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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Moon Festival, or, Mid-Autumn Festival

Wednesday, October 4 2017 was the Moon Festival. Although this is typically a Chinese/Vietnamese celebration called Mid-Autumn Festival, many people in Cambodia have adopted it and I've only heard it called Moon Festival. "Who doesn't want another holiday to eat cake?" was the reason my neighbor gave me.

I noticed something new hanging over their door, but didn't know what it was until a few days later when the neighbor's daughter came out with something white in her hands. The neighborhood kids have been playing with pieces of Styrofoam lately, so I thought that's what she had. When she started to eat it, I hurried to ask her mom if it was Styrofoam. It turns out it was Moon Cake.
"Mid-Autumn was first celebrated as a festival during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127). Like the emperors, ancient people believed worshipping the moon and eating together round a table would bring them good luck and happiness."

Suddenly, little things I had been seeing around town began to make more sense. In the little market near our house, there was a giant, circle cake with Chinese characters on top in front of a shrine in the back. (Compared to the entire giant pig at New Year, I thought that was quite tame.) My neighbor said the Moon Festival is a time when the family will get together and eat and then they wake up at midnight and say a prayer to the moon for health and wealth.

Another friend said that while there are many Chinese people in Cambodia who celebrate Chinese holidays, typically Vietnamese and Chinese celebrate the same holidays, while Thailand and Cambodia celebrate the same Buddhist holidays.

The Moon Festival was something I had never heard of before, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Pchum Ben 2017

I’m so thankful that I was able to fly to the States for Pchum Ben this year. Ever since Zoe was born in Cambodia we’ve been trying to figure out a good time to introduce her to family in the States. We wanted to do that while she was still a baby... and she’s growing so fast it felt like time was running out. She is more social than some babies I’ve introduced (cough*Elias*cough) to family. Look how she’s studying Papa!

It was so nice to be in Texas again.

Of course, it’s easier to just sleep than be social.

How much loving is too much?

She sure has a lot of people who love her.

So now she’s met her Mississippi family and Texas family, all before she’s quite walking. That counts, right?

We are so blessed to have most of our great grandparents for our children still alive.

We even got to attend a cousin’s wedding and see more grandparents and relatives there.

Besides the people, it was nice to see green grass!

Zoe loved exploring this new green stuff.

But coming home to the loves we couldn’t afford to fly with us was special too. Now the balance is between appreciating the opportunity to go home and battling the homesickness that surges afterwards. I actually got published on this topic on a website dedicated to helping expat Christian women. I don't share this to say I am anything, but maybe my hard-to-learn-lesson about homesickness will help you too: