Monthly Archives: December 2015

Into the Wild

 Out into the wild we go, past the sea, and up the hill, and into the long, tall grass.

   

 We go where the breezes blow the butterflies as delicate as glass. 

Up and up, up we go. We go where the breezes blow and ripple the sea of grass.

  

Up the trail the burros know, up and up and up we go to reach the top at last.

  
Wilderness is the northernmost tip of the island of Saint Martin. The treacherous reef hiding beneath the breakers tempts only the most daring surfers, and the grassy hills call to those disenchanted by the crowded streets of the cities. Wilderness is a poetic place– it inspires the pens of writers and the brushes of painters. For a day free of the bustle of life, come to the northern hills and listen to the song of the sea.

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Foodie Tuesdays: Parrotfish Fajitas

Before you can begin to cook these deliciously fishy fajitas, you must obtain a fish. You could buy one at the grocery store, or you could catch one with your own rod and reel.

We spent today adventuring around our island home: first to the French side for fishing and snorkeling, and then to the Dutch side to see Fort Amsterdam. My parents gave me a waterproof phone case for Christmas, so while Ben caught fish for dinner, I caught fish on camera.

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Parrotfish

Ben caught a parrotfish, two glasseye snappers, and two doctor fish. Since ciguatera toxin is prevalent in our area, we checked online to make sure the fish are safe to eat. We threw out the snappers because they are high-risk ciguatera carriers. The doctor fish were tiny and rarely carry the toxin anyway, so we kept them. We were a little concerned about the parrotfish since it was over six inches, but it’s low-risk so we decided to try it. I guess we’ll find out in the morning if we’re OK; Ciguatera poisoning hits within twelve hours.

I think we’ll be alright.

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Once the fish were home and cleaned, it was time to start cooking.

To make the fajitas, gather your ingredients:

  • four
  • water
  • salt
  • oil
  • fish
  • bell peppers
  • onions
  • shallots
  • lemon
  • Spices: salt, pepper, cumin, garlic salt

My favorite tortilla recipe is from Taste of Home. I never buy tortillas from the store anymore! Mix 2 cups of flour, a little salt, 3/4 cups of water and 3 Tablespoons of oil. Let rest, roll out, and fry.

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Season fish with salt, pepper, and lemon.

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Slice onions, bell peppers, and shallots into thin slices.

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Put a quarter cup of oil in a flying pan and heat it to medium heat. Mix in seasonings to your preference. Fry veggies for a few minutes and then add whole fish.

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Yum, yum! Smelling good, now. Make some rice while you cook the fish and veggies. The onions should be caramelized.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Break out the salsa.

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Remove the skin from the fish, flake off the meat, and pile it all on the tortillas.

Enjoy your fajitas!

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And We Have a Winner!

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Guess what came today!

That’s right– Caribbean Dream by Rachel Isadora. Last week, I announced a giveaway contest for this book. Today it’s time to announce this winner!

By the way– I bought this book. I didn’t receive it as an incentive for the giveaway. I just like the book and thought you might like it, too!

On Tuesday, I’m going to give it and a couple other similar books to the local kids I tutor for their little league library. I’m looking forward to reading it with them.

And now, without further ado, congratulations to our winner….

…..Octavia Carpenter!

Be looking in your mailbox for your copy of this book!

***

This book isn’t the only thing that arrived on the island of Saint Maarten today.

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At 2:43 pm, this Delta flight soared over Sunset Beach and touched down on Dutch Caribbean soil. I watched it taxi from my friend’s house on the hill and strained my eyes to see the passengers exiting the plane. Finally I saw them… my mom, my dad and my sister! I’m so excited to spend the next week with them here. Tune in soon to hear about our Caribbean Christmas adventures!

The Perspective of a Painter

If you take a stroll down the Rue de la Republique of Marigot on the island of Saint Martin, you will find a tall, 200-year-old building with red gingerbread doors and shutters. On most days, the doors and windows are flung open to allow passersby to admire vibrant artwork within. This is the art gallery of Sir Roland Richardson.

