Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Warm roasted garlic bacon vinaigrette

I haven't made a green salad in weeks, maybe a month or more.  This is totally unlike me and I realized the reason behind this boycott has been simply lack of inspiration.  I am kind of done with the lettuce, tomato, cucumber balsamic vinaigrette routine.  Boring!  Am I right?

Just like most days I decided what I was making for dinner after surveying the refrigerator and seeing a few ingredients that needed to be used and I knew I could be creative with.  That's when I was inspired.

Enter: Squash, leftover cooked bacon, garlic and lettuce.

I introduce the roasted squash and walnut salad with warm roasted garlic bacon vinaigrette.  This salad is entree worthy and decadently delicious. The roasted garlic sounds like a lot but the flavor is actually quite mellow (since it's roasted) and when blended with the other ingredients makes the vinaigrette thick and creamy.  It's heavenly.
The last step, crumble the bacon in the roasted garlic vinaigrette and blend.
 Make this!  I promise you will not be unhappy you did.

For the salad:
Any lettuce will do.  Spinach, Romaine, Bib lettuce.  Whatever
Purple onion sliced very thinly in rounds.
2 cups cubed squash
1 cup walnuts

For the dressing:
1 1/2 heads of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
3 tsp fresh squeezed lime juice
Zest from one lime
3 Tbsp fresh coriander leaves
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp agave nectar or honey
6-8 slices cooked bacon

Prepare the salad
Slice off the tips of the garlic bulbs, drizzle with olive oil,  wrap the head in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet.   Add the squash to the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and salt.  Roast both ingredients at 400 degrees, 20-30 minutes for the squash or until they are tender but not mushy and 50 minutes for the garlic.  When finished, set aside at room temp.

Roast the walnuts on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  They should smell nutty and be slightly browned.  Set them aside as well

Tear the lettuce and place in a bowl with the onion and a few sprigs of coriander leaves.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare the vinaigrette
Removing the casings from the garlic and place the soft pulp in a bowl with tall sides or a glass measuring cup. Add the oil, vinegar, lime juice, zest, coriander, milk, and nectar and use an emulsion blender to combine.  If you don't have one you could do this in your blender or food processor.  My husband gave me an emulsion blender for Christmas this year and I'm in love with this gadget!  It's so handy!  Taste the dressing and add pepper and just a pinch of salt.  Add the bacon and blend.  Taste again. Season with more salt and pepper if needed.  Adding more citrus, oil or vinegar is definitely your preference and perfectly acceptable.

Assemble the salad
Warm the roasted squash slightly in the microwave.  Warm the vinaigrette just barely above room temperature.  Pile your salad from the refrigerator on a plate.  Top with a drizzle of dressing.  Add the squash and roasted walnuts.  Drizzle with more warm roasted garlic bacon vinaigrette.

If you're like me, snap a photo, then dig in!

Lessons from Ethiopia: staying busy is key to your happiness in this country

Side note before I start: This is what's keeping me very busy!  
Side note #2 the photos are sort of random in this post.  All are recent creations either for Ladytroupe Sweets or meals for my family.

It's widely known that keeping oneself busy with engaging and satisfying activities is great for a positive psyche.  In general, I am much happier and content when my life is full of interesting work and hobbies.  Finding this type of engaging activity is absolutely crucial as an expat in Addis Ababa.
Kofta pita sandwiches with hummus and tzatziki

At home I could get by with telling people that reading and shopping were my hobbies!  HA!  Here in Ethiopia, I identified the things that have always interested me (writing, photography, cooking, baking, crafting, decorating, styling.  Phew! That's a lot of interests) and focused my attention on them.  Instead of just viewing them as interests, I started viewing them as my skills, area of expertise and even my profession.  Doing this kept me busy in Addis and in turn, kept me happy.  More than happy, truly thriving.

I have some theories as to why I waited until moving to Ethiopia to really start mastering my interests. Looking back over the past two years, here are a few I've rolled around in my head.

As a family, we moved from the baby phase to the kid phase during our time living here.  I started Ladytroupe Sweets when Ashlynn was almost a year old.  She was still very young but I felt the need to pursue my interests.  I suddenly had the energy and maybe knowing that our family was complete and I didn't want to have another child helped me to really buckle down and get to work.  As a stay-at-home-mom I have more time for my interests now that the girls are getting older.  This theory probably has the most to do with my success with my business.  Not being pregnant or nursing while living in Ethiopia freed up a lot of my mental capacity and time to pursue other things.  Imagine that?!
Birthday cake for a first birthday party

Life in Addis can feel a bit isolating as a non-working parent of small children.  Our homes are all walled and gated, our friends are often in different neighborhoods.  I had large stretches of my day alone to sort through my ideas and write, work on my photography, develop recipes and ultimately launch Ladytroupe Sweets.  During some of this isolation, I knew that to stay sane I needed to stay busy (I'm always busy with my children but I'm talking about a different kind of busy.  A self enriching kind of busy), even if that meant I made the work for myself.

There is not much to do in Ethiopia with kids.  Yes, we hike, travel and spend days with friends at one another's homes but if I had time or the desire to go "do something", there wasn't a whole lot that I could do.  There's no shopping, no gym, no parks to picnic in. Especially no fun kid events at the library or other kid friendly community activities.  This meant that I focused my attention on exploring photography and blog worthy things in Addis alone.  Making a point to go visit some things I wouldn't take my kids to do in the city and bring my camera opened up a whole new world of interesting photo journalism for my blog.  Instead of just taking pictures of something with the rush of the kids around, I tried to work hard at taking in the scenes, framing photos in my mind and telling a story with the photographs back on my blog.  This activity kept me very busy for the first year and a half in Ethiopia.

