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)

Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions

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.
Cheers!
Christina


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…
Cheers!



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 décor 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!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Braai

Braai. A lovely event here in South Africa consisting of laughter, merriment, animal grilling, and carbs. It is our equivalent to BBQ’s only slightly different. The men gather around the grill with their choice of beverage in-hand while the women are in the kitchen preparing carbs and sides such as toasted and buttered hot-cross buns (can’t help but hum the song), garlic bread, salad, cut fruit, and dessert. It’s a lovely occasion where friends and family partake in preparing a meal together. Is it just me, or is a meal more delicious when it’s prepared with the joy and help of those you care about?
We’ve had the pleasure of being invited to a few braais in the last couple weeks and have met some wonderful people in the process. Our landlords-turned-good-friends invited us to our first braai. It took place on a Sunday and was such a relaxing event after a morning of church.  It was probably more relaxing for me considering that my part consisted of sitting on a chair in the kitchen while munching on snacks. I have to admit, it was torturous not being able to help in the kitchen, but I embraced every moment.  Dear friends kept asking if I needed anything which is a bittersweet acceptance for me.  Their dog Tessa, a King Charles spaniel kept me company. I think I have the words ‘I’ll feed you’ written all over me when it comes to dogs. It was tough not giving in to her big brown eyes.

Another braai in which we were invited was a special occasion. Our home church was in South Africa for a service trip. Although we originally intended to help the group out for a day, my injury planned otherwise. However, they still invited us to attend church and an afternoon braai with them.  The church service was longer than we’re used to—2 hours. The vibe in the auditorium was beyond lively, contagious in fact.  I stood on one foot propping the injured one on the chair behind me while doing an embarrassing wiggle/balancing dance while people were in the aisle praising and dancing.  You’d think we were at a rock star’s concert.  It’s beautiful to see the hearts of people for the Lord halfway across the world. 

The braai with our church took place at the lodge in which they stayed.  It was a buffet style which meant that Brian was in charge of filling my plate. It’s a difficult task, but he did a lovely job. It was wonderful catching up with people from our church here in South Africa. Seeing familiar faces and hearing the work they were doing simply made my heart smile.  It made me even more excited to return to such a great community.

We’re going to Cape Town today.  It is one of the few places that every South African we’ve encountered has recommended.  Although it’s going to be a non-traditional Easter weekend for us, we’re delighted for another trip.  There were plenty of adventurous events that sounded appealing—swimming with sharks, 4-wheel/ATVing, hiking, and bike riding.  Unfortunately, we are going to have to miss out and enjoy the more relaxing events (woe is me).  On the itinerary—museums, big-red-bus, beaches, delicious food, penguins, lush wineries, high-teas, and much more.

I will definitely fill you in on our trip! 
Until then, cheers!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bean There, Drank That...