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It’s a Thursday, the day when the gallery is most interesting. On Thursdays, Roland paints portraits. Today, my friend Stacey is the chosen model, and I have come to watch.

Roland welcomes us inside his gallery and begins to show us around. The first thing that catches our attention is the bright reds and oranges of the flamboyant trees in Roland’s paintings. As he opens the gingerbread shutters, sunlight floods the gallery and illuminates the artwork– a scattering of flowers on this canvas, a still-life print on the shelf, a field of sunflowers on that canvas. Roland tells us that every single painting in his gallery was done from life. “If I’m not looking at it, I don’t paint it,” he says. For Roland, a painting is a historical object. He doesn’t want to invent something that doesn’t exist; he doesn’t want to extrapolate on a photograph. He wants to capture a moment in time.

We can see that he captures moments in the most beautiful way.

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Roland continues to set up shop, and we wander into the garden. The back wall of the garden is perfectly picturesque; it is one of the island’s oldest buildings, a French barracks that housed the army while they built Fort Louis. The garden itself is charming. We admire the voluptuous tropical flowers and chat with some of the other gallery guests.

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It is late in the morning, and the tourists begin to trickle in. Roland welcomes them with his usual zeal and immediately begins to instruct on art and light. He sets a prism on the sidewalk outside and snatches up a blank canvas to capture the rainbow it throws into the room. Light is everything to us, he explains, because it defines everything we can see. Except for the things within our reach, the only reason we can know anything exists is because of light.

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He gestures to the rainbow on his canvas. While our minds think we see seven colors, he says, there are really only three: red, yellow and blue. In religion, there is the Trinity, and in the physical world, there are three dimensions. In the world of light and color, there are the primary colors. Light goes back, it goes forward, and it goes outward in a glow. Three dimensions, and three elements to light.

Roland’s wife, Laura, arrives to manage the gallery, and Roland takes leave of his visitors. Up the stairs we go. On the second floor, There is still more art– mostly portraits. Roland sets up his canvas and tries every combination of shadow in the room to find the perfect light in which to paint Stacey. We open and close all the windows and all the doors until he is satisfied with a soft, sunlit glow from one side of the room. He focuses for a moment on his subject and then on his canvas, tracing invisible shapes on its surface with his hands. “The first gestures to me are the most important, because it is the way the subject wants to appear in the space you have,” he explains. The canvas, he tells us, is a unique space. in order to create art on the canvas, you cannot simply determine what you want to put there. Part of the art of painting is the art of discovery. You must discover how the subject wants to fit within the space of the canvas; you must draw it out of the canvas. “A painting is not a picture of something. A painting is a thing in itself.”

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The first strokes of the master are light, but strong; purposeful, but free. I watch in fascination as the image appears on the canvas. Roland talks as he works, explaining what he does and why. He works on all the pieces of the painting simultaneously so that it can grow naturally. That’s how babies grow, he says– the whole foot doesn’t develop first and then a leg and so on. A painting can’t develop that way, either.

To Roland, painting is not just an art. It is not simply a form of self-expression. “Self expression is not art,” he states. No, art is something more than that. Art is something spiritual. “I believe that paintings are an essential aspect of humankind that is really unique and that an awareness of the importance of art…is intended to nourish our beings. Our spirits.”

My mind ruminates on this thought as Roland continues his work. Art really does nourish our spirits. Supposing that the universe is random and has no meaning, then what is the purpose of beauty, and why are we drawn to beautiful things? We inherently love sunsets and recoil from spiders. God placed something within our souls that craves beauty. And He created beauty all around us. Beauty in our lives is the thumbprint of God on the world; it is His signature. Every flitting butterfly and every turquoise hummingbird whispers to us that God loves us and that there is a meaning to life.

My thoughts are interrupted as a group of students from nearby school enter the studio. They are part of an art class, and they are here to interview Roland for a school project.

