Friday, September 28, 2012

the one time sugar cookie event

I tend to pick one "creative project" every week for Market Day.  Something tasty that is also pretty and a bit more complicated to bake and decorate because it's fun and I enjoy creating beautiful edibles.  Two weeks ago it was the Icebox cupcakes, last week was the Orange Blossom cupcakes and this week it was Full Bloom Vanilla Bean sugar cookies.

Maybe it's something about the challenge of creating something beautiful, that tastes just as amazing as it looks, that lures me into these little projects.  Sugar cookies, like cupcakes are often gorgeous but bland or covered in shortening based frosting.  There is nothing more disappointing for me than to bite into a pretty sugar cookies and not taste real butter.

I spent way too many woman hours working on these pretty petal topped flower cookies.  The dough had to cool and in the end I was still cursing at the blobs sticking to my Silpats as I rolled it out.  I ended up freezing it awhile which helped as well as flouring my work surface.  I spent a significant amount of time rolling the dough and cutting out the pretty shapes.  Each flower is topped with eight little petals.  The recipe made 19 large cookies so you can do the math on how many little petals I cut and baked last night.

Then came the frosting.  It's a basic butter cream that I colored and smeared on each little piece.  The wonderful thing about this frosting is that it hardens and is delicious so it's perfect for these flower creations. I adore the yellow frosting stamens in the middle of each cookie.  I couldn't sleep until those little details were done. This is why these beautiful flower cookies will likely not be at Market Day again.  I will definitely make these cut out sugar cookies for Halloween and Christmas but they will not be elaborate as the flowers.  It was a fun creative project but my poor knuckles feel arthritic after all that work last night!

The girls were off of school Thursday and Friday this week for Meskel break and I thought the flower cookies would be a fun project for Addie and I.  In the end, it was I who did most of the work.  I think I didn't get to sleep until close to midnight last night.

I am most happy with the flavor and texture of the sugar cookie.  The vanilla bean flavoring added a nice depth of flavor. They were a tad crunchy on the very outer edge but soft and buttery everywhere else.  The cookie wasn't too sweet.  The trick is to add a tad more salt to the dough than called for so the cookie compliments the sweet icing on top.  I'm secretly elated that one cookie broke during transportation so I could eat it.  It's everything a frosted sugar cookie should be.
Part of my little ladytroupe.  Addie was a big help at the market and insisted on helping bag the goodies and seal everything with my stickers.  Bella on the other hand just ignored my reprimands to not stick her fingers in the baskets to try to get the little left behind bits of goodies.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ethiopian Meskel Celebration

Meskel is the holiday celebrating the discovery of the one true cross of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian religion.

In the fourth century, Queen Helena had a revelatory dream that the smoke of a bonfire would lead her to where the one true cross was buried.  She ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood and build a large bonfire, or Demera and burn it with frankincense.  The smoke rose and fell to the spot the cross was buried. Meskel is celebrated every year with a feast and burning of a Demera.  Small yellow Meskel flowers decorate the ceremonies.  The ash from the Demera is used to mark a cross on the foreheads of the Orthodox followers.

The International Community School Addis Ababa has a wonderful celebration every year that I was glad to participate in this year with Addie.

There was a dramatization by the third graders about Meskel, dancing, singing, coffee ceremony, traditional bread and popcorn,

gorgeous traditional Ethiopian dresses (as well as gorgeous Habesha women)
and the burning of the Demera. 
I think I was most impressed with the children's participation in the event of our host country.  There was so much diversity and as I watched and photographed the kids, I was offered a real example of how amazing this overseas experience is for my children and for us as a family.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

slow down day

Do you ever have a day that you devote to moving slower and doing less? On occasion, as my husband is heading out the door to the office, he passes me a magazine article to read during the day or offers the suggestion to take a nap and I usually laugh.  The idea that I have a moment to do this is as comical as the idea that I would have time to turn on the TV or sit and eat a leisurely meal.  From the time I wake up until the time my children are asleep I am organizing, cooking, chasing, cleaning, and just moving. I don't take moments to sit and do nothing.  Doing nothing feels like a waste so I am usually busy even if it's picking up shoes, changing spoiled t-shirts or even jotting notes to myself about baking ideas.  I like to stay busy and yet sometimes it gets a little too much.