Ladytroupe Sweets' inception has a lot to do with the lack of good baked goods available in Addis Ababa.  I love food and I've always loved to cook and bake but I quickly realized that if my family and I were going to eat the way we like to eat here in Ethiopia, I would have to step up my skills and do it all myself.  Some of the first things that inspired me were my pies.  I had always felt a little unsure of my pie making abilities.  One day I just decided to start practicing my pie crust and got the idea to make little hand pies.  The idea that I could try something, work at it, develop the recipe and perfect it over the course of a few days, blew my mind.  Since then, and having worked at it for the last year and half, I now have the confidence that I can create anything in my kitchen.  If I work at it, I can do it.  We've eaten like royalty while in Addis and I've moved from an average home cook to a real working professional.  I've worked hard and Addis truly inspired me to create good food not only for my family but for others.  Not having any "quick" or "prepared" meal options forced me to make everything from scratch and once I started doing it (making my own tomato sauces, salad dressings, bread, buttermilk, cakes, crepes...you name it), it became easy and everything sure tastes better!
Apple, walnut and blue cheese crostini for a catering job

Ethiopia is a mecca for creative individuals.  There are very few hurdles to go through to work with other artists.  As a creative person you can take the time to perfect your art and then immediately market it to other people.  Since there are very limited options for retail in this town, people are excited to embrace and buy your work.  As a freelance photographer I found it very exciting that I could walk into a business and speak to the owners about taking photos.  The openness I experienced about using my photos on my blog and in turn providing the businesses some free PR, was liberating and exciting for someone like me who was practicing her craft.

Ethiopia might be the perfect storm for me.  All the stars aligned, everything fell into place, etc.  All my theories work together to make my time in Addis a perfect time for me to pursue all my creative interests.  I will forever be grateful for this country giving me the time, confidence and inspiration to do what I love.  That and my husband, who truly is the one supporting our family and allowing me to pursue the things that make me happy.

No matter where you are, stay busy, pursue what you love, get serious about your interests.  But especially do this in Ethiopia.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lessons from Ethiopia: Boycotting foodborne illnesses

Last weekend I was heartbroken after I was hit with a case of food poisoning after eating dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.  We've gone to Antica Pizza for two years and never had an issue with getting  sick from their food.  It was reliable.  Their pizza was on the rotation of only a handful of trusted meals that we eat out as a family here on the weekends.  We don't go out to eat in Addis for the amazing dining experience or the sensational food (although Sishu gets both of those categories right), we go out to eat for one reason and one reason only; to give me a break from the kitchen.  Three meals a day seven days a week I am preparing meals, not unlike lots of moms I know.  Like most mom/chefs, I need a break once in awhile.  Justin makes pancakes for breakfast on Saturday mornings and we go out to eat at least one meal on the weekends.  But, when you can no longer trust your most tried and true restaurants, what is a tired cook (read: Mom) to do?

Real life in a developing country comes with many challenges and the one I've learned endless lessons about, is how prevalent food borne illnesses are. 

My husband and I were riddled with parasites, E. coli and salmonella in Manila, Philippines. The city is full of restaurants and good food but the risk of getting sick was still high.  In Ethiopia, the risk is even greater.  Sanitation is poor, personal hygiene is even poorer.  Sewage pools on the side of roads.  People are defecating and urinating in public everywhere you look.  Food preparation and storage practices are unsafe.  There isn't a week that goes by that I don't hear of a friend who has been hit by food poisoning, parasites or bacterial infections.  It's so common that the embassy's medical clinic has a stack of laboratory sample forms that sit at the ready to hand to patients as they walk through the door.  Everyone keeps plastic stool sample collection cups at home in case of an episode.  It's just part of our life overseas.  An unfortunate part but one that we've become accustomed to.  We even have coined a term for the week following a bout of food poisoning.  We call it the "week of whatever".  After dropping a few pounds from being ill, you can get away with eating pretty much anything.  This past week I enjoyed a big bag of peanut M&Ms.  Yum! 
When we moved to Addis, and had to learn how to wash all our produce and eggs in bleach, I vowed that I would never let my family get sick from eating here.  I do all the cooking and food prep myself which means we've been really healthy here in Addis.  No parasites or bacterial infections!  We aren't adventurous about new restaurants.  We wait for recommendations from friends and we only go to a few places that have proven to be safe and clean.  This was all working in our favor until last weekend.  I ate a certain pizza and within an hour or so already could feel the stomach cramps and pains starting.  I was vomiting all night and sick most of the next day as well.  I was heartbroken.  It reminded me that nothing is safe here.  At any time our trusted meals outside of our home could make us ill.  I was sad and frustrated and just little more ready to leave Ethiopia.  Seriously Antica, you let me down!

What was this tired cook going to do?
I was told this is red basil but it looks more purple to me.  Made an amazing pesto!
I made pizza. All Saturday afternoon. The best damn pizza in Addis Ababa.  I proofed my yeast. I kneaded the whole wheat dough. I hand crushed the garlic into the purple basil pesto. I grated the Gruyere and sliced the mozzarella. I rolled out the dough. I heated my pizza stone.  I slathered on the sauce, layered on the toppings. and flipped it off my pizza peel.  I watched the crust bubble and crisp, I cut it with my pizza slicer and served it to my family.  I opened a bottle of fancy South African red wine (from our trip to Cape Town) and poured my husband and myself a glass.  Because the best damn pizza in Addis Ababa comes from my own kitchen and it's nice knowing I won't have my head in the toilet tonight.  

This tired chef decided to buck-up and boycott anymore belly aches in Ethiopia.