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“Why did you decide to become an artist?” asks one student. Roland turns from his work, fistful of brushes in hand. “You don’t decide to become an artist,” he says. It is not a decision. It is a calling. Being an artist is more than simply a job, he says. It is the purpose that the Creator made him for. He tells the story of how he became the first St. Martin-born professional painter, from the seventeen-year-old painting his very first piece to the successful artist he is today.

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The students finish their questions, say goodbye, and file down the stairs. The painting is becoming more and more lifelike. With every stroke, it becomes more Stacey. As he paints, Roland tells us the difference between painting a person and painting anything else. With an object, you can decide what you are looking at. With a person, you must discover what you are looking at. Painting through discovery brings respect to the human subject, he admonishes. This strikes me as profound, and I wonder if biographers and photographers also think this way. Perhaps if we all approached one another in this way– not just in painting, but in everyday life– we would have more grace and respect for one another.

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It is now mid-afternoon, and the shafts of light angle differently through the windows than they did when the canvas was still white. The room is airy, and I can smell the sweet fragrance of the garden flowers. Outside, the bells break through the sound of downtown traffic to chime three o’clock. Roland puts the finishing touches on Stacey’s blue eyes. He invites her to come see. A smile lights up her face as she sees herself in fine art on the canvas. It really is beautiful.

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We take in a few more quick lessons on art and color from the artist, bid him goodbye, and emerge from the cool of the studio to the warm sunlight of the West Indies. Time ticks on, the bustle of town swallows up the moments. The ferry pulls out of port, someone is born, and someone dies. But upstairs in the studio, a moment of time is forever captured and will never be forgotten.

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Foodie Tuesdays: Meaty Noodle Thing

I’m not sure what one might call this dish; I’m sure it has a name somewhere, but I don’t know it. I do know that it was yummy.

Ben’s first semester of medical school is over! Many people prepared to leave for the break with a still fully-stocked pantry, and I was happy to take the food off their hands for a discounted price. I now have more types of condiments and interesting Asian food than I even knew existed, and I’m looking forward to learning to make new things! One other spouse was generous enough to sell me the entire contents of her fridge for almost nothing– including  meat! Ground beef, even! That stuff is not cheap here, friends.  I was so thrilled with this blessing that I hurried home and threw together a pasta dish that smelled like Heaven had a barbeque.

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Here’s how to make my Meaty Noodle Thing:

Gather ingredients:

  • Package of macaroni pasta
  • One pound of ground beef, cooked
  • One jar of pasta sauce (I used Prego)
  • 1/3 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheese
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened yogurt
  • Garlic salt, pepper, salt, oregano to taste

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Prepare meat and pasta. Save the oil from the ground beef in the pan.

Heat up sauce.

Sauté the veggies in the beef oil. Add seasonings.

Mix cheese and yogurt into the sauce. Add veggies.

Mix pasta and sauce.

Enjoy!

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Tealights for Hanukkah

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. This phrase is perhaps the only thing many of us know about Hanukkah. Contrary to popular opinion, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. In fact, Hanukkah’s roots are even older than Christmas is. Hanukkah is a beautiful celebration of God’s faithfulness and has a wonderful story behind it.

The story of Hanukkah can be found in 1 Maccabees. When Alexander the Great overtook the Middle East, he sent governors who oppressed the Jewish people. They desecrated the Temple by slaughtering pigs (unclean animals according to Jewish law) on the alter and dedicated it to Zeus.

Most of the Jews felt helpless in the face of the Greek juggernaut, but there was a group of men, called the Maccabees, who refused to stand for the atrocity. They attacked the Greek soldiers and regained control of the Temple. In order to purify it, they needed to burn purified oil on the Temple lampstand. Unfortunately, the preparation of  the special oil took eight days, and they only had one day’s worth of oil to burn. They decided to take a step of faith and burn the oil. The next morning, the lampstand was burning low– but the oil jar was full once more! Each day for eight days, the jar was miraculously full in the morning. On the last day, when the new oil was ready, the jar was empty.

