Friday, November 10, 2017

Goodbye Grambo

When we scheduled a visit for Zoe to see family, we were fortunate to be able to squeeze my cousin’s wedding in! It’s these sorts of things that we normally miss. Today I will miss my grandfather’s funeral.

This guy taught me how to fish, and took us for rides on his pontoon boat. Sometimes I even got to steer. He had a great batter recipe for fried fish. Grambo took me to the driving range, and man was whacking a golf ball as hard as I could, fun! Once I got to go on vacation with Grambo, my grandma and my cousin.

I’m not at all the only one who got to do things with him. Here he was teaching my brother to fish.

He was the guy looking out for people on that side of the family. When Parkinson’s slowly took away his physical abilities, he got better at listening. Many of his grandkids went to him for advice. He showed us that it didn’t matter what one could DO; being there and holding the space as a caring influence in the family was enough. Physically, life is about reductions, and that he was a good example of, but spiritual life grows exponentially to life’s reductions, and I think he showed that too. We’ll miss him.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Water Festival 2017: The White Elephant

Water Festival is a big deal in Cambodia. The kids and Ben got a whole week off of school for it. We wanted to go somewhere with more nature than we have normally, but not drive for hours trying to get there.

Ben decided to take us to the White Elephant hotel on the edge of town. It’s about 15 minutes driving if you have traffic and has plants everywhere. It feels like you’re in a garden.

The kids loved the river-shaped pool best of all, especially since in had a bridge going over the middle. Elias got on the bridge and we threw the ball back and forth over it while he tried to catch it. Since there weren’t many people, it was a good game.

I enjoyed trying new Asian foods. The cashew chicken was amazing and is now my new favorite dish!

The kids liked exploring the garden and finding statues. There were huge statues of a camel, dolphin, dragon and this horse. The White Elephant is definitely a place I would recommend, especially for families.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Best Family Vehicle in Phnom Penh is a....

I’m really excited to have a family vehicle again! And, not a clunky car that can’t fit down narrow streets, but a tuktuk! (Here it was book character day at Ben’s school, which he took to mean wear-your-kandoora-from-Abu-Dhabi-day! You should have seen the looks he got from Cambodians wondering why the big guy in the tuktuk had on a dress.)

Three people fit in the back seat, then a middle seat flips down for three more, plus the driver. If you add in more fuel efficient and waaay cheaper than a car; no down side. Well, there may be just one downside: it’s a little top heavy, so you have to tackle inclines head-on rather than sideways. Ben has had multiple people trying to buy it from him already. One dude followed him home and walked around it when he parked in the driveway all the while talking in rapid Khmer. We still don’t know what he wanted. We highly recommend this type of vehicle for families in Cambodia.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

“Fall” Baking

I suppose it’s kind of fall. It was only 86 degrees Fahrenheit today with a nice breeze, so that counts for something. Talia and I have taken advantage of the cooler temperatures to bake; (though the heat didn’t really stop us before, as there’s no central AC so it’s always hot in there.)

When we got a pumpkin at the market we made it into a pie (for once, instead of portioning it out for soups.) Here, what is called a pumpkin is a bumpy, green acorn squash at home. It tastes the same as pumpkin, though.

Our friend said Khmer people do something that tastes similar to pumpkin pie: hollow the seeds out of a pumpkin, fill it with a mixture of eggs, coconut milk and sugar and bake it letting the pumpkin be the crust. It sounds like it makes a custard-like filling. I'm up for trying it!

We also made black bean and potato empanadas. The electricity went out around 5:30 that night, so we enjoyed them by candlelight as that’s when it’s been getting dark lately. I suppose it’s a good thing that it gets dark so early so we don’t miss good places for the kids to play so much. It’s dark not long after the boys get home from school.

Talia enjoyed incorporating learning how to flood cookies with icing for a homeschool lesson.

Here’s our new-to-us fruit for this time: rose apple.

Have you ever tried one?

Monday, October 23, 2017

Decision Time: Phnom Penh or....?

It's that time of contract where we are having to decide: Do we stay in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, or do we move on? There are several things to consider:
Eating at an outside restaurant covered with arbors.
If we stay we have more stability for the kids, less moving expenses, and continuity of friendships we have taken the time to build this year.

