Puppies and Pancakes

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20130921-170931.jpgOur Saturday morning began with a dog pile. We are fostering a young lab that we might just have to keep. Penny, as you can tell from the picture, isn’t hugely excited about it. Maybe because the puppy (we think he’s about a year old) likes to play bite her face. And legs.

Ian is, though. Penny thinks of him as the alpha so she won’t cuddle with him. But Desmond does!

Yes, he has a name already. And he’s worked his way into Ian’s heart after only one night.

Because of doggie adjustment upheaval during the night we didn’t get much sleep and slept in. So this morning we had a late breakfast.

Pancakes and bacon are one of my favorite breakfasts. And lately I’ve been modifying it with a variety of fruit ingredients. Today’s was pumpkin, although I think I need fresher spices and more pumpkin. You could barely taste any pumpkin! I used six tablespoons like the recipe called for, but nope!

They were still good though, and the bacon was mind blowing good. Maybe because I cooked it slower and longer than usual.

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Martha Stewart’s pumpkin pancakes:
Whisk 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour; 2 tablespoons sugar; 2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, ground ginger, and salt; 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg; and a pinch of ground cloves. In a separate bowl, stir together 1 cup milk, 6 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 egg; fold mixture into dry ingredients. Melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat; pour in 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook pancakes about 3 minutes per side; serve with butter and syrup.

Friends and Quiche

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As we text back and forth about recent events, I am laying down two strips of bacon in the pan. The smell fills my small kitchen in Austin, Texas, while my texts speed towards another Austin, far away in Virginia. A julienned bunch of asparagus wait on the cutting board.
She tells me about her job and what she’s been doing and I read her text in the moments after I’ve scraped my chopped asparagus from the pan, where it sautés with the left over bacon fat.
I pour the whisked egg mixture into a pre made pie crust, then add the chopped red bell peppers, asparagus and bacon. I dot goat cheese around the quiche and slide it into the oven. I sip my wine and reach for my phone on the counter.

I swirl a fat pat of butter in a pan while waiting for her response about my latest news.
We haven’t talked for months but even the cold screen of my phone seems to radiate her particular voice, and attitude. I can see her bright, caring eyes peering through her glasses at the screen as she types, her lips pursed or smiling widely.
I replace the lid on the home fries I’m making and tap back a response until the potatoes start to sizzle and then I hit send.
Then I stir them again and repeat the process, lid on, text reply, wait for the sizzle.

When I mix the salad greens and pull the quiche, which is now golden, I reluctantly tell her I have to go. Dinner is ready is a phrase she knows well.

No one here seems to be as interested in food like my friends back home. They enjoy food but don’t get too excited about it. I can’t describe my passion for bacon wrapped Brie and figs to my new friends here without sounding like a curiosity. No one invite me over to dinner just because they want to try a new dish. My excitement over my CSA box is appreciated but not shared.
We have other things in common, and I am happy to have them as part of my new life here but nothing compares to the fun I used to have, discussing menu ideas with this circle of women.

Ian can get excited about my food, and couldn’t stop raving about the quiche I made, or my home fries. I am grateful at least, to have some one who so thoroughly enjoys the fruits of my friendships in Virginia.

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Aside

Happy Anniversary!

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Dear Meredyth,

Today is the second anniversary of my arrival in Botswana. It is hard to believe that it was two years ago that I stepped (groggy, stiff, jet-lagged, confused and disoriented by the sun) off a plane in Gaborone International Airport, and was greeted by Peace Corps Staff and Volunteers welcoming us to our “new home”. I can tell you without shame that I actually turned around and thought about getting back on the plane at that point. I am glad I didn’t (or couldn’t actually, the doors to the terminal only open one way, so there was no turning back.)

So I have been in Botswana for two years, and now I have one month left as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I actually cannot believe it. Do you remember when we hugged good-bye in America? We consoled each other by saying that two years would not be so long. Let’s be real, that feels like a really, really long time ago. Things were so different back then. You and Ian were just married; moving to Texas, quitting your jobs, and going to find a new life. I had just graduated from college, turned 24, was moving to Africa, and going to find a totally new life. Now here we are, two years later, we survived!

We did more than just survive; we thrived in these two years. You and Ian just celebrated your two-year wedding anniversary, and two years living in Austin. You both found good jobs and an addition to your family, Penny Pie! I am sitting here in my little cement house, baking congratulatory cookies (for myself for living in Africa for two effing years, and turning 26!). That’s right, my second (and final) birthday in Botswana was last week.

