Thursday, February 16, 2017

Gin Zinger

I once read an article written by a fellow military spouse that described the process of frequently moving and making new friends and how it effected her.  The thing that stuck me the most was when she described how for her trying to make new friends was like dating.  How the first few times getting together with potential new friends is like going on a first date.  The awkwardness, wondering whether the other person likes you as much as you like her, trying to figure out if you have enough in common to have a "second date".  Doesn't that sound like fun?  Especially for a woman who has been married for 17 years and had hoped that her dating years were long over.

She hit the nail on the head with this characterization.  The whole things is exhausting and emotionally draining, fraught with anxiety.  Especially when you need to repeat the whole scene every two to three years.  It's so hard to keep putting yourself out there like that, risking rejection.  For myself and many spouses that I know it makes you want to cocoon yourself in your home with your family and not bother to put yourself out there and try to make friends that you'll just have to say goodbye to in a few years anyway.

Here's the thing, though.  In order to make this life work you really need support and people nearby who you can count on and talk to.  It's just too hard otherwise.  And it's made even harder by being in a foreign country and isolated by language and culture.  The opportunities for finding friends are fewer and the options more limited.  Cocooning just isn't possible if you want to escape with your sanity.  So I extend my comfort zone and let people know me and decide if they like me enough to include me in their circles.  I hope others do the same for me as well.

After 5 months here in Athens, I think I'm moving past the first date stage.  At least I hope I am.  I've found a few ladies who I feel like I connect with.  I'm not the kind of person who makes a zillion friends, usually just two or three.  So after some family get-togethers, books club gatherings and ladies' nights things are settling into the realm of comfortable and happy.  The gals I'm surrounding myself with are kind, funny, strong, supportive and thoughtful.  So hopefully the first dates have been good ones and I can relax.  I'm crossing my fingers that my instincts are right and the second and third date stage goes just as well.  Cheers to that!

Gin Zinger
Makes one drink.  Simple Syrup recipe makes enough to share with six or more friends.
For the printable recipe, click here

I had this drink at a restaurant with some of the new friends I'm making here in Athens.  The night was great and the cocktail memorable.  The ingredients and method are simple so it's an easy drink to whip up for a bunch of friends for a girls' night.  The only time consuming portion is making and cooling the simple syrup.  But once it's made it keeps well in the refrigerator.  Per the restaurant's description it's a cardamom flavored syrup which just takes a few whole cardamom pods and a few minutes of steeping.  If you can't find the pods or don't care for cardamom, the syrup will be just as good without them.  But I suggest trying, it's not a strong flavor mixed with the others but the cardamom stands out just a bit in the finish.  One final note, I highly recommend Hendricks gin for this drink.  The cucumber and spices are a perfect match for the lemon and ginger in the drink.

Fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into quarter sized pieces
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 ounces gin
1 ounce cardamom simple syrup (see recipe below)
optional garnishes include cucumber slices and a splash of tonic/sparkling water

Place a slice of ginger in the bottom of a rocks glass.  Crush it gently with a muddler or the end or a wooden spoon to release some of the juices.  Top the ginger with the remaining ingredients and give the drink a gentle stir.  Garnish and serve.

For the cardamom simple syrup-
5 cardamom pods
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar

Gently crush the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon.  Place the cardamom pods, sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat and let the syrup cool completely  Remove the cardamon pods before using.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Roasted Carrot and Onion Quinoa Salad

"We don't make mistakes, just happy accidents."  - Bob Ross

I love the idea of a happy accident.  Something that happens or comes together unintentionally but ends up being so much more than ever expected.

My third child is a happy accident and she turned out pretty great (insert proud mom smile here).

My husband, who has been struggling to find a way to pass his free time in our new home, found some beautiful slabs of marble in an old quarry on a motorcycle ride a few weeks back.  This was most definitely a happy accident.  He has since discovered that if he polishes and cleans them up they are quite beautiful and make great cheese boards.  It's pretty cool to watch him get inspired and get to work with his tools.  I picked out a stunningly white one for myself that I'm sure will show up from time to time in my photos here.

This salad is one of those happy accidents.  I haven't been doing a very good job planning my meals lately and, honestly, traffic and the crazy drivers and the tiny one way streets around my house are less than motivating when it comes to getting out and going grocery shopping.  One recent night I realized that I had nothing to serve as a side to the chicken I planned to grill.  We've all had nights like that, I know.  So I dug around in my cabinets and fridge and was able to scrounge up a few basics that I thought maybe I could do something with.  Carrots, some lemons, a box of quinoa from that was hiding behind the pasta.  I wasn't super hopeful, but knew at the very least that I'd have some roasted carrots to serve.

Imagine my surprise when I ended up with a salad that even my 12 year old son loved.  There are earthy and herby notes balanced out by the bright citrussy dressing.  A happy accident indeed.

Roasted Carrot and Onion Quinoa Salad
Makes 4 servings.
For the printable recipe click here

I don't have too many recipe notes for this salad.  It's pretty easy, it just requires a bit of thinking ahead to roast the carrots and onions.  This salad would be gorgeous with rainbow carrots but the plain old orange ones are perfectly at home here.  Sadly, we can only get the orange carrots here in Athens so that's what I rolled with.  Had I had cilantro that's probably what I would have used, but parsley works very nicely with the lemon in the dressing.  Use either or both, if you wish.  Next time I may try the salad with red onions instead of the white.  Both roast beautifully but there's something about the sweetness of a roasted red onion that I can't resist.