This is the second week that I’ve been on crutches.  It has been quite an adjustment and accepting the limitations was a bit difficult.  That said, I’m blown away by the helpful people in my life making this break more bearable—Namely Brian. 
I should have known that when he threw me over his shoulder and carried me almost a mile on a narrow rocky path, he would also step up to the plate at home.  The first week, he did everything that I couldn’t.  He made it easy to accept help, because he provided it with such warmth. Warning: the next phrase is going to be a large cheese wheel rolling your way—I have fallen even more in love with him this past week. He is a true care-taker and provider. There. I said it.
I’m also amazed with how eager the friends I’ve made here are to take me out of the house and make me comfortable. It’s been a real blessing.  David and Michelle, the owners of the new apartment we moved into turned out to be good friends of ours.  They’re so kind, and Brian and I get along so well with them.  Michelle was the first friend to take me out of what seems now like a burrow, a safety net, my home.  She and David are coffee connoisseurs and have a love for a small coffee roaster/café named Bean There. Although I’m no connoisseur, I love coffee and am always eager to try new roasts, blends, and flavors. In her delicately sweet manner, she asked what I was in the mood for. Unfortunately about 95% of the time when someone asks me this question, I am useless, for I am up for anything and want to make sure they’re happy with the choice as well. I let Michelle take the reins with the menu since she clearly knew what she was talking about.   
She ordered two types of brewed coffee—aeropress, and Chemex.  They were fantastic. Watching the delicate yet ebony liquid drops fall into the pots was like watching a psychologically thrilling movie.  I couldn’t take my eyes off it and was excited to see, smell, and taste the end result.  The man performing the tasting was serious about coffee.  It was like an art.  Hypothetically speaking, if I didn’t have an appreciation for specialty brewed coffee before entering the doorway accompanied with rich Arabica aroma, and seeing this man’s gentle yet intentional movement with every step of the process, I am now.  It was beautiful.  Being a novice when it comes to coffee tasting, I did what anyone would do—faked it. First, I appreciated the rich color of the coffee with my eyes. It wasn’t the unfortunately common diluted coffee that only is dark after the whole pot has been brewed.  I brought the coffee mug up to my nose, initiating a soft whirlpool motion with my hand and inhaled for a few seconds straight. I proceeded to slowly tilt the mug so that I would get a small yet sufficient taste in my mouth.  Moving the back of my tongue in a way that made me look like a bullfrog, I was able to fully taste the body, aroma, and richness of the coffee. It was delectable. It had a hint of pine that I had never tasted in coffee before.
Aeropress
Along with the coffee, Michelle ordered a slice of carrot cake, and a chocolate chip cookie for us to split.  The cake was fluffy, and moist. The shavings of carrot and chopped walnuts made it more of a meal than dessert. The icing was phenomenal and contained more butter than your usual cream cheese frosting.  The cookie was ever so thin with what seemed like a complete layer of milk chocolate—as opposed to chips.  Each bite I took, the paper-thin cocoa layer was present, and it was delicious.
In the middle of Michelle and I sat her adorable 14 month-old son Timothy.  He brought the party.  He was well-behaved and simply wouldn’t allow us to eat anything he didn’t try first. I call it quality control.  He had cheeks for days and aqua blue eyes that were warm and cheerful.  His smooth blond hair turned into curly-cues at the nape of his neck. He spent the hour alternating between grabbing whatever was in sight (to my surprise not throwing it), taking bites of sweets, and giving me high-fives. I’m fond of the little guy.

Cheers!
Chemex
Christina


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mountains, Shepherds, and a Broken Ankle...

