Friday, December 28, 2012

Do You Hear the People Sing? (Roasted Acorn Squash Pasta)

In T-minus two hours I will get to do something I have been waiting for since August: see Les Miserables!  (Actually by the time this post goes up I will have seen it, but bear with me, at this moment the excitement is flowing.)


Here is something about me you might not have known about me, but I am a major musical girl.  Love love LOVE them.  I first discovered this as a teenager, roaming the streets of London with my senior class.  Piccadilly Circus offered us any musical we could want, and I made the call: Les Mis.  I had never heard of it before, yet I was scared to watch Phantom (true then, not true anymore...), so I just went with it.  My friends did not argue.  From the moment I stepped into that theater and watched this beautiful and ugly story unfold before my eyes, I was hooked.  Anna and the King, Phantom of the Opera, Grease, Miss Saigon (which I have seen both in English and in Portuguese!)... I cannot get enough.  

But none has touched me like Les Miserables.  

Maybe it is because it was my 'first love', maybe it is because both London and San Francisco did it right.  I don't know, really.  But I do know this: I have been waiting for this moment (first chance to see it on the big screen since it came out two days ago) ever since I saw the preview in Aug.  I have been counting the days. And I no longer have to say, "One day more..."

But first we dine on our roasted acorn squash pasta with kale and toasted almonds.  Vegan and full of rich vegetables, not to mention quite tasty...  (Asked in my best Chandler voice) Could tonight be any better?!

How about you -- Yay or nay for musicals? Favorites?

Roasted Acorn Squash with Kale and Almonds
Recipe from Everyday Food, Dec. 2012

Prep: 10 Min    Total Time: 40 min    Servings: 4

  • 1 acorn squash (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch wedges, then crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/4 pound medium pasta shells
  • 1 bunch curly kale, tough stems and ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss together squash, garlic, and 1 tablespoon oil and arrange in a single layer; season with salt and pepper. Bake until squash is soft and lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes, tossing halfway through. Remove garlic from skins and toss with squash.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta 1 minute less than package instructions. Add kale and cook 1 minute. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain. Return pasta and kale to pot, add squash mixture and remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine, adding enough pasta water to create a light sauce that coats pasta. Serve topped with almonds.

COST: $3.53   COST PER SERVING (4): $0.89

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

This post brought to you by cookies. {Wednesday Files}

My life for the weeks before Christmas has been fueled by cookies.  First there was the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap (which was awesome).  Then there was cookie making for my coworkers.  And finally there was the Gigantuous Cookie-Making Fundraiser of 2012.

Remember when I told you about my students and their response to so many of my loved ones losing homes during a typhoon?  Well, it touched me.  Deeply.  Here were little people so eager to help, to do something.  They offered their money; they offered their toys.  When I shared that we couldn't really send toys to people overseas without houses, they offered something bigger: their annual Christmas gift exchange.

Yes, they gave up their gift exchange for people they didn't even know.  Instead of buying presents for their secret pal, they decided to take that $5-$10 and use it to make cookies.  To sell.  To raise money for those in need.

Beautiful, isn't it?

And so we set out to do that.  We made cookies, I found family and friends to buy a box.  Then they wrapped, packed, and shipped the cookies, along with a homemade thank-you card, to everyone who helped them.  The cookies might have been a little lopsided, and the boxes were definitely a little haphazardly packed, but they did it.  And in the end, they raised $1,650 for the little island of Peleliu!  Yes, you read that number right, One thousand, six hundred fifty dollars.

WOW!  What the hearts of these young ones can teach us if our big, grown-up hearts are willing to listen...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Have yourself a very peary Christmas! (Butternut Squash and Pear Soup)

It's all done.  Christmas shopping that is.  A pile of gifts are to my right and a heap of wrapping paper is to my left.

