the treadmill before and hoped to round out enough miles to qualify for a long run. We didn't run a route but managed about fifty minutes, including brief walks and a stretch break. It's all hills around here so today my quads were sore. We ran a short stretch of trail behind a power station and that made me want more trail. It was great. We found a dead end and I figured out how the roads near our place connect with each other. This neighborhood reminds me of a knot.

So I think I'll make a Saturday morning routine of getting outside for a run, even if it's just a short one. The time outside and the chat with Stetson was good. Running has been entirely too solitary lately.

Reduced Rent
I worked up the courage to chat with Carmen about the construction noise. For a long time I thought I could just deal with it, make the best of living next door to the next new condominium complex: watching them hack an entire mango tree down with a machete, waking up to the growls and rumbles of dump trucks, the rattling dishes on my kitchen shelves, and a bed that vibrated even though we didn't put a quarter in it. Sometimes it's a noise you notice once it's gone and your shoulders relax and you realize you've been speaking in teacher voice over dinner.

Anyway, I was very direct which isn't comfortable in Colombia. Colombians tend to be non confrontational so voicing my unhappiness could be considered very rude. Oh well. Carmen took it well, kept apologizing. I suggested that she speak with her daughter (the whole mess is her project) and either put an axe to the Saturday and Sunday construction, kindly suggest that the workers leave before seven at night or - I took a breath and pressed on- or reduce our rent. After all, when we signed the contract, we were expecting one house, not seven little condominiums and a road. And it was supposed to be finished by now.

"I am so sorry," Carmen said, "This was not what I expected. The man was supposed to finish the road last week. I called my daughter and she said last week it would be done. And here they are today." Carmen threw her hands in the air and we all paused to listen to the grader vibrate, packing the gravel. Justin pointed out that if we could hear the machine in her house, just imagine the noise in our apartment, all of twenty or thirty meters from the site. Carmen agreed to cut our rent, saving us about five hundred dollars over the next three months. Oh, we'll still go nuts with the noise but at least now we're paying what we feel is more reasonable for this experience.

Then comes the story: this wasn't supposed to happen. The daughter and her husband own a construction company and develop new properties. She told her parents they were building one house for their family. Grandkids next door, who doesn't want that? So they signed the property over. And then plans changed. I wonder if any wills changed too, after all this. Still, the daughter's family makes it over for an occasional Sunday dinner. So not all is spoiled.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

friday five: only good things

1. Good classes this week. My sophomores are reading Catcher in the Rye and had a great discussion about the narrator, Holden, and what his deal is. I also got a chance to talk with them about their poetry portfolios. Sometimes I dread reading student poetry (I know I shouldn't admit that) because so often it's about love. Gaggy love stuff. But this semester a number of them turned out some completely non-gaggy love stuff poetry. I was particularly impressed by a number of the guys' portfolios: they experimented with words and phrases and much of it worked really well. I'll ask permission to showcase a few of my favorites.

2. Speedwork today went well and I actually managed to set a running date tomorrow. My friend Stetson will meet me for a run outside in the morning. I haven't run outside in about a month and a half. Yikes. Super excited. If he has to bail, I'll still do it. All hills because that's all there is around here.

3. Overnight Claire learned to sit on her own. I tuck a crescent-shaped pillow around her just in case she tips back. She's also getting more insistent about moving toward the toys she sees and wants. It's fun to watch her figure things out, and to listen to her chatter and squeal.

4. Fact: Emeralds are one of Colombia's most important exports. Fact: Tomorrow I will go to a jeweler and talk design for my emerald ring. Fact: My emerald ring will remind me of my time in Colombia. (Now read all of those in a Dwight voice).

5. Musical tonight. We're going to Bolivar's production of All Shook Up, a rendition of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night set to Elvis music. If you can imagine. I know a number of the students in the production and our friends Josh and Stetson helped run rehearsals. I'm pretty sure they dream the musical at this point. And Justin helped build parts of the set, scraps of which are still in his classroom. So we'll go and hope that Claire conks out between poodle skirt numbers. I hope she's not fussy, I hope she's not fussy, I hope she's not fussy. Now I'll click my heels three times.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

running lately

I've started keeping track of my miles. I never did that before, except to note what I managed each week, forgetting it the next. I didn't write the miles down on a calendar or note patterns or actually plan running workouts. Right now, I've decided to aim for one speed workout each week and, now that most of my miles are logged on the treadmill, I need to add a hill run each week.
My running is stagnant. I'm getting the miles (8 - 10 each run) and enjoying those miles but that's it. No big races to train for, no long weekend runs to route. I just run run run.