This weekend, we are in Clarens and the Drakensburg Mountains.  My amazement with the beauty of this country continues to grow by the weekend.  Clarens is about 3.5 hours southwest from Joburg.  Driving longer than usual distances here doesn’t seem as taxing as in the states.  I’m certain this is due to the luscious landscapes and topography.  Have you ever seen the double-rainbow video on YouTube? I’m pretty certain I sounded creepily similar to this dude (minus the crying) while snapping pictures every other second.  Clarens is a small touristy town laden with quaint artsy shops, beerhouses, coffeehouses, and restaurants. It provides a different walking atmosphere than Joburg.  Walking in Joburg brings my blood pressure up about 10 points per minute.  It’s like New York City, but worse.  The difference—people in New York have places to be and people to see, so get out of the way.  In Joburg, while that may be the case, people are also in their own world so add that to the hustle and bustle, and you have a jigsaw puzzle of walking space.  Enough about that.  Clarens is quiet, friendly, beautiful, and relaxing.  Rock formations and tall green mountains cuddle the small town which makes the scenery that much more lovely.
Yesterday, we hiked the Drakensburg Mountains.  I had no idea what to expect with this hike.  I’m used to the usual dirt trails with some sticks, and twigs scattered along the path.  This, was nothing like that.  Think of 11k’s of climbing and stepping over rocks ranging in size from as small as your foot, to larger than your entire body.  It was exhilarating and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that getting to the top was a proud moment for me.  Crazy enough, there were real shepherds dressed in long cloaks while herding cows and sheep. We were stunted with the question—how did they get there? Looking down, all I could think is that the landscaping belonged in movie--Lord of the Rings no less. Lush green mountainsides tapered alongside us as we walked, hopped, and climbed, at times only a few inches from the drop-off.  The entire time, I was enthralled with the experience.  I’m incredibly blessed to have a husband who thinks outside the box when it comes to traveling. 
Now, let’s be real for a minute. An experience like that wouldn’t be complete for me without a battle wound. That’s correct, only a bit more than 1k from the car, I broke my ankle. That’s correct people.  We climbed over rocks, climbed chain ladders up a mountainside, and balanced our way through narrow trails, but it wasn’t until the easiest part and last stretch of the hike that I injured myself.  Leave it to me.  Luckily, I have a man who immediately took charge and carried me, I repeat, CARRIED ME the entire way back. Alternating between over the shoulder, piggy-back, and me hopping while resting 90% of my weight on his shoulder, he managed to carry me through loose-rock trails some only the width of a single foot.  I’m grateful.
What was supposed to be a night filled with celebration and relaxation after the hike turned into an additional hour drive to a hospital, chilling on a hospital bed for a good 1.5 hours, only to receive news that what I thought was a simple sprain, was actually a fracture. The doctor and nurses insisted that the pants I was wearing would have to be cut in order to pull over the cast.  The doctor was just full of good news.  No thank you, I’ll risk it.  I left the hospital wobbling on the crutches that resembled walking sticks and rode home in the back seat with a large order of self-pity and disappointment.  Considering we didn’t eat since lunch that day (we left the hospital at 10pm), we asked the hospital receptionist where the nearest place would be to get food at such a late hour.  She said KFC. Those three letters never sounded so good to me. We headed there only to, get this, wait for 45 minutes in the drive thru line. We were stuck in between a truck in front vomiting black exhaust fumes, and a pee-wee car in the back blaring music that was all about the bass.  To my right, a blinking sign for Chicken Zingers and Krushers kept turning on and off. The experience was trippy, and at that moment, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at what the last 4 hours provided.
This morning, while Brian was packing up practically everything, I was watching a rerun of the Ellen Show.  A boy named Tayt was a repeat guest who Ellen invited over the last couple years. He has half a heart. Half-A-Heart! There I was, a lingering guest at my own pity party thinking about how the rest of our stay here will consist of me being a struggle-bus, and an 11-year-old boy has half a heart. That was a huge smack in the face. Immediately, I was overcome with gratitude that my injury wasn’t worse, that I was at least able to finish the hike, oh and that I didn’t fall of the side of the mountain when I injured myself. Crutches are temporary, but there are people with health issues that are permanent.
Right now, as we enjoy an authentic German lunch while enjoying the light breeze and mountainsides before departing on our drive home, I am still amazed with the experience and fully believe that it was completely worth the injury.  Here’s to an exciting and humorous story to tell when we are older.  
Until next time, stay balanced my friends.
Cheers!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Shrimp and Grits

When you hear shrimp and grits in the same sentence, it doesn't sound too appealing.  Trust me, it is. One of the ways I’ve been spending my time here is cooking.  With such a minimal kitchen, it has proven a bit challenging to make certain meals.  That said, it’s always fun to try to improvise.  The other day, I was watching Food Network when I quickly saw and heard a blurb of ‘shrimp and grits’.  My mind reacted similar to when you see someone on TV eating a candy bar, and you suddenly want a candy bar.  Or more so, when you watch a movie about dancing or playing a sport, and you suddenly have the urge to do that exact activity.  Is that normal, or is it just one of my many quirks? 
Nevertheless, I decided in that instance that I would make shrimp and grits for dinner.  I surfed the web looking at incredibly indulging recipes.  Thinking twice about them, I continued on to a recipe Bobby Flay used in a cook-off.  I tweaked a few ingredients and went on my way to the store.  Side note – shrimp (aka prawns in South Africa) is as common here as McDonald’s in the U.S. However, it is very expensive. 

