Friday, November 6, 2015

Pasta Please. Zucchini Will Do.

Like any pregnant woman, most women in general, and even some a couple of you men out there, I've experienced my fair share of cravings. I have yet to experience one of those odd combinations that you hear about-- ice cream + pickles, pop tarts + mayonnaise (yes, apparently that's a thing), etc. However, I have been craving two things (not necessarily at the same time), butter and carbs. "What kind of carbs", you ask? Any really, but mainly potatoes.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not stashed away in a corner gnawing on a loaf of French baguette with a stick of butter in my spare time. I too, have to practice self-control. Because after all, that pish-posh of eating for two is exactly that. Bummer, right? Apparently, women who are pregnant and at a healthy weight only need to add 300 calories to their diet (give or take).  So, for all you women who were looking forward to that day where you don't need to worry about what you stuff into your face when you get pregnant (myself included) I have four words for you: We've been lied to. You actually have to eat the best that you ever have/possibly will. But all is well on the home-front. I no longer fret. It really isn't as difficult as I'm making it sound. If you like produce as much as I do, it's actually quite easy.  You just have to be creative with what you THINK you want, and what your body ACTUALLY wants. Disclaimer: everyone has their slip-ups. "Everything in moderation," I say! See below for proof.

Tonight, I'm planning on making Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon-- A dish I equate with gloomy weatherTRIPLE  double the amount) dish-- Zucchini Pasta with Seared Tomatoes.  The recipe took about 5 minutes and just about the same amount of time to eat. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

and a warm house. I'm also planning on making mashed potatoes to go alongside the delicious and time-consuming stew. That being said, I decided to eat healthy for lunch. I made a DELICIOUS (so much that I wish I made

Zucchini Pasta with Seared Tomatoes (Serves 1. Double or triple the recipe if need be)

  • 2 zucchinis, washed well
  • 1 ripe tomato on the vine, sliced in thirds
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbs butter
  • 1/2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Pinch of salt, add more if need be
  • Pepper to taste

Peel the zucchini with a vegetable peeler until the tiniest bit is left. Go ahead and slice the remaining bits to waste not. In a large nonstick pan, heat butter and olive oil at medium-low heat until melted. Be careful not to overheat or else the butter will burn.  Add garlic, then add zucchini. Toss lightly for about 1-2 minutes. Add salt and pepper, toss a couple times more, and add to the serving plate. Immediately add the tomato slices to the pan. Keep the tomatoes sliding on the pan and cook for about a minute on each side until they're golden brown on each side. Place on the zucchini pasta, add parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New Chapter, New Kitchen

Is there anything more contagious than watching someone thrive and succeed? Think about it-- anytime you watch an inspirational movie, chances are that you leave the theater or the couch that you called home for the last two hours with a sudden "euphoric" feeling inside. You feel an energy that makes you evaluate your own scenario only to realize that you're more capable than you sometimes give yourself credit. This doesn't just have to be in terms of thinking big; making life goals or long-term commitments. It can be as little as successfully following a recipe, sticking to a healthy habit such as taking the stairs at work, etc.

I purchased a new cookbook about a month ago. This cookbook exceeds all the others I own in terms of content, accountability, and downright deliciousness. It's Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I lucked out and found a 50th Anniversary addition which included a beautiful cover that matched the hues in my kitchen, and a short story written by Julia herself as a "thank you" for purchasing the book-- as if the recipes weren't enough.

This cookbook has a deeper meaning (to me) than simply learning how to make Coq Au Vin. It symbolizes taking risks, and being part of something greater you ever imagined.  To steal a line from possibly my favorite movie Julie & Julia (shocker)-- "Julia Child was not always Julia Child".

Does that phrase resonate with you the way it does me? Think about it-- people don't always wake up one day, think of something they want to be, and then magically become it. Life happens along the way. Ups, downs, and everything between make us who we are and who we strive to be.

It is public knowledge (if it wasn't before, it definitely is now) that I will soon be a mother [insert massive smile and quick clapping hands here]. I am fourteen weeks pregnant and feeling better than  ever I have in the last few months, which by the way weren't as bad as they could have been! The idea that my life will change so vastly in six months is a concept that becomes more of a reality with each time I hear our baby's heartbeat--every 4 weeks.

Besides always knowing that I wanted to have a profession in the culinary field, I knew whole-heartily that I wanted to be a mother.  Now that that is happening, I'm beyond excited and eager to see how the roles as a wife, mother, entrepreneur, and foodie mesh.