Is it just me or was Christmas kind sneaky this year?  Seriously, it feels like it came out of nowhere.  Not that I am complaining.  I adore Christmas.  The lights, the music, the laughter, the story of a baby born long ago... it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Some other things I love about Christmas:

Peppermint everything
The smell of Christmas trees
Mannheim Steamroller

Wreaths on the door
Rain coming down (yes, rain and not snow... California!)
Giving presents

Christmas cookies

What a minute -- I have never actually been kissed under the mistletoe before!  Guess I better grab that many of mine and make some Christmas magic happen! ;)

And last, but not least, SOUP!  It has always been one of my favorite dishes, and I hope it forever more shall be...

How about you?  What are your favorite things from this season?

Recipe from Everyday Food, Dec. 2012

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced large
  • 1 small butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and diced large
  • 2 pears, peeled and diced large
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • Chopped fresh chives, for serving
  1. In a medium pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and cook until translucent, 6 minutes. Add squash, pears, and 4 cups water; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce to a rapid simmer and cook until squash is soft, 20 to 25 minutes.
  2. In batches, fill a blender halfway with soup and puree with yogurt until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), transferring to a clean pot as you work. Season with salt and pepper; serve with chives and a drizzle of olive oil.

COST: $$4.42   COST PER SERVING (6): $0.74

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Polenta-Topped Turkey Patties

Candy canes.  Hot cocoa.  Fudge.  Things wrapped up with pretty bows.

These are December foods.  But sometimes you need something different.  Sometimes you need real food.

And really, I must say, it was good to be in the kitchen again.  I think I could get used to this.

Recipe inspired by Rachael Ray's Polenta-Topped Pork Patties with Green Beans,
Everyday with Rachael Ray, Dec. 2009

  • tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2/3 cup instant polenta or quick cook corn meal
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 ounce fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • side salad fixings, your choice
  1. In a large, ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; reserve the skillet.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring 2 1/3 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil. Whisk in the polenta, lower the heat to medium-low and whisk until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream, remove from the heat, then stir in the cheese; season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
  3. Preheat the broiler. Add the turkey and parsley to the onion; shape into four 4-inch-wide patties. In the reserved skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the patties and cook, turning once, until browned, 6 to 7 minutes. Spoon the polenta on top and broil until golden, about 5 minutes.

COST: $8.64   COST PER SERVING (4): $2.16

(cost includes salad)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Perfect Hot Chocolate {Sundays with Joy}

'Tis the season.  For lights and jammies.  For peace and joy.  For hot chocolate.

'Tis the season for learning how to make Christmas goodies from scratch, too.

Before tonight, the words "hot chocolate" were synonymous with "Swiss Miss".  Or maybe "Nestle".  But now they sound like "Oh my goodness, there is amazingness in my mug".

Cute Christmas mugs deserve amazingness, I think.  You do only get to use them for a little bit each year, after all.

You probably like marshmallows in your hot chocolate.  Good, go for it!  I am not a marshmallow girl, but that did not stop this from still being the perfect cup of hot cocoa.  As my husband said, "Now THIS is what I call hot chocolate, not that watery stuff!"

Go get a little Joy in your life, and celebrate the season of joy and happiness on Earth with the light twinkling in the background and a warm mug in your hand.

Recipe from the Joy the Baker cookbook.  For a similar recipe, visit her blog HERE.  And enjoy!

Merry Christmas!

** There are a lot of families today in Connecticut who are not going to be able to feel peace and joy for quite some time, if ever again.  My thoughts and prayers are constantly with them as I realize Christmas will never be the same again.  One more example of why we cannot take the people we love for granted, at this time or any time.

(This post is a part of the Sunday with Joy baking group I am a part of.  Since we are going through the entire book, recipe by recipe, we do not post the recipes online unless we have changed them and made them our own.  This one was perfect as is.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Peppermint Crinkle Cookies {Cookie Swap Recipe}

My poor baking gadgets have been neglected.  There they sat, in the drawer, lonely and wondering what they did that was so bad to make me never take them out to see the light of day or feel the heat of the oven.

Poor babies.

Good thing the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap came to the rescue!

This was the second year I participated in this cookie swap, and both times I have had so much fun!  I mean, who doesn't like to have boxes of cookies -- freshly baked, I might add -- show up at their door?!  Yeah, that's what I thought.