If we go, there are more options for Ben's doctoral thesis topic, healthier places to raise the children, and "easier" places to live culturally.
Phnom Penh fountain from a tuktuk at night.
Since educators have to turn in a decision towards the beginning of their last school year  our time has come around. This divides things mentally: we either have about 8 and a half more months left, or, an indeterminate amount based on the contract that would be signed. This is the part of the cycle of international teaching that's a bit bittersweet, but also exciting. Do we stay in this place, or move on?
Outside of Phnom Penh city.
Of course, as a mom, I think about how Phnom Penh has impacted my children.

This will always be where Zoe was born.
Where Talia learned to fish in a muddy river
And experience Mondulkiri.
It is where Elias graduated from Kindergarten.
And Ezra frequented the hospital (thank God for $10 appointments) with bronchial trouble due to pollution.
And fell in love with his teacher "Mena".
It's where we've discovered tons of new-to-us fruit.
And Ben has had a wonderful opportunity to be a principal in a great school.
But is it a place we would want to stay in for longer?

That is the decision.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Flower Philosophy

I used to think flowers were frivolous.

I even told Ben when we were poor(er) and courting to just send me pictures of flowers instead of forking out money for something that would die.

Or even better, spend that money for pizza!

But now I have a different criteria: flowers are beautiful, but I’d rather have some that I can plant.

Seeds or plants with roots create a seasonal beauty that I really appreciate.
Living in deserts and cities has really amped up my love of nature.

I suppose my dream would be to one day be able to settle somewhere I could have a garden, both flowers and vegetables.

When I saw these bursts of color on my visit to Texas during Pchum Ben, I had to take pictures.

Children and flowers fill my phone memory now. I suppose that’s a good thing.
In the Incheon airport in South Korea, there were orchids all over the place.

It was a nice combination of beauty in a sea of functional; like the morning glories I saw climbing up a stop sign. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Layered Pudding.... Mmmmmm!

I know there are some people who completely disregard the fact that some actually have very real symptoms when they consume gluten or dairy. It would be nice if we lived in a world where pesticides and genetic engineering of food, hormone injected cows and the protein from Holsteins, didn't cause reactions in some people. Especially my sister. When my sister eats something containing gluten or dairy, her body is in so much pain she can't get out of bed on her own. My sister is one of the strongest people I know, not to mention considerate, generous and creative. One of her favorite desserts used to be layered pudding. (I've heard it called Four Layer Delight and Possum Pie as well.) Unfortunately, that contains.....

Flour, butter, cream cheese and milk! So, I was determined to create a version that didn't contain gluten or dairy for our early family Thanksgiving when I visited home. I had to start with the base:

For the base, I ground up enough oats to get 1 cup of oat flour and combined that with 1/2 cup of coconut oil and a cup of cut up pecans. I added a dash of almond flavoring.

Of course, coconut oil cooks differently than butter, as it bubbles up a lot more when it bakes, but it came out ok:

The next layer was tricky, a cream cheese layer. I decided to go with a cashew cream cheese. First I soaked the cashews overnight. The next day they were ready to use.

I followed this recipe to make the cheesecake flavored layer. It calls for:
  • 1 1/2 cup of soaked/drained cashews
  • 1/4 cup of lemon
  • 1/3 cup of melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons full fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup agave/maple syrup/honey

 I then blended it to the smoothest consistency I could get, gingerly spread it over the brittle crust and let it chill in the freezer while I worked on the puddings.

I searched through the brands of pudding looking for one that didn't have diary or gluten. Most of them were gluten free, but many contained milk powder; especially for the vanilla flavor. Jello was the brand that didn't have either of the unwanted things. I was planning on making a home-made version with corn starch and coconut milk if I couldn't find one. This is just such a multi-step process, that I was running out of time! However, with the Jello mixes, I used cold coconut milk and let them set. I layered the chocolate pudding over the hardened cashew layer and then returned it to the freezer to chill. When that was hardened, I added the vanilla layer on top. Repeating the freezer step each time proved to be important as they never got all the way firm without it.

The top layer of layered pudding is the whipped cream. I thought store-bought whipped cream was probably just made out of junk and not real milk, but I was wrong. They actually used milk! So, I used this recipe that turns coconut cream into whipped cream. Yummy!
It called for:
  • 1 14 oz. can of (refrigerated overnight) unsweetened coconut milk (I used what we could find in the picture above)
  • 2 Tablespoons of sugar (I omitted this step because what we had was already a bit sweet)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

This was really tasty! I spread it on top of all of the layers and added a few crushed pecans.

There you have it! My dairy-free, gluten-free layered pudding!

I love my sister. I was happy to make something so that there would be a dessert she could eat too. Let me know if you find a better way to make this, but this one turned out really good! It definitely tastes like coconut, but in a delicious way.