It's not often that I set aside a day to be still, so I savored my slow day today even more.  What does a slow day for you look like?  I'll give you a window into mine.

I didn't have to go in the car anywhere today.  Bella is at home Tuesdays so we made homemade play dough.  It was so fun and she made a huge mess with it which is to be expected.  She presented me with an amazing play dough cake decorated with leaf sprinkles.
I took lots of time to sit and just play with Ashlynn and Arabella.  Most of the time I am playing in passing.  Playing for a few minutes and then directing my attention elsewhere.  Today I just sat and we played and it was nice.  My girls like to wrestle so we did a lot of rolling around on the floor.  I sat and played fetch with Lucy.  She appreciated the extra attention.  Ash loves playing with Lucy too.

I ate lunch alone. It was only 10 minutes in silence but it was a blissful ten minutes and I had a glass of wine which felt luxurious and devious all at the same time.  Maybe the highlight of my day.

I made a big double batch of soup.  Arabella had a blast helping me peel the skins off the roasted red peppers.  I absolutely love having my girls' help in the kitchen. It's such a fun way to spend quality time together.  They love getting involved and I love that little things like stirring or pushing the button on the food processor excites them about cooking.
Since I wasn't in a rush to do anything today I made the long slow double rise dinner rolls that I usually don't have time for.  Having time and patience for dinner roll dough to rise produces the most amazing fluffy rolls.  They are delicious and a million times better than what I usually do.  It was nice to spend the time to do this. Therapeutic almost. Arabella helped me roll the dough and sprinkle it with salt.  We all dug in to a fluffy airy-on-the-inside roll when they came out of the oven.  Even Ashlynn enjoyed them.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

sweets, history and true love (almost)

I can't tell you how much fun I had making these orange blossom cupcakes for Market Day this week.  The cake is the recipe I featured here but this time I topped it with my favorite fluffy icing flavored with vanilla and lemon.  The garnish is coconut flakes colored with food coloring.  I wish I could say it were real orange zest but the fruit here is so ugly the zest would be pretty pitiful looking.
The cupcakes were a hit.  I personally think a really nice little individual portion of cake topped with luscious frosting is rare to come by.  So many cupcakes come from a box or only look edible.  Taste for me has to be spot on.  If I'm going to eat a piece of cake it has to be made from scratch with ingredients I can pronounce. Once you make your own cake, you can't go back to the box. Ever.
I was super excited to feature my Mother's oatmeal cookie recipe at Market Day this week.  The recipe originates from a 1975 copy of "Favorite Recipes From Extension Homemakers" of Multnomah County Oregon.  My Aunt Mary K was a member of the Extension and my mother bought a copy for a fundraiser way back then. She's been using the recipe titled "World's Best Oatmeal Cookies" ever since. May Aunt Mary K still has a copy of the original cookbook which she scanned for me.  I absolutely love tracing recipes back to their origins.  Especially ones that were featured in my childhood.  These cookies are amazing.  I made a few with just raisins for the purists, but the rest had butterscotch chips, cranberries and pecans in them!
Speaking of recipes; last weekend we hosted an Egyptian family for brunch and had waffles.  Our friends loved them so much they asked for the recipe.  Sharing my Great Grandmother's waffle recipe with our new friends has to be the best form of diplomacy I've ever been apart of!

Market Day went well again.  I went home with empty baskets and trays.  Everything was sold.  I loved getting customers who greeted me with "I've heard about you".  I have three special orders to work on this week.  Things are getting busy which is great.
Ashlynn Olivia is absolutely exhausted from walking everywhere all day long.  She is mastering her new skill and last night woke only once the 12 hour night.  This is a record for her. I was very grateful for the extra uninterrupted rest.  I hope all her walking keeps her nice and tired for tonight too.
Kindergarten is going well.  Addie and I had a lovely conversation the other day about the handsome boys in her class and how a few of them make eye contact with her and stare in her eyes so they MUST "like" her.  She also explained to me that she knew she had met her current "one true love" (thank you Disney's Enchanted) because she liked his lunchbox.  I stifled a few giggles and then breathed a sigh of relief when she confided in me later that "little kids like me don't really love each other yet, Mom".  I don't think Adelaide is going to have any troubles fitting in socially.  She's a very friendly child and as an older sister she's kind and considerate of others.  She's also pretty thrilled with her new reading, stretching, singing, and computer skills she is learning.  She had to run around the big track during PE the other day without stopping and she was the fastest one in her class!  I'm so proud of my girl.