This story is not wonderful simply because God worked a miracle by renewing the oil. It is wonderful because it reflects God’s heart for His people. By providing the oil and allowing the Temple to be purified, God made a way for His people to have a place to worship Him and connect with Him. He wants His children to have a relationship with Him.

I am not Jewish; I believe that Jesus Christ fulfills the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. I believe that He is the one who is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But I also think that any holiday that celebrates God’s goodness is worth observing, so I light eight candles on Hanukkah each year.

I made a menorah a few years ago, but I left it back in Phoenix. So, this year, I set up nine tea lights on a shelf and raised the center one using the cap of some glitter spray I used.  Unfortunately, tea lights don’t last nearly as long as miraculous Temple oil, so tapers would be a better choice in the future. Still, it looks pretty.

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It is traditional to eat food fried in oil during Hanukkah to commemorate the Temple oil. Latkes are especially popular during the holiday. So, I decided to make some!

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Ben and Matt helped me make latkes

 

Latkes are basically potato cakes. All you need to make them is chopped onion, shredded potato, and some salt, a little flour, egg, and oil. Heat the oil one inch deep in a pan. Mix all the other ingredients together, form into balls, and press into pan to create a pancake shape. Fry until golden-brown.

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From a Christian perspective, Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets, so every Jewish holiday points directly to Jesus Christ. Passover points to His death and resurrection, Day of Atonement points to His self-sacrifice for our sins, and Hanukkah points to the privilege of relationship with God that Jesus gives to us. During the Maccabean Revolt that instituted Hanukkah, God gave His people the ability to seek Him in the Temple. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, God gave us something even greater. Matthew 27:51 says that “at that moment [that Jesus died on the cross] the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The temple curtain was an incredibly thick, heavy cloth that separated the Holy Place (where Jewish men could worship) from the Holy of Holies (the place where God allowed his presence to rest; the place where only priests could go. When the curtain was torn, the barrier between us and the  presence of God was removed. The removal was not just a physical one. The tearing of the curtain was a representation of the removal of the barrier between God and man. Jesus’ sacrifice broke the sin barrier between us and God. Now, we can have direct access to God. Just as God was willing to work a miracle to allow the Jews to connect with Him again in His Temple, He was willing to offer the unthinkable so that now everyone may connect with Him from anywhere.

Win A Caribbean Picture Book!

Good morning, friends! This is my 50th post on 3rd Culture Wife, and to celebrate, I am giving away a little piece of my host culture. Read on to find out how to win.

Caribbean Dream is a beautifully illustrated picture book that portrays the Caribbean life vividly before your eyes. I first came across the book while searching for books for the island kids I tutor– I wanted to contribute to their library with books that focus on African-Caribbean characters. This is one that caught my attention.

I think it is important to give children books with brown children as the main characters. Most of the books I grew up with had white main characters. I never thought much of this as a kid. Since I’m white, I found the characters relatable. However, as I now live in a African-Caribbean community, I have started to see things through the eyes of brown children. Why are there so few picture books featuring black kids? I don’t know, but I’m always glad when I find good books that do. I think books focusing on people of color and books in diverse cultural settings are essential to any child’s library. For the kids on the island, Caribbean Dream is a great choice because it is something they can relate to. For kids outside the Caribbean, it’s a great choice because it exposes them to cultures different than their own.

To win this book, share a link to this post on your Facebook, WordPress, or other social media site. Then comment below to let me know that you shared it. The fifth person to comment wins! Please note: all comments will be invisible until the contest is over, so you won’t see your or anyone else’s comments until then. Make sure to follow the post so that you can know if you win, so I can get your mailing address to send it.

The contest will end on Saturday, December 19, 2015, so get posting!

 

 

Note: The only information I will need from you is a shipping address for the book. I will not keep your information or share it with anyone else.

Second Sunday of Advent: Forgiveness

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Last week, I wrote the history, tradition, and significance of Advent season.  Today, I will be talking about what we did for the second week of Advent. If you like, you can gather your family and join in the timeless tradition of Advent devotions.