I'm not running outside much. Last January, I switched to track running on campus after getting tired of traffic: car horns, exhaust, near misses (or near hits?). And a bigger reason for giving up on road running here was the men. Obnoxious men hissing and hollering. On one afternoon, a man on a bike grabbed at my chest as he passed by. I got tired of getting mad on my runs. (My running partner, Stetson, can attest to my temper. Let's just say I'm sometimes glad for the language barrier, although angry faces and raised fists don't require much translation. At least I didn't get shot). So on the track, I was in my bubble. Same with the treadmill now. I do get out on the road occasionally, running to school and back, but I need to return to the road regularly.
My friend Scott wanted to know if I was concerned about safety, if that's why I'm not running outside. Partly. Really, though, it's because getting a run in on my treadmill is so much easier. I'm able to get my runs in early in the morning, which I prefer. Running in the dark isn't a good idea here so I don't head outside for those early morning miles. Late afternoon, I'm beat and busy enough getting dinner ready around Claire's routine. On the weekends, Justin bikes most Sunday mornings and I'm not keen on running through midday heat after he returns.

That leaves Saturday and no excuses. Tell you what. I'm going to split my run this Saturday. Half treadmill, half road. I'll get out and run some hills, a short route that won't make me nervous about running alone. Or maybe I'll call up one of my running friends, beg their company. I'll enjoy it, a break from the usual.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

little one

Sunshine girl.
We read books together.
And play on Sunday mornings.
Claire likes the potted palms by our front door.
And here she gets the hang of opening gifts.

Monday, March 9, 2009

3 new things

Mysteries. My first year of teaching, I asked my junior/senior class what they wanted to read. All about choices, you know. So they picked mystery stories. We read five or six short mysteries and I got hooked. I like the book The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century. I've read mystery novels by a variety of authors (code for: I can't remember them all right now) and picked up a book by James Patterson on recommendation of my friend and fellow English teacher, Nira. Rather icky title of 1st to Die and I figured out whodunnit with about a quarter of the book to go. What I liked about the novel was that it centers on a group of four women (a cop, a medical examiner, a journalist, and a lawyer) bent on solving the murders together. There's a whole series but beggars can't be choosers when it comes to books published in English when you're living in South America. And then I picked up S is for Silence by Sue Grafton. I used to make fun of Sue Grafton when I shelved her books as a library aide: didn't she box herself into writing twenty-six books when she started off with A is for Alibi? What if she hated it after the letter D? I like the book so far - it reminds me of TV's Cold Case.

Rice cereal, bananas and apples. Not new to me but new to Claire. We started with rice cereal which makes a nice facial too. She did okay with banana today I learned that she loves her applesauce. I cooked apple slices for five minutes and then mashed them into sauce. We'll try these for three days and then move onto green beans before we give carrots a shot. Oh, the fun we have at Casa 09.

Etsy. I only discovered this site three days ago after hearing about it for awhile and I've already spent, like, forty hours looking at stuff. Okay. Maybe two hours. But sometimes I get to feeling guilty about putzing around online. It's like watching television: I feel a little twitchy if I stare at a computer screen too long. But Etsy, well, I can make an exception. Actually makes me want to learn how to make jewelry or start knitting or come up with something kitschy enough to net me a couple hundred bucks. (I thought about typing "millions" but decided that might be a little hopeful for someone who thought she'd go nuts just making all her wedding invitations).

Friday, March 6, 2009

promised quiet is not delivered

But I won't complain. Much. Last week, the landlady's daughter promised that the loud construction was out of the way. She must have just meant that my windows, mirrors, and dishes wouldn't rattle for awhile. We're debating asking for a rent reduction for these last few months we're here in Colombia, perhaps suggesting that the family construction company subsidize the difference. Hm.

I can't dwell on it. But I am.

I'm about twenty minutes away from a private Spanish lesson I didn't study for this week. It's been hot hot hot here and I know that it'll be hot hot hot in Kuwait too. Bug bites. I have to grocery shop and I'm tired.

Okay. That was my complaining. Here's my rejoicing:

My hair is cooperating even when I don't blow dry it. At least, I think it's cooperating. I remember my friend Tara saying "I don't care what it looks like in the back as long as the front looks good." Um. Claire sucks her bottom lip in and grins and it cracks me up. I ran ten miles this morning. Last night was a girls' night out and Claire stayed home with Papa and went to bed just fine while I ate a plate of calamari with Nira, Kristy, and Lindy.