As I recall I made a list of milestones that I would complete in my “milestone year” of 25. Would you like to know how I did on my to do list?

  1. Run a half Marathon. CHECK!
  2. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Done and Done (HIGH FIVES AND HUGS MARY ANN!)
  3. Do my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Almost complete and I’m proud of it.

I did not fully explain number 3 last year, but I feel like I can tell you now. By, “do my job,” I meant not quitting. Honestly, this time last year I did not know if I had it in me to last another year. I was afraid that a day would come when I just had enough and said, “Screw this.”

That day never came and I will tell you why. There’s something that you can do to get you through any rough or painful situation, whether it’s running long distance climbing a mountain, sitting on a combi for 33 hours, getting through the school term or missing your family and friends so, so much. You’re going to laugh it’s so simple: say to yourself, “I can do it. I will do it.” Watch what happens, you will do it. You will get through it and you will form yourself into a stronger person as a result.

Without further ramblings, let me share with you the real secret to happiness:

Smitten Kitchen’s Pink Lady Cake, cause it was my 26th birthday and I’m a lady.

Strawberries are in season right now so I used fresh instead of frozen. Also, I didn’t have a blender to puree the strawberries, but I actually liked that there were delicious chunks in the cake. Most importantly, the cream cheese icing. That’s all, it’s important and delicious. The cake was perfect, it was moist, light and made an excellent breakfast treat too!

My birthday (week) was incredible. I was surrounded by some of the world’s greatest people. Thank you to every one who called me, hugged me, treated me to delicious meals, shared weird stories, listened to me talk about that thing we have to do three days in a row for our close of service medical test (PCVS… you know), and all who sent presents, cards, and love. I would not, could not have done this alone, it was everyone in Africa and at home who encouraged me, supported me, and let me scream and cry, that helped me through this experience. I am who I am today because of you.

Love always,

Julia

Baking Out the Bad

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Dear Meredyth,

What do you call those last days of winter that really should not be winter anymore? The extra days of unexpected cold mornings, the wind lashing at you when you open the door, are the worst. Even though the temperature has risen, the cold that remains feels almost unbearable. The really frustrating part about the season change is that the weather still reaches extremes each day, the mornings and nights are blustery and cold, but by mid day the sun is beating down with no breeze at all. Also, I discovered the only things that make me more vulnerable to sickness than drastic changes in temperature are questionable foods and no clean drinking water. I had an unpleasant combination of those things this week; can you guess what it gave me?

You probably guessed right, the good old stomach flu. Last Friday I ingested something, or some water, that was not agreeable. After displaying the contents of my stomach on my good friend Shannon’s wall on Saturday, I thought I had food poisoning. As crappy as that was I figured that it would be over by the next day.

I was wrong. I developed a fever, body aches, cramps, sweats, the whole lot, over the next four days. All I wanted was to stay in bed, drink tea, maybe eat a saltine or two, and have Mom there to pour sympathy over me. Somehow I managed to survive those days, making my own tea, and just pitying myself (but I’m still accepting it if you want to throw some pity this way.)

I know this story is getting fearfully sad, but do not worry, I beat that flu! By Friday morning I woke up, stretched myself out after many days in the fetal position, and best of all, enjoyed a bowl of my favorite breakfast oatmeal.

I was happily recovered and ready to make up for days of no real appetite, but then I found the produce I bought earlier that week was on its last leg. If there’s one thing I cannot stand it is letting food go bad; I refuse to do this. So I baked this problem into a tasty solution

Carrot & Zucchini Spice Bread

¼ c. dark brown sugar

¼ c. honey or agave or molasses

¼ c. OLIVE oil

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1 c. Whole wheat flour

1 t. baking powder

1 t. sea salt

2 t. cinnamon

1 c. zucchini, peeled and grated

1 c. carrots, peeled and grated

Cream the sugar, honey, oil, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix dry ingredients, add wet ingredients and beat well Add zucchini and carrots. Bake for 1 hour at 350.

Olive oil makes the difference. It brings really nice sweet and savory flavors but it also makes a more moist loaf. I had to freeze the loaf (in order to not eat it all in one day), but it reheated without drying out.

Enjoy your last days of summer warmth!

Love always,

Julia

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