We spent this past weekend at Kruger National Park— a very large and prominent park where Africa’s finest animals roam free.  It was spectacular, and I will write soon about our experience.
In the meantime, here is the recipe I created for shrimp and grits.

Ingredients
12 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 slices of lean center cut bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
6 scallions, chopped finely
½ tsp cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup polenta
5 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tbs grated parmesan cheese
3 tbs butter
½ cup low-fat milk
1 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Steps
In a medium-sized pot, combine the polenta, and broth.  Bring to a boil on medium heat and make sure to stir with a whisk frequently to avoid clumping or burning at the bottom of the pot.  In the meantime, cook bacon in a large saucepan at medium-high heat until it are cooked to your liking.  Scoop the bacon out of the pan and place on a paper towel laden plate.  Keep stirring the polenta. Don’t forget about it!  There shouldn’t be much grease.  If you ended up using a fattier cut of bacon, pour some of the grease out. With the bacon grease still in the pan, add the scallions and let them sweat.  Add the shrimp, cumin, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, toss together and let the shrimp cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Don’t overcook them or else they will be rough and chewy.  Set the cooked shrimp aside while leaving the droppings in the pan.  Add 1 cup of broth, and let it simmer in the pan to take on the flavors of the seasoning.  Once the polenta boils lightly, take it off the heat.  Add cheese, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp black pepper, the remaining butter, and stir.  Add the milk last so that the cheese has time to melt.  Keep stirring. It should be a loose consistency.  To plate the food, use soup bowls.  Pour a couple ladles of polenta in to the bowls.  Add the broth sauce, then the shrimp, then the bacon bits.  Top with chopped parsley for garnish and enjoy!  If you have any questions regarding this recipe, feel free to contact me!
Cheers!
Christina


Friday, February 13, 2015

A Short Tale of the Cooking Fail


Today, I failed.  I've had things go wrong while cooking, but I could usually improvise and fix them as I went along.  It’s really the most shameful fail I've had.  How bad could it be, you ask? Allow me to elaborate.

Lebneh (leb-nee) is a Middle-Eastern cream cheese, only not as thick as American cream cheese.  It’s served drizzled with about a gallon of extra virgin olive oil and pita bread.  If you’re like me, you enjoy it with olives, tomatoes, and Lebanese cucumbers.  Lebanese cucumbers, also known as gherkins, are petite, slender, firm, and have a delightful crisp that most English cucumbers can’t offer. This is due to the smaller seeds. Cucumbers with larger seeds tend to be softer and not ask crisp or flavorful. 

While in beautiful South Africa, I realized how much I missed Lebanese food and lebneh was a staple I decided we couldn't live without.  So here’s the deal. I initially sprung for the easy way out.  I took the closest thing I had to a cheesecloth (the kitchen is incredibly ill-equipped), a green and sad excuse for a sieve, and purchased some low-fat yogurt to be healthier.  I scraped the last bit of yogurt out of the container and into the cheesecloth allowing it to sit at room temperature for about the same amount of time I remember my parents did.  It turned out delicious but the consistency and flavor was lacking.  I guess that’s what I get for trying to have my cake and eat it too.  Fed up, I messaged my dad asking for the recipe and vouched for the real deal—whole-fat milk my friends.

The directions were easy enough—bring the milk to a boil at medium temperature while stirring frequently.  Make sure not to allow the milk to overflow.  This will literally happen the second you look away.  I know this from experience.  Once the milk has boiled, transfer it to a container to let it sit until the milk is just cool enough to leave your finger immersed for 10 seconds. Add a cup of plain full-fat yogurt then let it sit for 10-12 hours at room temperature. Add salt, place in cheesecloth and sieve, and transport it to the fridge.  Voila!