With that reality, expect new recipes (including homemade baby food), and experiences that will be shared on Christina's Kitchen. It will be an outlet for beautiful, difficult, random, and delicious moments; I do hope that you will join me in my kitchen and on the journey.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Grown In South Africa...

My heart is so full. In the last couple weeks, I’ve been diligent to tune in to the growth I’ve experienced in South Africa. It is part of the promise to myself to not take such a wonderful experience for granted. As I sit on the balcony facing lush trees that are a shade of green which is yet to be found in Cincinnati, I reflect. I turn 27 in two days.  I slowly sip the strong and pure coffee and nuzzle myself even deeper into my knitted sweater. So, this is the adventure that I was meant to live out during my 26th year?

I recall the weeks leading to our departure from American soil at the beginning of the year, thinking about all the goals I wanted to accomplish—strengthen and tone my body, make friends, draw/paint more, journal every day, cook as much African food as possible, grow in my faith, read more, and travel… a lot.

We leave South Africa this Friday and I am constantly comparing expat-Christina to Cincinnati native-Christina. Besides the fact that I’ve adopted a few South African phrases, and can (in my opinion) imitate the British accent at the drop of a hat, I’m the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown. But it’s still me. I haven’t morphed into a person who can run a half-marathon, or name a dish from every African country. In all honesty, out of all the dishes I’ve cooked here, only three have been from Africa (Ethiopia and Kenya).  In addition, I broke my ankle halfway through our stay which reduced me to sit on my backside for a good 1.5 months. I was hiking the Drakensburg Mont Aux Sources Mountain. The worst part? I had already completed most of the hike and was just shy of 1k away from then car. Tangent—you won’t believe how many random people, after asking what happened, told me I need to make up a new story. First, that’s rude. Second, no thank you, I like my story just fine.

Corkboard map--
DIY Christmas gift for Brian
The other day, Brian asked what goals I accomplished while being here. I bashfully listed off basically everything I did during the day to keep busy. It’s only now that I realize I didn’t do his question justice. I’ve accomplished a goal that I probably would have eventually done in Cincinnati, just not as quickly. I grew more into me. In my experience, to get married young means you grow more as a couple and less as an individual. You learn and experience things as we instead of me. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I quite prefer it actually, but I’ve realized that this is the first time in our three-year marriage that I’ve had so much me time.  It has been a delightful way to really understand what my interest, passions, and goals are for life. 

So here is what I’ve learned about me. I love to read. Prior to embarking on this journey, I did not read much. Five months ago, if someone asked me what type of books I enjoy reading, I’d give a generic answer—novels. I now understand why I wasn’t enthusiastic to read, because I don’t prefer novels! My favorite types of books are memoirs and those written by foodies—jackpot if it’s a memoir written by a foodie! If you knew me growing up, you’d know that the last place you’d find me is on a couch curled up with a book. Now, I’m always looking for the next read. 

I enjoy staying fit but not in the let’s go to the gym and run on a treadmill kind of fit. I enjoy activities such as bike riding, walking, tennis, and yoga. Since I’ve been able to stand again, yoga has become a routine. I’ve decided it’s the way I will find strength in my body again.

I have made friends in far places. I realize that there are a handful of women whom I will miss dearly when I leave South Africa. Thank goodness for WhatsApp and Facebook!
Sketch with Knsna, SA on my mind.

I’ve taken up drawing again. This is the perfect activity to channel some of my creativity.  Naturally I’m not the most patient person when it comes to achieving a task. I tend to search for instant gratification and not read directions well. It’s a flaw that I’m working on. I’ve come to see drawing as a practical method to build patience. It’s a very slow task and it takes patience to get the shading and ratios just right. If I want it to look good, I need to take my time and focus on one object at a time. It is good for me to take my time every now and then.

I’ve grown in my faith. You’ll be surprised how much more you prioritize quiet time when you have, well, a lot of quiet time. It’s been a time to reflect and grow not only on my relationship with the Lord, but to also see life and the people in it differently.  I have to thank my dear friend Stephanie for doing the Brave Journey and skyping weekly with me. Every week, a part of home and familiarity is displayed on my computer screen and provides me with comfort.