Friday, September 21, 2012

first birthday invitations

I've hand made almost every single invitation for all of my girls' birthday parties.  I always pick something simple and something I can complete in one hour (during nap time).  I always get a kick out of doing it and I wish I would have made one extra every time so I could have saved one for the girls' baby books.  Oh well! Ashlynn's first birthday party is coming up and as you can see we are having a Halloween themed party.  My baby is turning 1!  I can't believe how fast this year has gone by.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

roasted red pepper bisque

I'd love to say I plan our family dinners in advance.  Many days I dig through my fridge and see what's available before I can piece together a meal.  Yesterday, I wasn't feeling dinner until I rummaged through my vegetable drawers and came up with three big red peppers.  A spark of excitement ignited because I knew just what to do with them.

Roasted red pepper bisque (my original recipe)
3 large red peppers (cored and cut into thirds)
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups whole milk or half and half (or a combination of the two)
3 tsp curry powder
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt (more to taste)
1/2-2/3 cup white wine or sherry (even a good quality beer would be good)
1/4-1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander (try to get your hands on fresh, it makes all the difference)

Place your peppers on a baking sheet and broil on high for about 15 minutes or until the skins are good and charred.  Then move the baking pan to a lower shelf and bake the peppers at 300 degrees for 15 minutes.  When cooled peel the charred skins off and puree the peppers in your food processor. Add a 1/4 cup of broth to the processor if liquid is needed to get a smooth puree. Set aside.

While the peppers are broiling and baking, saute the onion on medium heat in a pot with the oil and butter until translucent.  Add the flour and stir for one minute.  Slowly add the broth whisking as you pour to combine with the flour.  Let it get hot and bubble a little bit.  Add the milk or cream (I used one cup of each) and the wine or sherry (or beer).  Let it get hot again and bubble a bit.  Turn the temp down to medium low and add the curry, pepper, salt and red pepper puree.  Taste the soup for saltiness and add more if needed.  I think I added a total  of 2 tsp salt all together.  The salt really brings out the roasted red pepper flavor.  Add the chopped fresh coriander at the end and stir.  This serves 4 adults so if you want a big pot of soup for leftovers I would double the recipe.  I served this with bread sticks.  Any bread for dipping will do.  Soup requires bread for dipping in my opinion.

The coriander in this soup adds a nice flavor.  In combination with the curry it's a bit spicy but not a hot spicy.  The baby couldn't get enough of this soup so it wasn't too spicy for her!  It's more of a refreshing spice.  Not something you taste every day.  My husband had to ask me twice if I really made this.  It's such a different combination of flavors than I usually put together.  It is a delicious soup.  Something you could serve as a first course for a dinner party.  Your guests will likely be surprised like Justin was!

For the bread sticks I used my cheater dinner roll recipe but instead of making rolls, I kneaded a 1/2 Tbsp of poppy seeds in to the dough, cut it into 6 sections, rolled them into long 13 inch sticks, brushed with butter, sprinkled with salt and baked them at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#third world problems

Are you on Twitter?  I'm not and I hardly understand what it all means.  I do know that it's a pretty big deal and lots of people tweet and in the world of twitterland there is all sorts of lingo and such.  Just last night I learned that if you have a twitter account you can categorize your tweets into groups by something called a hash tag (#).

If I was a twitter-er I'd have a hash tag for my third world problems.  For the most part I don't complain or discuss my third world problems much on the blog.  I've been trying to focus on the positive here in Addis Ababa.  It's helped my overall psyche.  But some of my third world problems are kind of funny and interesting to hear about if you've never lived in a developing country.  I find it funny that a some things have just become "normal" for our family.