3 medium carrots (about 1/2 lb), peeled and sliced into 1 inch coins
1 large sweet onion
1 sprig thyme, thyme leaves stripped from the stem
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 tbs
1 cup raw quinoa, rinsed
1 tbs apple cider vinegar
2 tbs honey
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Trim the stem end from and peel the onion.  Leave the root end in tact.  Cut the onion into 8 wedges through the root end so that the wedges stay held together.  Toss the onion wedges, carrots, thyme and 1 tbs olive oil together on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread the vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

In the meantime cook the quinoa according to package directions.

In a serving bowl whisk together the 1/4 cup olive oil, vinegar, honey, lemon zest and juice and salt and pepper.  Stir in the quinoa, roasted vegetable and chopped parsley  Toss to coat in the dressing.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lemon Pudding Cake

This Christmas season was a pretty quiet one for my family, very different from how things have been recently.  The past few years it's been jam packed with German Christmas markets, Swiss mountains, sledding, gluwein, fireworks and cozy winter nights with friends.  I loved every minute of it and lately have found myself feeling very nostalgic for the days of Christmases past in Germany.  It truly was a special and precious time in our lives.  But of course, we had a big move between then and now and are still adjusting to the new reality of things here in Athens.  I think we're all feeling a bit constrained living in the city and uninspired by the drab winter here.  Moods have definitely been effected.  If I had to choose a color to describe us these days it would be grey.

Serious procrastination, indecision and last minute decisions this year led us to spending a few days on one of the nearby islands for Christmas because we couldn't think of something else to do.  It's the off season for Greek islands and there are more goats than people climbing the rocky hills.  It was a huge departure from the crowds and lively places we visited wile in Germany.  Not my first choice, but I decided to look at the trip as a quiet getaway and a chance to spend some really good family time and to be near my beloved seashore.  A trip that was good for the spirit and soul.  Well, that was sort of how it worked out and it sort of wasn't.  The hubs ended up sick in bed all day long Christmas day.  So the kids and I spent a windy and chilly day on the beach by ourselves.  It was actually pretty nice.  The boys got along without arguing, we combed the sand for sea glass and interesting shells, skipped stones on the water and Lorelei played in the sand without a care in the world.  It was nice.  Uncomplicated.  But again, I noticed the quiet that has been plaguing us recently.

Mostly I noticed the quiet in my oldest.  He just turned 12 and for maybe a year now I've been noticing a change in him.  Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it glaringly obvious.  Mood swings that come out of the blue have become frequent (complete with tears!), my once dependable early riser has started sleeping until late morning, his bedroom door has been closed more often than open when he's inside.  More subtly, I've noticed him pulling away from the family some.  It became more noticeable on our Christmas trip.  After a whole day of easy togetherness Christmas day, the following one saw my sweet boy wanting to sit by himself on the beach.  No playing, no skipping stones.  Instead, he wanted space.  I my head I realize why he wants to have some time to himself, but my heart is saddened by the understanding that my little boy is becoming his own man.  He's no longer just mine.

Of course, I am still his mom.  And whether he wants to be or not (this changes daily if not hourly), he's still my son.  It's just that the relationship is shifting.  My goal is to find ways to relate to him as the new young man he wants to be.  We've always had reading in common- he's almost as voracious as I am in that regard and I love that about him.  We have the same taste, for better or for worse, in music and it has been fun over the past few years to introduce him to favorites like U2 and the Eagles.  He's begun asking to cook with me, which I should love, right?.  Sometimes I get exasperated with the requests- I'm making dinner and just want to get finished without the slow down of explaining things to him or his excruciatingly slow chopping and slicing.  But I'm trying to let that go.  It's almost the same as slowing down to let my toddler daughter struggle with putting on her own pants when I'm trying to rush out the door in the morning.  They're both trying to be independent in their own way.  I just have to slow down and let it happen.

One day while cooking with my son I had the Great British Bake Off playing on my laptop.  The challenge was for the bakers to make "self-saucing puddings", something like a molten chocolate cake.  He was totally enthralled by the idea of little cakes that makes their own sauce and for days went around in a silly British voice saying "Self-saucing puddings!".  He cracked me up.  So these little cakes are for my oldest.  My way of connecting with him and finding something for us to talk about.  I'll take whatever I can get.  And if it comes with a silly accent, all the better in my opinion.

Lemon Pudding Cake
Makes 6 individual cakes or 1 2-quart cake
For the recipe, click here

These little cakes are one of my favorite desserts for company.  They're so surprising- the light, almost souffle like cake rests atop a silky smooth sauce at the bottom like a layer of pudding or curd.  They are bright and tart, a perfect use for the winter citrus and just the right sort of pick me up on grey days.  The cakes can be made in ramekins for individual servings or in a single baking dish to serve family style.  One tip: don't skip the step where you rub the lemon zest into the sugar.  It really is the key to getting as much lemon flavor as possible into the cake.

3/4 cup sugar
1 tbs lemon zest
3 eggs, separated
2 tbs butter, room temperature
1 cup milk
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup all purpose flour

Also needed: several cups of hot water and a roasting pan.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 6 6-ounce ramekins or a 2 quart baking dish.

Mix together the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl.  With the tips of your fingers gently rub the zest into the sugar to release all of the oils in the zest.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (this can also be done by hand) whisk together the egg yolks and butter until the butter is well blended.  Add the sugar mixture to the bowl and continue whisking until the mixture lightens in color and  becomes thick.  Mix in the milk and lemon juice just until incorporated and then stir in the flour.

In a clean, separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Gently fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter being careful not to deflate the air in the egg whites.  Pour the batter into the ramekins or baking dish.

Set the ramekins or baking dish into the roasting pan and pour the hot water into the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the sides of your baking dish/ramekins.  Carefully so as not to get water in the batter, place the roasting pan in the oven.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  The tops will be golden and puffed and feel just firm to the touch.  Remove from the oven and cool for 20 minutes on a wire rack.  Serve warm.