As wonderful as this experience has been, I think I’m ready to return home. Cincinnati will always be home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Western Cape

Disclaimer: unfortunately there aren’t any pictures in this post (yet). I know, I know, that’s half all the reason you read this blog. It’s proven to be quite difficult to transfer the pictures from the camera to my computer and was not possible this time. I’ll update this post when I’m able to do so. Until then, please keep reading and don’t exit too soon!
Our trip in South Africa is quickly coming to an end and I am in disbelief that in fifteen days, I will be sleeping soundly in my bed with only memories and photographs to remind me of this adventure. It’s a bit bemusing to think that another adventure in my life will soon be over—it’s bittersweet.
First, let me apologize for not posting after our trip to Namibia. It was a great reason to get out of the country.  We began our trip with a 4x4 sand dune adventure which felt like a rollercoaster in a car. It was fantastic and I (along with the particles of sand) was blown away. Unfortunately, Brian had to work remotely for most of the trip so it ended up being very quiet and peaceful. I’m sorry I don’t have more to report!
Last week, we had the pleasure of touring the Garden Route in the western cape of South Africa.  The minute you step off the plane, the salty scent of ocean along with gusty wind surrounds you. We spent three nights total (one in a different town) traveling from Port Elizabeth to Knysna and back.  We spent our first night in Knysna, a beautiful and quainter version of Cape Town.  We stayed at the Falcon View Manor which embodied both old charm and new luxuries, along with outstanding service.  We ate dinner at the Tapas and Oysters Bar where we tasted miniature dishes from South Africa, the Middle East, Spain, India, and Germany.  The dishes consisted of
  • Hummus—a pureed chickpea spread made with garlic, lemon juice, tahini (ground sesame oil), and spices. 
  • Chorizo and Caramelized Onions—This Spanish dish oddly reminded me of an Italian ratatouille with chorizo. Whole chickpeas dabbled the dish while small bits of eggplant made a sporadic appearance.  The smokiness of the chorizo paired with the onions and vegetables made this dish delectable.
  • Samoosas—an Indian specialty of crispy fried dough stuffed with minced meats, vegetables, potatoes and spices such as caraway
  • Frikkadelletjies—South African meatballs served in a simmering tomato sauce similar to ouma (a sauce served with pap.  It’s subtle with main flavors of onion and hints of garlic.
  • Mini Hot Dogs—Small frankfurters slashed diagonally before grilling.  Served on small white brioche rolls alongside tangy horseradish mustard, grilled onions, and old-fashioned chips

The rest of the trip was similar to the first day—eating, driving, touring, and having our occasional wine tastings when the weather didn’t hold up its side of the bargain.  Two activities that particularly stood out was walking the Storms River suspension bridge, and the Bloukrans Bridge. The Storms River suspension bridge is a two-part narrow bridge that stretches across a large gap of land in the Tsitsikamma National Park. We walked over the ocean and I couldn’t help but feel like I was placed in one of those worship music videos—one that comes to mind is Oceans by Hillsong United. The Bloukrans Bridge was a bit more of an adrenalin rush. Brian bungee jumped off it! It’s the highest commercial bungee jumping site in the world. How awesome is that? Sigh I have quite a brave husband.
Did I mention we walked with elephants? I must say, they are the sweetest-gentle-giants.  They are so humorous.  As you know, they use their trunks as hands so they’re always reaching out for food with them. One of them gave a guest a ride and during the ride, he kept reaching his trunk over his head with a “hello, can I have my snack now?” motion. Like all animals and humans included, they love to eat. They eat eighteen hours a day and sleep very little. Unbelievable!
This weekend we make our final trip in South Africa—Durban. It’s a bittersweet time for us. I PROMISE, I will let you know how that goes next week. Until then…

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cape Town

Cape Town—an amalgamation of mountains and beaches paired with shopping and delicious cuisine.  It is simply gorgeous.  The ocean has a luster that I have not seen in a while.
Our Easter weekend was enjoyable, though not traditional.  We’re used to spending Easter Sundays at church and celebrating with friends and family.  Growing up, my parents would dress me the pinkest and frilliest dresses that I’ve ever seen and we’d waltz in to church only to follow with a luncheon in the church hall. Afterwards, there was always an Easter egg hunt.  More recently, my mother-in-law has treated me to a small Easter basket every year that I’ve celebrated with them. I never cease to anticipate tearing open the cellophane wrapper and initiate trades with those daring enough to partake in my bartering.  This past weekend, we spent our Sunday on a Big-Red-Bus tour while meandering (more like crutching) around to the next bus stop. It was actually a fun experience, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the most limited and immobile that I’ve felt since getting my cast.  It is an extremely active town—there’s even an outdoor gym in the park facing the ocean. That blew my mind and I was wishing I could be one of the people breaking a sweat but having the ocean breeze dry it quickly.  Instead, I was sitting slouched in a seat with my foot up in front of me while listening to a lovely tour of the town.  Once I left my pity party, one similar to when I first got my cast, I was able to enjoy what I could of beautiful Cape Town.