Tonight, we lit the second advent candle, the Forgiveness Candle. This candle reminds us that Jesus came to us in order to bring forgiveness of our wrongdoings.

The Bible tells us that the reason that Jesus came to us was to glorify God (John 17:1). The primary way He did this was by reconciling the world to God. From the very first, people alienated themselves from God by disobeying God. God commands that we do all things good and right, as is outlined in the Bible and written in our consciences. But each one of us has violated that command. Because even the smallest wrongdoing completely dirties us before God, we are unable to enter his presence as we are. God is so completely holy that He does not tolerate the filth of unholiness. Because He is just, He requires punishment for wrongdoing– physical death and eternal separation from His presence after death.  But because God loves us and desires to show His mercy to us, He decided to make a way for our relationship with Him to be repaired. He sent His Son, Jesus, to the world to take the punishment for our wrongdoing. Jesus was the only one who could take on every wrong ever committed and bear our punishment in our place, because He was the only man who ever lived a perfect life with no mistakes. When He died, God turned His back on him and let Him bear the pain of physical death and separation from His presence for a short time. But because Jesus is God, the power of evil and death had no hold over him. After a short time in the grave, Jesus rose again, this time with a body that would never be destroyed! If we repent of our wrongdoing and accept Jesus’ sacrifice, we too can live forever with God. Our wrongdoings– every single one of them– have already been paid for by Jesus. We can be forgiven.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is the celebration of the first spark of hope for forgiveness entering the world.

For today’s Advent devotional reading, you can read the following verses:

Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Luke 1:68-79: “….for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of God…”

Because of the forgiveness of God, we no longer need to live with the burdens of guilt, of shame, or of fear. This freedom is the beautiful blessing of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree for $0

Each year around the end of November, we are faced with the reality that CHRISTMAS IS COMING and we totally didn’t budget for it the way we should have.

For my family this year, this is due in great part to a giant international move that we were not planning on at the beginning of the year.

But as Christmas approached, we did not panic, and neither should you! Christmas does not have to be ridiculously expensive. I plan to post a few different money-saving ideas that living on student loans and freelance illustrating has driven me to dream up.

One great thing about being an international grad school family is that it makes you resourceful and inventive. And it’s actually a lot of fun!

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Today’s Christmas budget-saver is a 100% totally free Christmas tree. There are several ways to get a Christmas tree for free. You can grow it, cut one down in the woods, steal one from Walmart, or make your own. The first suggestion will take you about five years, the second is not kind to the forests and is also probably illegal, and the third is definitely illegal, although totally feasible. At least according to the Walmart cashier who subtly suggested it to us last year. I’m not sure if he was kidding or just didn’t want the hassle of going outside to ring it up.

I weighed my options. There are no Walmarts on our island to steal from,  no pine trees to cut down in the forest, and the only soil I own is in my dustpan, so I decided to make my own Christmas tree.

Here’s how I did it:

First, I gathered my materials.

  • I used the pole from a miniature flag (the kind that’s popular to attach to your car windows here on the island. I ripped off the flag, hung it on the wall, and just had the stick laying around). You can use anything long and skinny: a dowel, a skewer, etc. Sharpening the end to a point may be helpful, too, if it’s not already sharp.
  • A whole lot of paper and cardboard. I used about 5 old newspapers, a used notebook, a consumable book, two magazines, this year’s used-up calendar a big box and a bunch of little boxes. Even the box your toothpaste came in will work.
  • Scissors and possibly an exacto knife
  • A pen
  • A ruler (optional)
  • A large tin or something along those lines for the base
  • Decorations: String, tinsel, ornaments, ribbon, popcorn, shells, hairclips, etc.