So here is what my #thirdworldproblems tweets would look like;

"Spent the day airing out the house and washing all the linens from the burnt beef lung (for the cats) that my housekeeper left on the stove until all the water had boiled off.  Don't worry, the house isn't on fire, it's only the smoking beef lung." #thirdworldproblems

"Another fly colony has hatched in one of our bathroom floor drains.   Thank goodness we put packing tape over them so we can't smell the sewer every time we flush the toilet.  Only now the clear tape gives us a very interesting view of the fly's life cycle." #thirdworldproblems

"All of my clothes that hang out to dry smell like diesel exhaust from the generator that runs when our power goes out.  I get a headache sitting in the car with my fumy jeans on." #thirdworldproblems

"tired of pulling out clothes from my drawers that have been folded and put away inside out by my housekeeper." #thirdworldproblems

"My trash can gets raided every week by our household staff to see which empty boxes or containers can be reused in their homes.  Cool until my trash gets piled up in the yard as a new flower pot or something equally as tacky." #thirdworldproblems

"Playing, Is that a dead person or just someone sleeping on the side of the road, with the hubby as we drive through town." #thirdworldproblems

"Mom, is that human poop or cow poop? "I don't know, just don't step in it." Is a common conversation during our outings." #thirdworldproblems

"Must be a holiday in Ethiopia, the bloody sheep skins are pilling up on the sides of the roads." #thirdworldproblems

"Grown men peeing on the side of the road" #thirdworldproblems

"One of my household staff is out ill almost on a weekly basis usually from eating rotten food and giving themselves food poisoning." #thirdworldproblems

"Power's out, generators on, shut all the doors and windows so we don't gag on the fumes."

"There is no water today girls, you can only drink juice." #thirdworldproblems

"Giving the baby a bath again because after playing with our household help she smells like B.O." #thirdworldproblems

OK, I'm going to Hell after that last one for sure!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

TO.MO.CA Coffee

My ears perked up when Justin announced we were going to Piazza to find a famous little cafe by the name of TO.MO.CA Cafe (the name is abbreviated from the original Italian name Torrefazione Moderna Cafe).  The family owned cafe and coffee roasting house was the first established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia way back in 1953.  It took us a bit to find the cafe and we detoured for lunch first but the moment I walked in I felt like we were transported back to the 60's.
 Justin ordered espresso and I had a Macchiato.  The coffee was fantastic as usual in Ethiopia but TO.MO.CA beans are slow roasted with Italian made roasting machines and you can tell a difference.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday once again

It's been a busy week.  Here's what we've been up brief.