Okay. I feel better. Now I need to find those Spanish verb conjugations.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

the best chocolate cake

Ever. This recipe is taken from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. Someday I'll become cook and baker enough to throw together my own recipes but until then, I scrounge others'. My mom recommended this book and told me this really was the best chocolate cake. I have used this recipe for - hm - maybe seven years. Almost impossible to wreck. Have a go.

The Best Chocolate Cake

2 1/4 c unbleached white flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c warm water
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar


1 c semisweet chocolate chips
8 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Wait 10 minutes before starting to make the cake. Meanwhile, butter and flour 2 8-inch layer pans and set aside. When the 10 minutes are up, thoroughly combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
2. Pour in the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar and stir until well combined. Pour into the prepared pans. Bake 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely.
3. To make the buttercream: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then remove the top pan. Let the chocolate cool until tepid. In a medium bowl, cream the butter, using an electric mixer. Add the egg and beat until blended but now smooth. Pour in the chocolate and beat until just combined.
4. When the cake is completely cool, spread some icing on one layer. Top with the other layer, then spread the remaining icing all over the cake. Chill the cake at least 30 minutes, then bring to room temperature before serving.

Suggestions & Modifications: Let's see. I use canola oil instead of vegetable oil. I also sift the cocoa. And I blend the wet ingredients before mixing them with the dry (I don't think it really matters). I also like to use a mix of semisweet and dark or all dark (70 - 80%) chocolate for the icing.

Here's a picture of The Best Chocolate Cake, served as a Benchmark Cake for my English department chair's presentation. She told us about the grade 6 Language Arts Standard 2 Benchmark 1. Hence the blurry sprinkles 6.2.1. Please, please do not submit this to cakewrecks. Learning how to ice a cake without slobbering icing all over the plate is still on my list of things to do.

Monday, March 2, 2009

i made a pro/con list

We are moving to Kuwait! After two interviews this weekend, we had to make a decision: accept one of the positions or decline both and keep looking. At the start of this process (when did we start this?), we made a list of things we wanted in a school and what we hoped for in our lifestyle. To keep looking on the chance Justin might land a slightly bigger salary when the American School of Kuwait already met most of our wish list seemed silly. So we are happy, relieved, and ready to freak out in two weeks when this decision sinks in and we realize: we are moving to Kuwait.

It was a tough weekend. We felt fairly confident that Kuwait was a great option for us after the interview but didn't yet want to veto the possibility of working in Saudi Arabia. We spent Saturday obsessively googling anything we could find about the schools and the countries and swinging back and forth. Finally, on Sunday afternoon I made a pro/con list. For maybe the third time in my life. I'm not usually a fan of pro/con lists because by the time I sit down to make them, my mind is made up and I try to stack the list in favor of the answer I want. Not so this time.

What made this decision difficult was that some of the pros and cons were the same for either place. For example: I don't have to teach next year but have the option of tutoring for extra money. Huge, wonderful pro. On the con side: neither Saudi Arabia nor Kuwait are very pedestrian. People drive like maniacs everywhere and we'll likely need to lease our own car or share with another family if we want to avoid expensive taxi fares. Also, no alcohol or pork in either country. Well, we don't drink much but many Westerners learn how to make their own wine or beer in closets. Hm. There's no make your own pork recipe so I'll be making spaghetti carbonara from now until August. On the pro side again, Kuwait seems a better option because there are less restrictions placed on women there compared to Saudi Arabia. Another consideration was religious tolerance; Kuwait is more accepting of Christianity and other non-Muslim religions. Finally, there are other stay at home moms whose husbands are employed by ASK and so I'll be able to share some of my days with Claire with these moms and their kids.

One of the main reasons we decided to teach internationally was so that we could (duh) see the world, explore new cultures. Kuwait is so close to so much, we're already excited to visit here (with the Burchells in India! or maybe they'll want to go here) and here and here.

I'll keep you posted as I learn more about Kuwait and prepare for our move there. And you'll be privy to a few wild elations and meltdowns between now and boarding the plane.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

probably shouldn't be blogging

I keep waiting to find a quiet space to think about our options for next year. It's quiet now and I feel like I'm going to throw up. This happened two years ago when we had offers to weigh and a next step to consider. That tiny moment before you leap, before you commit. Or, just as often, the moments right after you leap when the sky is so bright and you think: I feel good about this but yikes, I don't know what to expect. Oh, those little leaps:

1. Let's get married.
2. I do.
3. Let's teach abroad.
4. Yes, we accept the offer.
5. Let's have a baby in three or four years.
6. I'm pregnant.
7. Let's find another country.

Eek. We have two offers to consider.