It’s a running joke between Brian and I that the most interesting and laughable step of the recipe is to stick your finger in the lebneh for 10 seconds.  It just sounds so…silly. Ironically, that was the one step I failed to do.  Immediately after transferring the hot milk to the container, I left for yoga (yes, I still routinely attend yoga!), and added the yogurt once I returned.  Crossing my fingers that the step was as useful as a spoon-full-of sugar to help the medicine go down, I did all I could—I waited. 

Photo from Herbivoracious.com.  I would normally use my own photo,
but we all know how that ended.
It was a bust, a fail, a flop, a big nosedive.  Call it what you want, but I failed to make something I always saw as exceptionally easy.  The one step I laughed at, I failed to do and in-turn, ruined an entire bowl of what could be creamy, luscious, lebneh.  A gallon of milk literally down the drain.  All I could think about is that I’m a chef, I own a business based solely on cooking, and I ruined something so simple. Disappointed in myself and distinctively remembering my dad saying “it’s not rocket science”, I shook my head. Side note— I’m aware that what I messed up was a small feat and that I am ranting about a dairy product. It’s not about the lebneh. It’s about having pride in something I do and realizing that I won’t always succeed. I was actually embarrassed.  It’s tough to swallow no matter who you are! But then it occurred to me...

It’s okay. It’s alright to fail. It’s okay to not have everything go your way 100% of the time.  You messed up. So what? That doesn't make you any less good at what you succeed in. You learned, and now you know. Try again.  When you succeed, it will be that much more rewarding. It also taught me not to be so proud. I'm always eager to learn, but there are times I let cockiness get the best of me in the kitchen.  Shame on me. This recipe put me in my place. Honestly, I believe that was the kind and gentle voice of God speaking to me. 

It turns out the reason for the finger-dipping is incredibly scientific after all.  If your finger can withstand the heat of the milk for up to but no more than 10 seconds, it’s at the exact temperature to bind the protein solids.  Now that I know that, I will never laugh at that step again—OK maybe I will. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Zimbabwe, Zambia, High Tea, and Baboons...

Only a few short minutes after we landed on the runway, we didn't move far before finding our parking space on the tarmac. The airplane doors flung open and we slowly made our way stepping down the portable stairway.  So this is what Zimbabwe smells like? I’ll take it. Delicate floral aromas mixed with dirt and hot air to make the welcome even warmer. 
View of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side
The airport was tiny and aging. It very likely had the same signage as the day it was built, but it got the job done.  The security was incredibly disorganized and it took us nearly an hour to get through customs. Nevertheless, we were in Zimbabwe. Quickly after finding a cab (more like the driver found us), the warm and dry weather transformed itself into a strong downpour of rain. So this is how it’s going to be? I’ll take it.
The cab ride to the hotel was peaceful and pretty uneventful. Immediately upon setting my large eyes on the caution: elephant crossing sign, I peeled them back to see any site of an elephant’s trunk or ear. Nothing. Although, we did see some baboons along the road close to the hotel.  They were adorable! If our accents weren't enough to giveaway that we were tourists, my snapping pictures of baby baboons did the job.  The hotel was beautiful and had a remarkable view of the greenery that Zimbabwe had to offer.
Wasn't sure if I was going to make it...
With no time to spare, we quickly put on our hiking attire and ventured out to Victoria Falls.  Words can’t describe how amazing they were. It’s apparent why it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  God’s hand print was clearly on every square-footage of the falls.  A rainbow acted as a bridge over the gorge connecting Zimbabwe to Zambia, and could be seen from every direction.  We got absolutely drenched—it was an unbelievably freeing experience. Our child-like excitement radiated through the falls.