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The next step is to anchor your pole. I just duct-taped it securely to a square of cardboard.
Now prepare to cut your paper. What size do you want your tree? The paper part of my tree is about 2 feet tall. It took me four hours to cut and stack the paper. The bottom layers of paper are a foot across. If you want a taller tree, cut larger squares. If you want a tiny tree, start with smaller squares.
Cut about half an inch of stacked paper to 12″ x 12″ or however large your bottom layer needs to be.
Pick up the first sheet of paper. Fold corner-to-corner and crease so that I makes a triangle. Do the same the other way so that you have a creased “X” on your paper. Where the lines intersect is the exact center of the paper. Use your pen to poke a hole in the center. Slide the paper onto the pole.
Repeat this until all your 12×12 paper is gone. Now, cut another stack of paper to about 11.75″ x 11.75.” Crease and slide the paper the same way you did before.
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Continue in this way. You’ll have to feel out the size changes as you go. If you want your tree tall and slim, you should decrease size of your paper less often and make more gradual decreases. I you want it shorter and fatter, decrease the size more often and make the decreases in paper size greater.
As you go, alternate the type of material you use. Be creative! Have fun with color and texture. Raid the recycle bin, check your pantry, and go through those stacks of paper you don’t need. I was amazed at how much recyclable material I found in our tiny one-bedroom apartment.
Leave a few inches of your pole paper-free. Slide the paper up to the top of the pole so that you can anchor the pole into the base.
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To make your base, fill your container (I used an empty Nido tin) full of beans, rocks, or sand. Create a hole in the top and stick the pole of your tree into it. Make sure to anchor and balance it.
Now is the most fun part! Time to decorate.
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Make a tree topper. I used tinfoil to fashion a star.
Use a needle, thread, and popcorn to make a popcorn strand.
I made woven paper heart ornaments. Directions coming in a future post.
The little pink hearts are made with clay mixed with cinnamon essential oil.
You can sew baubles directly onto the tree or hang them from a strand of popcorn/tinsel.
You’re finished! Congratulations. You have created a Christmas tree for free. Now, go enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. You deserve it after saving those trees and that money.
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Foodie Tuesdays! Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie

Hellooo holiday season! I love Thanksgiving and I love Christmas, so this part of the year is one of my favorites. To kick off the winter holidays, I’m starting a new segment called Foodie Tuesdays. Check back every week for new recipes! I’ll try to stick to international foods, but sometimes I just need some good American pie.

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This pi r squared.

 

As I mentioned in my post last week, I made a chocolate pumpkin spice latte pie for Thanksgiving. Here’s the recipe:

  • Gather ingredients.
    1. 1 1/2 – 2 lbs prepared pumpkin pie purée. I used one 2 lb can of pumpkin pie filling– the kind that is already spiced.
    2. I cup milk
    3. 4 eggs
    4. 1 1/2 cup melted butter (1 cup for crust and 1/2 cup for pie filling)
    5. Chocolate powder to taste (1/4 cup) if you want your latte to be a mocha
    6. Finely ground instant coffee to taste (1/4 cup)
    7. 1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
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  • First, prepare your crust. We ground the gingersnap by soaking them in the 1 cup of butter and smashing them with a pastry cutter. You can put them in a plastic bag and crush them if that works better for you.
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  • Mix the crumbs with the butter and use a fork to evenly smash them to the bottom of your pie pan. I used a casserole because I don’t have a pie pan. Such is the budget expat life.
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  • Preheat your oven to 425* F
  • Beat your eggs. Add them, the milk, and the remaining butter to your pumpkin pie filling.
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  • Fill two small bowls with 1 cup of pie filling each. Add your coffee to one and your chocolate to the other. You may have to add extra of one or the other powder so that the pumpkin does not overpower the other flavors.
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  • Pour the orange pie filling into the pie pan. Smooth the surface.
  • Drop teaspoons of the coffee and chocolate pie filling all over the top of the orange pie filling
  • Use a butter knife to swirl and marbleize the two colors
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  • Put the pie in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes. You should turn the temperature down to 350* F after the first 10 minutes.
  • Voilà! You have created a delicious treat to rival Starbuck’s most famous holiday drink.

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Check back next time to find out how to make your own earth-friendly Christmas tree for FREE.

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