Block week is the week before blocks, which are a set of important tests that happen four times per semester at American University of the Caribbean. It’s the time when many pizzas are consumed, many blank stares are met with, and many Netflix shows are ignored.
I am always glad to not be a student during block week, but I admit that it’s a little rough on the spouses, too, especially the first time around. I last semester, when we were experiencing our very first block week ever, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. I can’t go to sleep unless Ben is there, so I stayed up late every night waiting for him to get home. There was a night he never came back from the study rooms, and I finally fell asleep at 2:00 AM. Those of you who know me well will understand what a struggle it was to go to bed that late! Now, I’m more used to it and it’s a lot less stressful to Ben. It’s just a part of life.
But block week isn’t all bad– at least for us spouses! One thing we all look forward to is bake sale. During the weekend before block, the AUC spouses organization holds a bake sale in the main building of campus to feed hungry students and spend time with each other. We sell nachos, drinks, and desserts to make money for our group activities. Last semester, we made enough for us to go to the zoo, do craft nights, and spend a day at an all-inclusive resort.
Bake sale is great because we get to meet and encourage hundreds of students. I love talking to them as they pass through the line. Another great thing about bake sale is eating the dregs of the chocolate frosting out of the container with a spatula and not being judged. And of course, getting free nachos is always awesome. But the best part is spending time with friends and making new ones!
Ben’s favorite breakfast is baked oatmeal. I usually make him something quicker, like toast or eggs, but once in a while I get up early to make this treat. It’s soft, chewey and sweet. It’s also filling and staves off the snacking.
Today’s recipe is one of one my most successful food attempts of all time. It is close-your-eyes-and-enjoy-the-moment delicious. My husband told me that this is the best way I’ve ever made chicken and that I have to make it again.
Now, that’s what I like to hear.
I have honestly never thought of trying Persian food before yesterday. Our neighbor down the hall is leaving the island in a few months, and he offered us the spices, food, and first aid stuff he doesn’t plan to use before he leaves. Do we have the most awesome neighbors ever, or what? Some of the spices he gave us are used in Persian food. He explained their uses enough to me to be able to Google intelligently and find some yummy recipes.
Behold, zeerah polow and chicken.
Zeerah polow is rice with cumin seeds. This and the chicken should take about four hours to make the right way, but I only had an hour before dinner time, so I sped things up a bit. Here’s Zeerah Polow in cut-time.
Gather your ingredients:
Brown rice, 3 cups
Cumin seeds, 3 tablespoons
One chicken quarter or two breasts
Plain yogurt, one cup
Dried mint, 1 tablespoon
Garlic powder, 1/2 tablespoon
Black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon
Paprika, 1 teaspoon
Salt, 1/2 tablespoon
Flour, one cup
Rinse rice until the water is clear. Boil six cups of water and add rice. Simmer. Scoop rice from the bottom of the pan to the top every few minutes.
Toast the cumin seeds in a pan. Set aside.
When the rice is done, drain rice and mix with cumin seeds.
Meanwhile, prepare the chicken. Cut into strips.
Mix garlic powder and yogurt. Let chicken marinate in the mixture for ten minutes.
Mix flour and rest of spices in another bowl.
Heat oil 1/4 inch deep in a skillet. Coat chicken in flour/spice mixture and fry in oil until the chicken is cooked and the batter is crispy.
I love making ethnic food. Especially when I have absolutely no idea what it is. Today, I tried something that I’ve never made before, and it was a winner. An empty-the-pot-and-ask-for-more winner. Kidney beans and rice with rajmah masala!
Sometimes, Indian food is a little to spicy for me– sometimes it is way too spicy for me. This, on the other hand, was the perfect amount of spicy and savory.
I got the box mix last night from my neighbor. He was cleaning out his kitchen and offered me a bunch of cool spices and other yummy things– perks of having an awesome neighbor! If you don’t have as box mix, you can make your own rajmah masala from spices in your kitchen.
You will need:
Kidney beans (2 or 3 cans, or a package of dry beans, prepared)
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.
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.
Once the fish were home and cleaned, it was time to start cooking.
To make the fajitas, gather your ingredients:
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.
Season fish with salt, pepper, and lemon.
Slice onions, bell peppers, and shallots into thin slices.
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.
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.
Remove the skin from the fish, flake off the meat, and pile it all on the tortillas.
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.
Here’s how to make my Meaty Noodle Thing:
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
As I mentioned in my post last week, I made a chocolate pumpkin spice latte pie for Thanksgiving. Here’s the recipe:
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.
I cup milk
1 1/2 cup melted butter (1 cup for crust and 1/2 cup for pie filling)
Chocolate powder to taste (1/4 cup) if you want your latte to be a mocha
Finely ground instant coffee to taste (1/4 cup)
1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
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.
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.
Preheat your oven to 425* F
Beat your eggs. Add them, the milk, and the remaining butter to your pumpkin pie filling.