The following day, we arose bright and early to enjoy the breakfast that the hotel had to offer.  I must be one of the few people on this earth to pick a hotel based on the breakfast reviews. It was everything I imagined.  After stuffing ourselves with papaya, passion fruit, and other delicacies, we headed off to experience a few hours of pure adrenaline. 
Canopy zip-line tour
That’s correct, I followed through with every commitment I made and even did another activity!  Our first activity consisted of a zip-line canopy tour.  As I looked down at one of the lines resembling dental floss, I ensured that we indeed would NOT be going across that. The friendly and charming instructor said no, not until line 8. I’m sorry, what? This piece of string was stretched from one side of the gorge to the other, and it was the highest line in the tour.  Commence my panic attack. I felt a similar sensation to when I was just eight years-old and someone (whom I thought was a friend) double-dog-dared me to go off the high-dive—but this was worse.  As we made our way up the rocky path, I realized that I really didn't have much to lose and that the whole purpose of the day was to go out of my comfort zone.  We arrived at the first line and I was slightly relieved to see that it was enclosed with greenery. It felt as though I would have a cushion if for some reason my harness magically detached.  Unfortunately for me, the ladies go first is a rule followed by most men in Africa, and these instructors (TK and Sabi) were no exception.  With a light-hearted tone, TK shouted “enjoy, I’ll see you on the other side!” before zipping off into the green abyss.  The sound of increased speed on the cord made me even more nervous.  As Sabi hooked me up, he told me to let go and for the life of me, I couldn't!  I tested the harness to make sure it could hold all my weight (why wouldn't it?) and realized that I could sit comfortably and trust the tight-fitted gear. OK Christina, quit this nonsense. I said a quick prayer, let go, and traveled into the lush greenery with just a peek of the gorge before arriving to the other side. 
Victoria Falls Hotel
That was it? THAT WAS AWESOME!!!! At that moment, I realized I overcame yet another senseless fear and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the canopy tour.  It was so fun to experience it with Brian. We approached the 8th and highest line, and I was ready. Just by listening to me, you would have thought I was a completely different person.  The experience was exhilarating and not scary in the least.  When it came time for Brian to do the flying fox, I looked at the gear, and back at the line, and asked if I could take his place—he had the swing to look forward to, after all.  I was told to do a running start and just fly in the air. Pardon me? Without allowing my fears get the best of me, I did it. I flew in the air over the gorge at an elevation even higher than the line before. All I could think about in that moment was two things—1) God is good, and 2) I can’t believe I’m hanging off a line in the middle of the gorge at Victoria Falls. Is this what the crazy dude who walked across the Grand Canyon felt?  Most likely not, he was probably more collected, and he wasn't even strapped to anything! 
It was then time for the gorge zip line. My eyes told me that this was a steep drop, but TK who was sitting off to the side said it wasn't steep, basically insinuating that it was an optical illusion.  I liked TK a lot more before that zip-line.  It was absolutely exactly what I thought.  Picture being on an extraordinarily high roller-coaster about ready to drop on a steep hill (which I would never do).  Now picture going down the hill, but rather than be seated and strapped, the only thing you have to hold on to is the belt loop of your spouse.  I never missed those dinky protection bars so much. You’re not sitting, you’re not enclosed, and you’re completely free—just dangling there.  