Last year I sent off some cookies to Tennessee, and later met and became friends with the lady who received my box.  And, completely randomly, I received a box from someone who lives in the same little town in Illinois that my mother and grandmother grew up in.

Cookie swaps make the world just a little bit smaller...

How nice of OXO to send us all spatulas!  You can get one of these
bad boys for yourself HERE, and half of the proceeds go to fight
cancer in kids.  SWEET!
Of course, there is always the task of finding the perfect cookie recipe.  Since it can't be one that is on your blog yet (and if you are like me, you can only cook things that you put/have put on your blog), that means you need to find a new recipe.  One that you will like, one that strangers will like, one that ships well.

Luckily we live in the day and age of Pinterest.  Within five minutes I found it.

Cookies that taste like brownies???

Yes, please!

To celebrate my favorite flavor of Christmas, I added some peppermint extract.  Peppermint + chocolate = a merry Christmas, if you ask me.

And so, Peppermint Crinkle Cookies were born.  They lived a good life, for about five minutes, until my husband gobbled them all up, leaving me with one.

He apparently forgot that sharing was caring.

How nice of him to leave me one... ;)

In the end, these cookies traveled from my home in California to New York, Maryland, and another city not too far away from me, hopefully to arrive in tact and still fresh.  You never know with the busy holiday mail season!

And the best part?  I got cookies, too!  Thank you Natalie at The Sweets Life and Taylor at Greens & Chocolate.  You ladies had me at the peppermint...  As for Beka, your coconutty cookies were a perfect treat for this half-Brazilian home.  You brought a little bit of Natal our way.  Thank you!

Cookies from Taylor @ Green&Chocolate

Another holiday season, another cookie swap in the bag.  Merry Christmas!

Recipe adapted from the Magnolia Bakery in Los Angeles
MAKES 24-30 cookies
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups White sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoon Baking powder
½ tsp. Salt
½ cup powdered sugar


1. In a small bowl whisk together 2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder and ½ tsp. salt. Set aside.
2. In a medium size stainless steel bowl whisk together 1 cup cocoa, 2 cups white sugar and ½ cup vegetable oil.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking slightly after each.
4. Stir in the vanilla just until mixed.
5. Stir the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture.
6. Cover dough and chill for at least 30 minutes
7. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
8. Using a scoop, roll dough into a one inch balls.
9. Roll the balls in powdered sugar coating generously.
10. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and bake  cookies for 10-12 minutes just until set. Watch these cookies carefully. They are like a brownie and are better when the center is just barely set. The cookies will “crack” on top exposing the soft chocolate center.

COST: $3.16    COST PER DOZEN (about 3): $1.06

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fried Brussel Sprouts with Paprika Dipping Sauce

Brussel sprouts.  It's one of those things that you always hear in conjunction with, "Ew!  YUCK!"  And so, I spent most of my life avoiding them.  There are enough yum things in the world, no need to mix in some yuck.

But then my husband tried some at work.  He came home singing their praises.  "Babe, have you had brussel sprouts before?  Really?  We need some!"

The next trip to the grocery store I threw some in the cart.  For him.  Because I was pretty sure it was another weird taste he had developed south of the equator.

Funny how these 'weird tastes' turn into 'good eats'.

That's right.  I enjoyed my brussel sprouts.  And I cannot figure out why the word 'yuck' has followed them around all these years.  

Last week I saw this recipe and knew I wanted to try it.  I even left a comment saying so, which was probably taken as, "Yeah, ok, that's what everybody says."  But I spoke the truth.  I wanted them, and I would have them. 

And have them I did.  Brussel sprouts -- YUM.