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.
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
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.
Check back next time to find out how to make your own earth-friendly Christmas tree for FREE.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend from the Johnsons! This was my first Thanksgiving outside the United States. Here’s how we celebrated it, expat-style.
Since Thanksgiving is strictly a U.S. holiday, nobody on Sint Maarten got the day off work or school. We weren’t too bothered by this; two of Ben’s classes have ended, so he only had to be at school for three hours. We spent the extra two hours in the morning catching some waves at the beach.
Usually, we run in a Turkey Trot (Thanksgiving 5K) on Thanksgiving morning. I have to admit that I felt a little guilty for not running on our family’s annual race day! Between my bad knees, the humidity, and the lack of Thanksgiving festivities, though, I was definitely happy to “settle” for boogie boarding to earn my extra Thanksgiving dinner calories.
Another tradition that I missed was the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Instead of that, I watched Phineas and Ferb in Spanish while Ben was in lab. Maybe I’ll be able to catch some parade clips on YouTube later.
The one traditional thing that I definitely did for Thanksgiving was cook! It was a little lonely to be in the kitchen by myself– usually, my mom, dad, sister, and I all work together to make Thanksgiving dinner. This year, we went to a Thanksgiving potluck with our church group, AUC’s Christian Medical and Dental Association. I made bread rolls and pumpkin pie. I didn’t have a pie pan, so Ben put a sign next to my casserole-dish pie that said ” πr2 .” I don’t know if anyone got it, but we thought it was funny.
Since there were three other people also making pumpkin pie (Thanksgiving calls for a LOT of pie, people!), I decided to make pumpkin spiced latte pie with chocolate swirls. You’re welcome, Starbucks lovers!
I actually got to enjoy three Thanksgiving dinners! It would have been four, but I missed the one put on my the AUC spouses organization because we rented a car that day and needed to get all our shopping done.
The first Thanksgiving dinner I had was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. My friend Stacy invited us to share in their holiday celebrations with their visiting family. She and her future mother-in-law made a delicious, home-cooked, Southern-style feast!
The second Thanksgiving meal I had was at lunch on Thanksgiving Day. American University of the Caribbean doesn’t give students the day off school, but they do give a free lunch with turkey, potatoes and all the traditional fixings!
The last Thanksgiving feast we had was the potluck with CMDA. There were about 30 people there– friends, neighbors, classmates, and people we’ve never seen before. There was a row of tables filled with aromatic dishes, and more dessert than anyone could handle. Yum! CMDA president Blake carved the turkey, Ben carved the ham, we said a prayer of thanks, and then we all sat down to enjoy the meal and the beautiful ocean view from the porch.
When we got home later, we Skyped my parents. Even though we missed them, my sister,who was in Wyoming for the holiday, and Ben’s family who are in various parts of the world, it was good to be able to talk to family and share a part of day with them, even if we could not share a meal.
What an amazing sunset. What a great day. We have so much to be thankful for: food, friends, family, video chat and email, the kids and coaches on the baseball team, our island paradise, school, church, and so much more… most of all, the saving grace of God. He is so good to us, and has blessed us more than we could ever imagine.
Meet my friend Aqiyla! Today she is going to teach us to make a yummy Caribbean dish called macaroni pie. Aqiyla hails from Canada, but her family is actually originally from the Caribbean. This is a meal that her grandparents brought from these sunny islands years ago.
First, gather your ingredients:
-2 or 3 eggs
-1 1/2 cup condensed milk
-Cheese to your liking
-Oil or nonstick spray
-Salt and pepper
Next, boil, your macaroni. You want it to be al dente at this stage, so don’t let it get soggy!
While the macaroni is boiling, crack 2 to 3 eggs in a bowl and beat them. We used three eggs, but you may only need two. I bought the baby eggs because they are literally half the price of jumbo eggs at our neighborhood Asian market.
When your macaroni is done boiling, drain it and mix in the egg. Make sure to stir it in quickly, so that you don’t end up with giant chunks of scrambled egg as they cook in your hot noodles!
Also, preheat your oven to 350* F or 170* C.
After the egg, mix in your condensed milk. Make sure you have enough enough to thoroughly coat your noodles with a thin film of milk left at the bottom of the bowl. This means you’ll need to stir it in a bit at a time and fold it into your noodles somewhat slowly.
Next, salt and pepper to taste.
Now, your macaroni is ready to go into the baking dish! Grease your dish and pour in the macaroni.
I used a pot because I don’t own baking dish.
That’s how it goes when you sell everything and start over.
Once you pour it into the dish, sprinkle cheese generously, according to your preference. Yum.
Put the macaroni in the oven. Let it bake for 30-45 min. When it the cheese looks dark, crispy, and bubbly, it is done!
Serve and enjoy!
This was a win at our house. It’s simple to make and a good break from the pasta dishes I routinely make for dinner. We’ll be adding this to the recipe box for sure!