We couldn't even hold on to the line to control our speed like we could on the tour. The only way I can describe our my scream is to compare it to someone who has fallen from a cliff and expects death any second. I can’t speak for Brian, but I couldn't breathe for what seemed like a minute. I shut my eyes tight and felt our bodies fall so fast only to eventually swing up again.  At that point, I knew I could open them.  After realizing that both of us were still alive, it was a moment that made us feel incredibly close.  We were both proud of ourselves and basked in the fact that we shared such an experience. Looking for a date night to bring you and your loved one closer? Just hang off a string over a small body of water—that should set the mood for a romantic evening!
The beautiful wild mushroom ravioli
The adventure ended with Brian doing the swing.  Let me start by saying, swing is an understatement.  This isn't something I used sit on during recess as I worked to get higher than the swing-set bar.  This was nothing like that.  The swing was basically a bungee cord, but rather than being strapped to your feet, it’s strapped to a harness, and you drop—in Brian’s case you drop backwards.  You drop straight down for who knows how many meters before it decides you’ve been tortured enough, only to swing you back and forth—dangling like a tooth ripped from your mouth by the power of a door-nob.  From my perspective, it looked like he was only a couple inches from the rocks and even closer to the water.  The scream that he emitted sounded as intense as my scream on the zip line (only his was warranted).  Before Brian dropped, Sabi told us that this is what separates the boys from the men. I’ve definitely got a good man.  I don’t know whether I’m concerned or proud that he did that. No, I’m definitely proud of him.
Crocodile Salad
Tea cup and kettle...
We finished the afternoon with lunch and high tea at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel.  Known for being the hotel for the royals and celebrities, it had colonial marks all over it. This is the most luxurious hotel in the area and while we couldn't find enough pocket change to stay there, we still experienced the most important parts—the grounds, the view, and the food! While seated outside and looking out at the falls, we enjoyed our delicious meals.  I had the wild-mushroom ravioli and Brian enjoyed a crocodile tail salad.  I could tell the ravioli was made in-house.  It was stuffed to the brim with meaty mushrooms!  It was, by far, the best mushroom ravioli I've tasted. The salad was amazing as well. The crocodile was pan-fried with a texture resembling calamari and a meaty white fish.  Cubes of mild cheese were tossed in to balance the spice of the crocodile.  While looking at the dessert menu, we realized that high tea had just begun.  Why stop at the gluttony now? Instead of dessert, we ordered the high tea.  I chose the earl grey and Brian ordered the local black tea.  We each had our own silver tea-kettles and nibbled on the goodies that sat delicately on a silver three-tier tray.  At the top, finger sandwiches—cucumber, smoked chicken salad, and tiny smoked salmon rolls with a small mound of caviar on top.  The middle tier consisted of the sweets—lemon tarts, strawberry short cake meringues, and rich chocolate tarts topped with whipped cream.  The lowest tier had scones topped with thin coats of powdered sugar, served with whipped cream and strawberry marmalade.  We split half of everything only to save the rest for later.  With our eyes and stomachs beyond satisfied, we walked back to our hotel to catch the bus for the sunset cruise.  We saw many, many birds, and a few yawning hippos. 
Sunset cruise
Sunday, we ventured to Zambia to experience the falls from another perspective and got even more soaked than before.  By Sunday evening, we were back in our small apartment feeling stronger than when we left with only our memories and pictures to show for the trip.  That weekend was by far one of the best weekends we've ever had.  It was filled with gorgeous landscapes, amazing food, and exhilarating experiences. 