The wineries were magnificent. As we went further into the wine countries of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, they got better and better. I was impressed with how well-maintained the grounds were. I couldn’t help but base the amount of pride and quality of the wineries on whether they had cobblestone pathways and manicured lawns. We tasted lovely wines that ranged from pinotage to chenin-blanc. The wineries provided spittoons for people to pour out wines they did not favor. I felt that was an outrage. Even if I was not completely sold on a wine, I didn’t have the heart to pour it out—it didn’t feel right. 
We visited a chocolatier in Franschhoek after visiting the wineries.  After all, wine and chocolate go together like…wine and chocolate.  We watched chocolate making take place and my mind immediately rushed back to the famous I Love Lucy episode when Lucy has the bright idea to work in the chocolate factory. Once I brought my attention back to the entertaining chocolate maker, I was intrigued. We sampled dark, milk, and white chocolate and learned a bit about each.  The man was on my good side until he brutally hated on both milk and white chocolate and those who favored them.  He claimed that those who liked milk were children who have not yet matured.  Here’s a tip (tangent) to everyone out there—don’t be so blunt about disliking anything anyone might favor, especially in regards to food. Food is such a personal and subjective matter. It’s foolish and rude to disregard someone’s taste.  Example—yes, dark chocolate is the purest form of chocolate, but there’s a reason for milk (cocoa combined with *ahem* milk) and white (contains no cocoa, just the butter derived from the bean) or else pastry chefs wouldn’t dream of going near it.  To answer those who are curious, I like all types of chocolate—yes, even white (gasp!)

I made reservations for high-tea at the Table Bay Hotel. I was looking forward to the occasion since before the trip started.  The tea room was beautiful with d├ęcor resembling that of a European ballroom.  The view of Table Mountain outside the massive French doors wasn’t too bad either. The food was delicious.  I am a sucker for small sandwiches and finger foods.  There’s something so enjoyable about delicately bringing a small piece of food to your mouth—as opposed to the usual large portions.  Just the act in itself makes me want to bring myself to the edge of the seat and straighten my posture.  The food consisted of quiche, finger sandwiches, and scones. More elaborately— leek and bacon quiche,  Deutsche quiche, smoked trout roll, curry chicken sandwich, cumin chicken wrap, cold beef sandwich, buttermilk scone, and cinnamon raisin scone served with lemon curd, clotted cream, and berry jams.  Dessert blanketed over the center table all in beautiful glass cake trays.  The colors were so rich and appealing to the eye.  Unfortunately, I was surprised to find that the desserts were a bit on the dry side. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful experience and I left more than satisfied.
We topped off the trip by driving along the eastern side (Indian Ocean) of the cape down to Cape of Good Hope then traveled back up the western side (Atlantic Ocean). We were a bit late getting down there but we managed to see a few penguins waddling around the shore.  I didn’t realize how short they are, and which such good posture!  They were adorable.  We finally reached the entrance for Cape of Good Hope (the most southern tip of Africa) and with our trending luck on the trip, we were three minutes late. The guard refused to let us in. We tried every statement in the book and he didn’t budge. We felt defeated and upset. Part of my frustration stemmed from the fact that many rules in South Africa aren’t enforced (i.e. traffic laws) but don’t you dare show up to the Cape of Good Hope three minutes past closing to watch the sunset.  Instead, we watched the sunset from Llandudno beach off of Hout Bay.  It was remarkable. The rest of the drive back was just as breathtaking. 

The last day, we took the cable car up Table Mountain.  The lines were perpetually long each day we attempted to ride the cable car but luckily, my broken leg got us in faster than you can say VIP. We were able to use the elevator immediately after purchasing tickets which surpassed the line up the stairs.  All in all, the trip was delightful.  If I have the opportunity to go back to Cape Town, I will never pass it up.
Tomorrow, we leave for Namibia.  We will be visiting Windhoek and Swakopmund.  The purpose of this trip is so that we can renew our visas (we have to leave the country after 90-days).  I will be writing about that experience upon our return.

Until then, cheers!