Makes about 6 servings
For the sauce
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg (see NOTES)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 cup olive oil
    For the Brussels sprouts
    Peanut oil, for frying**
    1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved, retaining enough of the stem so that the sprout stays together (see NOTES)
    For the sauce: Combine the garlic, egg, lemon juice, salt and paprika in the bowl of a food processor or a blender jar. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Process or blend until the mixture thickens, 2 to 4 minutes.
    For the Brussels sprouts: Line a plate with paper towels.
    Pour the oil into a Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet to a depth of 1 inch and heat over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, gently slide half of the sprouts into the oil. Fry for 2 minutes on each side, until the sprouts are browned and crisp. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate, season with salt to taste and repeat to fry all of the sprouts.
    Serve hot, with Paprika-Spiked Dipping Sauce for dipping.
    **I used olive oil to fry the brussel sprouts because I did not have peanut oil.  
    Because the eggs remain raw, use pasteurized eggs if you have food-safety concerns.
    Make sure the sprouts are completely dry before frying. If any moisture remains, the hot oil will splash and sputter, and you risk burns. If the oil starts to pop, hold a large pan lid or splatter screen over the Dutch oven or skillet to contain the oil.

    COST: $4.77  COST PER SERVING (6): $0.80

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    A little goes a long way. (Help for Peleliu)

    I thought I had left the classroom child-free and lights-off. In fact, I KNEW I had done that. Yet, there they were, four kids, in the classroom during lunch time. "What are you guys doing in here?" I asked. Quickly hands got shoved behind their backs and giggles ensued.

    "Don't worry, Mrs. D.," one little boy said to me. "We aren't doing anything bad, promise." And even though this behavior usually calls for the opposite, I decided to trust them. I headed to my desk and got to work, wondering what they could be up to, but letting them do what they wanted to do, knowing they would tell me when they were ready.

    And they did. In only a few minutes they came to my desk, handmade paper envelope in their hands, stuffed full of something, and handed it to me. "We didn't get rootbeer floats today. Here." On the outside on the envelope were the words in third-grade handwriting, "For Friends in Palau". And in the inside was over $13 dollars, mostly in coins.

    They had given up their treats, without being prompted, to help people they had never met. All they knew was these people on the other side of the world needed their help, and they took it upon themselves to do something about it.

    Yes, I teach these kids. But I also am taught by them.

    And so, in the spirit of my third and fourth graders, we are doing something. Working with Surangel's store in Koror (capital of Palau), we have a way to get supplies into the hands of people of Peleliu. An account has been set up for the State of Peleliu to get materials as they need, as much as funds will allow. Please consider giving something, anything, and spread the word. The first $13 has already been given, counted out in quarters and pennies.


    1) DONATE! (Click to be taken to the page.)

    2) SHARE!  I am just a little, small time blogger.  And you may be, too.  But the more we spread the word, the more help we can get out to people who are very near and dear to me -- that most of the world does not even know exists.

    From my heart, Mesulang. My dear friends on Peleliu would say thank you as well, if they had a way to communicate with the outside world.

    ** The island of Peleliu is currently without power or phone lines, and will be so for weeks, if not months.  Please send positive thoughts/prayers their way.

    Sunday, December 2, 2012

    Waiting to Exhale (Typhoon Bopha)

    It can all change in a blink of an eye. 

    Or in the eye of a storm.  A typhoon to be exact.

    These pictures were taken a week ago, out on a little tiny island named Peleliu.  You might know this name from the Battle of Peleliu (the bloodiest battle in the Pacific during WWII), but I know this name because my heart lives here.

    See, this little island with its just-a-few-hundred inhabitants and I have a deep love history -- one that started ten years ago on a service trip and has developed over the years with me actually getting the chance to live and teach on a nearby island.  Sure, I taught and lived and laughed and loved in Koror, but my heart lived in Peleliu.  During that year I visited about every three weekends. And after I moved back home I have been blessed with the chance to return several times.

    This island has seen Christmas presents exchanged, piggy backs given, me attempting to eat the head of a fish (and failing miserably)... I have shared "my" island with friends from here in the States by bringing them out with me on service trips, and most recently (last week), I shared this island with my husband.

    Like I said, we have a deep love history.

    And the people?  They aren't just friends.  They are family.

    So imagine my terror upon hearing last night that a typhoon -- no, wait -- a SUPER typhoon was heading to Palau, aimed straight at Peleliu.  

    Quickly I googled, just to confirm that they had evacuated the island.

    They had not.  

    In the past, typhoons have come close, but usually just went around the country of Palau, so really, why did they have any reason to believe this was going to be any different?

