Friday, July 27, 2012

Put a little love in the mail... (Oreo Brownies)

Let me share a some facts about this little, often unknown island in the Pacific called Ebeye:
  • 80 acres of space
  • 15,000 people
  • 50% of which are under 18
  • more densely populated than Hong Kong
  • often called the 'slum of the Pacific'
  • my home for half of a year in 2007
Or, in the words of Lonely Planet, "The people of Ebeye live very simple accommodation; many are one-room shacks and lean-tos of plywood, tin and plastic sheeting, jammed together in tenement conditions with little water. Residents haul drums of drinking water in from Kwaj (the local US army base) on the ferry; piped water is only available at certain times, so fill up containers when it comes. The electricity supply is getting better but blackouts are still common.
Needless to say, Ebeye is not a big tourist spot, but the people are very friendly, especially the children. It's different."

My facts might be a little different.  Yes, I lost count of the number of cockroaches I killed at 47 (because when you get to 47 you know, it all just says the same thing -- A LOT). 

The number of nights I had these evil creatures fall on my face while sleeping is tallied at 4.  That I know of.

Days without power and no water?  Plenty.

Bloody, absessed teeth that flew up into my face while holding a screaming child at the dental office?  One.

Number of textbooks to teach from?  Zero.

Amount of the most beautiful children in the world I was surrounded by?  Countless.

So, what do brownies have to do with Ebeye?  Everything.

While I lived there my cooking skills were, um, limited.  If it didn't come from a box, it didn't have a place in my kitchen. 

Brownies, luckily, come in a box (if you so choose).  Oreos come already made.  You mix those two together and you have an easy masterpiece, one that grown ups and children alike can enjoy.  And enjoy them we did.  Class parties, birthday parties, just-to-eat-brownie parties, my fifth graders and I found plenty of excuses to eat Oreo Brownies. 

But then I came home.  My heart was broken to 31 little pieces and remained behind in Ebeye as the rest of me traveled back to the United States.  And my Oreo Brownies?  They stayed in Ebeye as well, never to be eaten again by me.

Until I saw one of those fifth graders, all grown up into a high school junior, come to Standford and study in the Junior Statesmen of America program, representing his island nation.  I proudly watched as he graduated the program and headed back to Ebeye, head full of knowledge and wisdom.  Finally, I had a reason to make Oreo Brownies again. 

See the boy on my lap?  Now he is my size, and represents his country well.
These brownies and I shared a moment.  I was there, making them (and by that I mean, opening the box and adding oil and eggs.  I will not lie) and I headed to my computer and saw that a whole conversation was going on under a picture of this young man and I, mostly in a language I cannot understand.  But there were parts I did get.  Professions of love for me, declarations by many that I was their favorite teacher, and then one young man asking me to make some brownies and send them to him in Ebeye. 

I cannot tell you exactly why, but the tears started to fall.  And not just lightly.  The kind of tears when your shoulders shake and snot starts running down.  I sat down on the couch and, for the first time in several years, cried for my children in Ebeye. 

You know, these weren't tears of missing them necessarily.  They weren't tears of sadness, either.  For some reason the fact that they were asking for something that I was presently doing for them, and the sense of connection across the years and timezones that this represented in my heart... I cried tears of love.  And tears of gratefulness.  Gratefulness that I had the opportunity to go meet these children, and become a part of their lives, and have them grow me and shape me into a better person. 

So, yes, these are just brownies with crumbled Oreo's in them.  I have no special recipe for you today.  You can go ahead and make some, and you will enjoy them, I am sure.  But for me, these brownies hold a piece of my heart.  And it is a piece that will forever live where the sun shines bright and smiling children roam.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Party, Festa, Fun.

We went to a party to celebrate love.  Otherwise known as a wedding.

Then we went to a baby's first birthday party, which is a pretty big deal if that baby happens to be Brazilian.

So we partied, and we festa'd, and we all around had a wonderful time.  How couldn't we, right?  The word might be spelled differently in the two languages, and the planning of the said event might have a different check list depending on the culture hosting it, but in the end they are the same -- a fun time to celebrate life and love and all that is dear to us.

Congrats, Krista and Eric!  We love you dearly!!!

And Baby Ben, parabens, Querido.  Deus te abençoe!

(A 'Wednesday Files' Post)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Potato and Zucchini (and Squash and Carrot) Pancakes

Remember when I went to Vegas?  Of  course you do, because what I do is the highlight of your life, I know.  So off to Vegas we went and to the kitchen I did not go.  Not too shabby of a trade, but not so good for keeping up with my Sundays with Joy baking group. 

Here is the thing: I am committed to seeing these 100 recipes through with these girls!  Why?  Because I am having a lot of fun, I made a personal commitment and want to see it through, and I am learning tons.

I am about three months in and I took a moment to stop and think about what I have learned from this process so far.  Some of these things I learned explicitly (like, Joy told me in her book) and some of these things I learned from personal experience (remember those sour muffins that I had to throw away?  Not something Joy told me to do in the book).  But all of these things have come directly from my attempt at baking my way through the Joy the Baker Cookbook

And the best part?  It is continuing on...

like these potato and zucchini (and squash and carrot) pancakes.

Thank you, Joy.

Potato and Many-Veggies Pancakes

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker's Potato and Zucchini Pancakes.