Ashlynn's walking!  It's been a little over a week now that she's become fairly comfortable on her feet.  It's her preferred method of mobility now even though she can only go about 5-6 steps in a row before she loses her balance.  She can move much faster crawling so if she sees the front door open or the gate to the stairs left unlocked she will crawl to try to beat us to the danger zone.  She's thrilled with her new ability and seems to completely understand our excitement for her.  Step one to getting rid of pre-toddler frustration-master walking!
A bit wobbly but walking!!!  You can tell she's pretty thrilled with  herself.
Addie's moved past her matching school outfits and perfectly coiffed hairstyles.  She's been much more practical about her choices for kindergarten lately, choosing jeans or leggings and a shirt with tennis-shoes.  It's really quite amazing.  There was a time I never thought my eldest daughter would wear anything but a dress to school and today she came down wearing loose cotton pants and tennis-shoes.  She came home from school filthy so I'm thrilled she's realized that being comfortable enough to play and get messy sometimes outweighs the benefits of getting dolled up.  We are still working on a positive attitude about sweating though.  I told her that when I was in high school P.E. was my favorite class (I was a Varsity athlete in H.S. if you can believe it?).  She laughed smirked at me and said, "Not my P.E. class.  We have to work out!".  Which I thought was hilarious.  It's a work in progress.  I'm just pleased to report that this girl LOVES kindergarten.  Loves it so much she is bummed there is no school on the weekends.
Aunt Megan sent a box of crafting goodies for us which is always appreciated.  I never know when I'm going to need fun colored buttons or stencils.  Having a well stocked craft closet is key to surviving long days with the kids in Ethiopia.  An awesome monster play stage kit came along in the box and Arabella and I had so much fun putting it together and decorating out little monster puppets on Thursday while Addie was away for her long day at school.  Bella's head almost popped off from excitement when she saw the goggly eyes provided for the puppets.  She then proceeded to put on a monster puppet show for the next hour and later in the day made up endless adventures for the monsters (who all had extraordinary names-which I can't recall now).  I was cooking dinner while she played out an elaborate scene where the monsters were being rescued by Woody and Meles (Meles is the new name of her baby doll.  Named after Meles Zenawi the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia).  This kid cracks me up!
Halloween costumes have been ordered for the children.  Addie is going to be TinkerBell (it took me awhile to find one that was pretty and not a crummy Disney store itchy piece of crud). Bella is dressing as Woody from Toy Story ( I purchased a back-up costume just in case though because of the Curious George debacle of last year).  Ashlynn is going to be an adorable owl-because she's still young enough that I get to pick for her.  I am beginning my preparations for our annual kids Halloween party that will also double as Ashlynn's first birthday party.  Yay for party planning!  I have some fun crafts in mind and I should be receiving a box in the mail soon full of fake spiderwebs!  Do you get excited for Halloween like me?
I reworked my chocolate chip cookie recipe so now it behaves as if I were cooking at sea level.  They are soft in the middle with a crust on the outer edges, just how I like them.
Market Day today was a success.  I sold out of all my goodies in 45 minutes.  I could have easily sold another batch of everything.  It was wonderful to hear some feedback about the treats from last Friday.  I was especially thrilled that everything was well received.  Someone loved my little leaves on the apple pies (which is my favorite as well).  Someone else told me they literally "wrote home" about the cranberry white chocolate almond scones, which is a very nice compliment.  Overall, I had a lot of returning customers, lots of people who had heard about Ladytroupe Sweets during the week and had to come see for themselves, and one offer from another vendor to go into business together-no kidding!  It was so much fun!  Next week I might have to have a few more batches so no one goes home empty handed.
I was really thrilled with how my Icebox cupcakes turned out.  They are imperfectly pretty which is how I like my goodies.  I'd rather eat a ragged gooey cookie than a perfect looking tart any day of the week so I especially loved these leaning chocolate wafers stacked with dollops of whipping cream.  These little treats mean a lot to me and I hope my MIL is proud.  They sat in my icebox for two days and then I topped them with whipping cream and chocolate shavings this morning.  They looked divine.  Don't you think?  We have a friend who's daughter is allergic to eggs and will be turning one a few weeks before Ashlynn.  I'm hoping they will let me make an icebox cake for her for her birthday.

I spent a lot of time this week trying to make sense of the events in Libya and the tragic death of the US Ambassador and his colleagues in Benghazi, Libya.  I completely failed in doing so and instead I've been praying for the victims and their families.  I've also been giving my husband a few extra meaningful hugs and "I love you"s just knowing that it could have been anyone's loved one involved in a similar horrific tragedy in any country around the world.  The older I get, the more these type of things hit me hard and make me want to move to a small rural farm, raise chickens and bake pies.  Sometimes the ugliness in the world is just too much to process.  

In lighter lame-oh grown-up news, we received season 3 of Community in the mail this week so you can guess what we are doing this Friday night!  Hope you all had a wonderful week too!
Freebie iced green tea for my customers!  Leftover from kindergarten potluck the night before!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ethiopian New Years

Today is the first day of the Ethiopian calendar year 2005!  New Years Eve must have been a wild party because we were woke at 4AM to the sound of a car smashing in to our compound wall.  Well, it didn't quite make it to the wall, but was completely wrecked and stuck in sewer ditch a few feet from our wall.  The guy driving was drunk as a skunk and thankfully no one was hurt.  When the tow truck pulled the car out later that day the car's frame was completely folded.  It's was a crazy way to start the holiday. The sound of the car crash in our dream state was like something from the Twilight Zone.  Groggy and confused we both sat up in bed and wondered aloud if a flying saucer had landed on our roof.  I think I mumbled something about a the satellite dish.  Anyhow.