    But when your houses are clapboard and tin, and your elevation is an average of 10, you have a serious reason to be concerned in the face of a hurricane.

    So I waited for news.  A Palauan friend added me to a group where updates were being shared on Facebook.  Some good news came in: several of my friends had left the island.  But not everybody.  The rest were holed up in old WWII bunkers, left behind by the Japanese.

    So I waited some more.  And then I went to sleep.  Because really, besides pray and worry, worry and pray, what more could I do?

    I woke up early this morning to hear the next set of news: most of the houses had been damaged or destroyed.  

    But no word about the people yet.  

    Nobody knew.

    Instantly the tears started coming.  And then my body began to shake.  Uncontrollably.  The last time I had something like that happen was the day I found out my mother had passed away.  "You don't know yet," I kept telling myself, "they are probably OK.  No news is good news." The tears slowed, but I could not stop shaking.

    How could I have just been there last week, and everything was fine?  When my husband and I got in the boat to leave, my friend was crying.  "Stop crying," I pleaded with her.  "This isn't goodbye, promise!"  But as the boat pulled away and our friends couldn't see us anymore, my tears started to come.  We knew it would be years before seeing each other again, and so much can happen in years.  We just didn't expect so much to happen in days.

    In 2003
    News was slow to come, and so I waited.  And I prayed.  And I tried reaching out on Twitter, Facebook, anywhere...

    The problem with having an island so tiny that it can be "your" island is that new sources don't seem to care/know what is going on there.

    Finally, a friend that I had tasked with letting me know the moment any news came in sent me a message: tons of damage, no deaths.  

    Oh!  The relief that washed over me.  The tears came a little again, but this time with jumping -- and no shaking.

    I still have not heard what all the damage is.  I still don't know who was present on-island and who made it off before hand.  I have no idea what they went through nor what they will go through to rebuild.  But I do know this: as of right now, everything points to LIFE. 

    Houses can be rebuilt.  Schools will be repaired.  These are important things, YES, but they are not the MOST important thing.  So although there is still a lot to be done, and a long road ahead for our family out there, they are alive to walk that road.  Amen!

    (A glimpse of the damage from Bopha, in Koror.  Still no pictures/official word from Peleliu.)

    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    The Rainbow's End (Palau)

    No internet or cell phones.  T.V. and radio, nope.  Shoot -- for several days we didn't even have a watch with us.  What time is it?  Well, the sun is up, guess it is day time...

    That's how we spent the past ten days.  Well, that and swimming with stinger-less jellyfish.

    Yeah, I'm kinda obsessed with the jellies.

    I am also kinda obsessed with Palau in general.

    This little island nation captured my heart for the first time in 2002 when I went on a mission trip during college.  We laid a waterline for an outer island village, population 300 or so.  It was hot and sticky and I thought surely Hell could not even compare with the heat, but that did not keep me from falling in love -- with the beauty and more so, with the people.

    So a year and a half later I packed my suitcases and moved out there to teach 4th grade.  And it was the most amazing experience.

    I have had the chance to go back to visit a couple of times since then, but this time was different.  This time I was taking my man with me.

    Palau could no longer be "my" place, but it was time to become "our" place.

    Days were filled with trekking to waterfalls in the jungle, surfing, snorkeling...

    ... and eating fish.

    Lots and lots of fish.

    And then we kept eating fish.  For breakfast, for lunch, for dinner.  Cooked fish, raw fish, fish eyeballs.

    Yes, you read that correctly.

    What can I say?  When in Rome...

    The scenery was beautiful.  There is a reason Palau is called 'The Rainbow's End', right?

    But you know what is better than these serene blue waters and vibrant rock islands?  The people.

    They may live a simple life by our standards, but their lives are FULL.  Full of love, full of joy, full of compassion.  They share like no other people group I have encountered, even though they do not have much.  It is a rare to find a place where there are no orphanages, nobody living on the streets, no old-age homes.  Like I said, rare.  But it exists.  I have seen the proof.

    Really, I have nothing more that I can say about Palau.  Not because there is nothing more to share, but because there is nothing more that mere words typed on a screen can do justice.

    All I can say is this: my heart is full.

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