1 1/2 cups shredded potatoes
1 cup shredded squash
1 cup of shredded zucchini
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 T of olive oil, divided
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon of salt, divided

  1. Mix shredded potatoes, squash, zucchini, and carrot and put into colander with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, saute onion and garlic in 1 T of olive oil.  Set aside when translucent.
  3. Beat eggs together with baking powder and flour in large bowl.  Add onion and garlic.
  4. After veggie mixture has sat for 10 minutes, push down to squeeze excess water out.  Add to the large bowl with rest of salt (1/2 teaspoon). 
  5. Heat half of the remaining olive oil over medium heat and turn oven on to 170 degrees with a plate in there to transfer pancakes when they are done. (This will keep them warm without extra cooking.)
  6. Taking a 1/4 cup scooper, scoop out potato mixture and put in skillet and flatten out.  You can fit about 4-5 pancakes per batch.  Flip when bottom is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.  Cook both sides and then transfer to plate in oven.
  7. Continue until all are cooked up.  Top with sour cream and enjoy! :)

COST: $5.26      COST per serving (6 servings of 3 pancakes each): $0.88

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pineapple and Mint Granita

It's official.  My husband likes peanut butter.  Loves?  Nah.  But likes.  All you Americans out there are like, "Well, duh!"

It's also official... he had the ability to get sick of rice and beans.  All you Brazilian readers out there are thinking, "WHAT???!!!"

I know.

So what does all this mean, then?  Well, he is becoming American.  Which I love, don't get me wrong.  But I feel like I need to help him remember every once and awhile that he is Brazilian.  And what a better way to do that than abacaxi com hortela?

When I saw this week's recipe for the cooking group I am a part of (Sundays with Joy) was an espresso granita, I first had to ask, "What the heck is a granita?"  Once I found that out (basically a homemade snow cone, but much better) I had to ask another question -- "What flavor should I make since we don't drink coffee?"  I racked my brain for flavors I would like to have on a warm summer day.  Several ideas came to me, but only one stuck.

Pineapple juice with mint.

Perfect for a summer day; perfect for reminding my man that he is still Brazilian.

Now there is something else official: granitas are the ideal summer treat.  No dairy, low in sugar, cold and refreshing, and so incredibly tasty.  I may not have figured out what a granita was until my late 20's, but rest assured it will be an active part of my (future) young children's working vocabulary.

Abacaxi com hortela?  Tastes like sunshine.  Frozen sunshine. 


Recipe entirely mine, yet inspired by Joy the Baker's Espresso Granita from the book, Joy the Baker Cookbook 

Pineapple with Mint Granita

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 T fresh chopped mint leaves
2 1/2 cups pineapple juice

  1. Bring sugar and water to a boil.  Let boil without stirring for five minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool, adding the mint leaves as soon as heat is removed.
  2. Let mint steep in sugar syrup until cooled down.  Remove leaves by pouring through a fine-meshed sieve.
  3. Add pineapple juice and stir. Pour into a 13"x9" glass baking dish.  Cover and place in freezer.
  4. After one hour, remove from freeze and scrape edges with a fork, bringing the frozen pieces into the middle.  Repeat every 30 minutes until all frozen.  Let freeze 30 more minutes and then fluff with fork and serve.  (Save any left over in a smaller container in freezer.)

COST: $3.35       COST PER SERVING (6): $0.56

Friday, July 20, 2012

Stinky Pee and Asparagus & Goat Cheese Pasta

Be forewarned, I am going to be talking about bodily functions.  Well, more specifically, one bodily function: pee.

I know, I know.  Ew, gross!  But honestly, it isn't really.  We all do it.  And some of us, after eating asparagus, do it with a little stench attached. 

Actually, that's not the truth.  I read this article recently that stated that everybody gets stinky pee after they eat asparagus, but only 20% of the population has a gene that allows them to smell it.  What a privilege, huh?

So these people who have this gene, these "Super Smellers" can pick up the scent of asparagus when they, you know, go.  Or when others around them go.  However, these people are often able to smell other smells that might be hidden to the rest of the population -- good smells.  Which is why I am proud to say I am a super smeller.  Asparagus pee, and all.

Pee aside, there is something else I should say about asparagus:  You want to roast it and mix it with goat cheese and pasta and then eat a lot of it.  You really, really do.  Trust me.

Trust somebody who writes about pee?!  Yes.  Because it means I am honest.  And I honestly think you will enjoy this dish.

How about you?  Are you a Super Smeller?  If you are, be proud.  We are small group, but united we can stand strong.

Recipe adapted from Everyday Food, May 2007
  • Prep Time 20 minutes
  • Total Time 25 minutes
  • Yield Serves 4


  • 2 bunches asparagus (2 pounds total), tough ends removed
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 lb. fusilli
  • 5-8 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives, for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for pasta. Place asparagus on a large rimmed baking sheet; dot with 1 tablespoon butter, and season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, tossing occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes; cut into 2-inch lengths.
  2. While asparagus is roasting, generously salt boiling water. Add pasta, and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Set aside 1 1/2 cups pasta water; drain pasta and return to pot.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine goat cheese, remaining 3 tablespoons butter, and 1/2 cup pasta water. Season with salt and pepper, and whisk until smooth. Add goat-cheese mixture and asparagus to pasta; toss to combine, adding more pasta water if necessary for sauce to coat pasta. Serve pasta garnished with chives.

COST: $10.22     COST PER SERVING (4): $2.56

Bright Lights, Hot Nights. Must be VEGAS!

You might have noticed a lack of food coming out of my kitchen.  There are many reasons for that, but here is one.

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