Until next time...Cheers!












Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lions, and Tigers, and Chocolates...Oh My!

I’m sitting under yet another whimsical umbrella at a dainty cast iron table while alternating between sips of rich Americano and nibbles of tiny, decadent chocolates—vanilla ganache, caramel truffle, and a drunk cherry. Only now, after my arm has been twisted tighter than when I played the game ‘Indian rug-burn’ as a child (what a horrible name), have I caved in to all the chocolate shops. I finally accepted coffee and chocolate as a well-balanced breakfast—sporadically of course.  Two weeks in and I feel very comfortable in this holiday lifestyle. It was tough accommodating, but I managed.

This past Saturday we went to the Lion and Rhino Nature Reserve.  We went on our own little safari and had an absolute blast! Although it was a park, I felt more in Africa during those few hours than I have felt in the last two weeks. The hills were rolling with  rich green carpet.  Birds that I’ve never seen before shadowed over the hills, moving like a large cloud only to temporarily block the sun over the land they flew above.  The minute we entered the gates, we saw tall giraffes welcome each car with a slight drastic nod.  I was slapped with a such a view only after a 45-minute drive from Jo-burg. Overwhelmed, I took out the camera and started taking pictures of EVERYTHING. Brian had to remind me to conserve the battery for things other than the small purple and red flowers along the rutted dirt roads.
 I held a snake!  I’m not talking about one of those measly little garden snakes that can be mistaken for a discarded Slim-Jim, I’m talking about an anaconda! Unfortunately, I forgot his name.  It was soft and friendly-like Willy or Bert.  Afterwards, we meandered our way to the African-style petting zoo. We pet lion and tiger cubs along with a full-grown cheetah named Eddie! Apparently he is famous in South Africa and has been filmed in several adverts. He was completely docile. We were told he has arthritis which as we all know, tugged at my heart-strings a bit.  The lion and tiger cubs were SO adorable.  The lions were brother and sister and snuggled together while they napped. Their paws were ginormous which indicates they are going to be very large creatures once they are full-grown.  In all honesty, I felt bad for them. They just wanted to sleep and be left alone, whilst every five minutes, animal-obsessed people like me entered their gates screeching a high-pitched squeal that probably promised them early-onset deftness. I couldn't help myself though, they were lion cubs! Anyone who has a heart would find it difficult to contain their excitement when given the opportunity to gently pet a wild animal, right? We ended the petting experience with a tiger cub named Milo. He was my favorite. Even though he was tired, he had a charming personality. He would hide under my legs or face his rear-end in our direction silently giving off the “pet this” vibe. He had a sense of humor. The two young ladies who kept Milo company ended our five minutes with news that had turned my emotions from elated to incredibly sad. I could see Brian in my peripheral searching my eyes for the first tear drop, and he found it. They told us that his friends were sold to other zoos that day so he was sad and lonely. REALLY? After all the cuteness I soaked up, you’re going to leave me with THAT? I’m sorry- that boarders rude. I politely thanked them for allowing me to pet Milo, and leaving me with a broken-heart, and told them I’d send them my medical bill…joking.
Afterwards, Brian asked a park director for advice on what to do next—we could witness the lion and wild dog feeding, or get lunch. With those options, I’d much rather feed myself than watch a poor animal be fed to a lion. I’ve come to the realization that I’m too soft for the wild kingdom.  Once we finished our mediocre lunches of chicken sandwiches and salad, we drove around the park and witnessed wild dogs and a lone white male lion tearing apart what’s left of a bottom-half of some animal— an antelope maybe? I have to admit, it was pretty cool to watch. Strangely enough, the lion gnawing at the remaining prey reminded me of Holly gnawing on her raw-hide. The contentment in the lion’s eyes was oddly cute and purposeful (even though the chump didn’t have to move a paw for it). We ended our day in Wonder Cave, a cave discovered by the Italians in the late 19th century who were searching for minerals and gold. Although the gold was a bust, they used the copious amounts of limestone for a booming business. It was stunning and reminded me of the Jeita cave in Lebanon, but on a significantly smaller scale.
We left the park with our eyes satisfied and our hearts full of excitement. As we exited the gates, I belted out The Circle of Life.  I only got to the middle of the second verse before Brian slowly increased the volume of the radio. Now that’s funny. A wonderful day ended with laughter and another fantastic experience under our belt.
We are traveling to Victoria Falls this weekend. We’re excited, for it is the seventh natural wonder of the world. We are doing a canopy tour and grand zip-line adventure.  I know marriage is all about compromise. Therefore, when Brian asked me like a child begging for ice cream or a new pair of rollerblades if I would bungee-jump off a bridge in Victoria Falls, I told him no. When he asked if I would swing over the gorge while hanging from a bungee cord and a harness resembling the same knotted sack a stork would use to transport a baby (I’m guessing a lesser form of torture), I said no. However, I did agree to zip-line our way through the park like a bunch of monkeys. How bad can it be? Famous last words. In all seriousness, I’m excited for this experience. It’s a wonderful and exciting blessing to be married to someone who challenges and brings me out of my comfort zone. But so help me if anything goes awry…You’ll be reading about it next week.
Thank you for checking in! Until next time                                                                                               Cheers!