We rung in the new year with the entire family at home today and celebrated with a batch of the richest and most delectable cinnamon rolls I have ever made for breakfast.
 Someone please tell me that I am not the only one who forgets every time I make cinnamon rolls just how long it takes.  Like an idiot, I always get the girls excited by telling them I'm making them for breakfast.  I start the dough at 7AM and the first bite of the final product is not until a good hour and a half later.  Sometimes more.  Cinnamon rolls take some time.  Mostly for the double rising, which you want to go slowly for all that flavor in the dough, but it's so hard to wait when the girls are running in every 20 minutes asking me when breakfast will be ready. But the wait was completely worth it this morning!
I used a dough recipe from my dear friend Jenny.  I adapted it for the stand mixer instead of a bread machine and there is no way I am ever making cinnamon rolls again without this fluffy, creamy, rich dough.  Most cinnamon rolls (or the ones I have made in the past) get tough after sitting out at room temperature. Not these.  I sneaked a bite at 3PM and they were still airy and light, filled with rich cinnamon and brown sugar.  I ground up pecans for the filling as well and they were topped with vanilla bean butter cream frosting.  Holy Cow they were good.

Perfect Cinnamon Roll dough
1 cup water 
1 egg
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp instant dry yeast
3 1/4 cup flour
4 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp powdered milk

In your stand mixer with dough hook attachment, combine the flour, yeast and powdered milk (the powdered milk is an ingredient that anyone living overseas will likely have in their pantry BUT if you are in the States you may not have this on hand).  In a microwave bowl combine the water, butter (already softened), sugar and salt.  Heat until slightly warmer than luke warm-about 40-50 seconds.  Stir the liquids a bit when warmed and add to flour mixture.  Add the egg and start mixing slowly at first, scraping down the sides, then faster until all the dough is combined.  It is a very soft dough that still clings a bit to the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rise slowly at room temperature until doubled.  

When the dough has doubled pull it out on a floured surface (if the dough that clings to the bowl when you dump out the large clump is super stringy like cobwebs you've risen it enough and the flavor will be wonderful). Sprinkle with just enough flour so that it's not too sticky to work with.  Roll it out in a large rectangle.  I like to use my large Silpat for the rectangular dimensions.  From here you can add a combination of whatever you like.  I personally like to soften butter and spread a thin layer on the dough then spread a mixture of 1/4 dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup light brown sugar, 2 Tbsp cinnamon, 1/2 cup ground pecans (or walnuts) and 1 tsp salt (only if using unsalted butter).  

Roll the dough into a long log and use dental floss to slice 2.5 inch tall rolls ( I think I got about 15 with this recipe).  Place the rolls in a greased glass pan with about 1.5 to 2 inches of space in between the rolls.  I had a few extra rolls that wouldn't fit in my pan so I greased small ramekins and baked them in those.  Cover the pan (or ramekin) with a towel and let rise again for about 20-30 minutes.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-17 minutes.  

I prefer a cream cheese based frosting on top of my cinnamon rolls but I didn't have any cream cheese so I made a simple butter cream with 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 1/3 cup of softened butter, 1 tsp vanilla bean paste and a dash of salt.  These measurements are an estimation.  I essentially softened a hunk of butter and added powdered sugar until it was a nice consistency then flavored with vanilla and the salt.  Seriously yum!

We brunched with friends as a farewell to a colleague leaving Addis, I baked most of the afternoon (more details on that later) and we ate Yemeni food for dinner.  Ashlynn loved the broth, hummus and rice. I think she might have got an anise pod though because at some point she just kept scratching at her tongue screaming with a bright red face.  Something was spicy!  Poor girl.  Adelaide ate two kebabs all by herself and Bella just collected all the skewers. The 45 minute wait for chicken kebabs and 30 minutes of that playing "I Spy" was just too much for Bean.

hummus should be it's own food group. Yum!