Around the World in 50 Plates: An International Culinary Challenge!

Inspired by a suggestion from my brother-in-law Alejandro as well as a significant upcoming birthday, I am setting out to discover world cuisine one recipe at a time and invite you to come along!  More than willing to get out of my comfort zone, I’m featuring new discoveries along with old favorites.  And I’m challenging you to inspire and help shape the journey!

A fond memory also helped to inspire this project.  Our wedding took place at a friend’s converted one-room schoolhouse and a simple ceremony was followed by a big party.  Instead of requesting the usual expensive gifts, we asked our international friends and family to bring a dish from their homeland.  The result was a truly  memorable meal, prepared and shared with love.

International Food Festival

Vegetarian Food Festival

Twenty four years later, I’m inviting you to join a similar international feast.  Each week I will post a recipe or two from one country and would welcome any suggestions for countries to visit and/or recipes to try.  I’ll also feature guest bloggers to share a recipe or tell a story of a special time, dish or place.  Although it’s easier to stick to readily-available ingredients, your suggestions may prompt a culinary treasure hunt to track down something exotic.  That’s ok, too!  An active collaborator, I look forward to exploring your suggestions and requests and sharing inspiration.

At this point, we’re planning the itinerary, with a list of 50 countries.  The places may be special spots already visited, somewhere on the list of future destinations, your home country or a place that is close to your heart.  Next will come the menu for this memorable, many-course celebration.

Here are the rules:

  • 50 distinct countries
  • 1 recipe or meal from each country
  • Preferably vegetarian
  • Can be a food or beverage
  • Open to all!

Join this international culinary blogfest!  Where shall I go?  What shall I cook?  Feel free to leave your suggestions below.

Super Green Smoothie

This time of year I’m longing for Indian Summer, but the weather here in Texas is still too darn hot.  When I was new to the Lone Star State, a lady helpfully told me that nights get cooler by the time the County Fair rolls around in late September and daytime temps plunge (sometimes right down into the 50’s) around Halloween.

After a morning walk, this smoothie is a quick energizer packed with nutrition – and only 128 calories.  Enjoy.

Green Smoothie with spinach, kiwi and banana 

Green Cooler

Serves 1

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 cup fresh spinach

1 kiwi, sliced or cut in pieces

1/2 banana (preferably frozen), sliced

1/2 cup crushed ice, if desired

Blend all ingredients until smooth.   Sometimes I add some peeled baby cucumber or a spoonful of protein powder.

(recipe originally published in Runner’s World)

24 Secrets to a Long and Happy Marriage

In honor of our 24th anniversary on September 24th, I’d like to share 24 secrets to a long and happy marriage.

24 Secrets to a Happy Marriage

 

  1. Consider each day together as a gift.
  2. Start the day with a walk and a talk.
  3. Listen.
  4. Mind your manners.  After 24 years, we still say please and thank you.
  5. Laugh often.
  6. He mows, I trim.  We each do our part and appreciate each other.
  7. Be honest but not hurtful.  No poison darts.
  8. Discuss your ideas.  After all this time we still haven’t run out of things to talk about.
  9. Encourage each other to dream and grow and even change.
  10. Difficult times and decisions are easier when you share your fears and are supportive.
  11. Plan together and look forward to shared experiences.
  12. Be here now and appreciate the moments that make up a marriage.
  13. Treat each other with respect and consideration.
  14. Take care of yourself and make healthy choices that promote wellbeing and positive energy.  It’s good for you and good for your relationships.
  15. Value individuality and a different perspective and realize that soul mates still have separate minds.
  16. It’s ok to disagree and even better to meet somewhere in the middle.
  17. Open your eyes and truly see the person your partner is and has become.
  18. Celebrate family as often as possible.
  19. Enjoy intimacy.
  20. Share plenty of time together but have some time apart.  It’s nice to miss each other.
  21. Find new interests and try something different.  Boredom is not sexy.
  22. I don’t call him at work and we don’t share a toothbrush.  Respect boundaries.
  23. Marriage is not ownership.  Consider it a partnership that you have to keep earning.
  24. Show and tell.  There are many ways to express your love (including blog posts); find them and use them.

24th anniversary

Think Inside the Box: With Constraints Come Freedom

Creativity may bring to mind brainstorming and unlimited possibilities.  It appears to be free-flowing, expansive, open.  It may be anti-intuitive, but limitations can boost creativity.  Constraints provide boundaries and clarity so that the artist can focus on the problem or challenge at hand.  They’re a decisive starting place that leads to clear results.

Challenge:  Using a 4′ x 4′ square of cardboard, design and construct a chair capable of bearing your weight when seated.  You may fold, score or cut the cardboard, but no pieces may be removed and you may not use any type of adhesive.

Industrial design students were given this assignment – a more difficult task than it appears.  Because of the limitations – 4×4, cardboard, no pieces cut out and no glue – and the requirements – you must be able to sit on it – they could focus on the creative aspects.  What shape would function best?  How can I make something functional and elegant from this simple material?  How will it all fit together?

Cardboard Chair

Cardboard Chair

My “400 Words” writing practice is much the same on a smaller scale.  When I set a manageable limit there are no excuses.  The title, centered and bold, serves as the starting line and the 400th word is the finish.  I’m free to say anything about the chosen topic, but it ends at 400.

I also like the concept of limitations when it comes to space.  Living in a small apartment means looking at usable space with a different perspective and finding creative solutions such as multifunctional furniture or equipment.  Bookshelves are installed in the space above the door.  Beds have drawers beneath.  Tables expand and chairs stack.  Futons are rolled and beds fold into walls.  If something new comes into the house, something else must leave out of necessity.  Even better are boats.  Have you ever seen a sailboat with an attached garage or basement?  With limited space, you’re confined to essentials and there is beauty in the smallest detail.

Today, try thinking inside the box.  Make a feast from the contents of your pantry and fridge.  Draw a masterpiece the size of a business card.  Instead of a coffee break, write a haiku.  Read 20 pages, walk 2 miles until the sun rises, fill a flat rate box with surprises and send it to someone you love.  As my daughter, the designer, says, “With constraints come creative freedom.”

Cardboard Chair

Beauty, Form and Function

Extraordinary Sites

Our family has had four Eurocamping adventures over the years and people often ask which campgrounds were our favorites.  Sometimes a campground is interesting because of its proximity to a beautiful natural area or a great city.  But other times a campground can be memorable and extraordinary.

Here are a few of the most memorable.

Image

Camping Castel San Pietro above Verona

Camping Castel San Pietro (Verona, Italy)

Imagine camping in the ruins of the ancient city walls high above Verona.  What could be more exciting?  The tent sites are fairly small, but there is an extensive network of wooded terraces with enough space to set up a tent.  The views of the city are incredible and we enjoyed the covered picnic shelter for dining al fresco.

Camping in Budapest

Camping in the Buda Hills

Zugligeti Niche Camping (Budapest, Hungary)

Located in the hills above Budapest, this campground was once a historic tram terminal and the station building now houses an on-site restaurant offering authentic favorites such as goulash.  The owner is friendly and helpful and greets guests with a welcome drink and free breakfast.  Nestled in a wooded setting, the campground is fairly convenient for public transport to the city with a bus stop right outside the entrance.

Luxury camping in France

Luxury Camping near Chambord

Camping Chateau du Marais (near Chambord, France)

This campground is far from roughing it.  On the grounds of a chateau less than 1 km from magnificent Chateau du Chambord, this site is in a beautiful setting and features a water park, tennis courts and mini golf.

camping above Florence Italy

Camping Michelangelo above Florence

Camping Michelangelo (Florence, Italy)

Camping Michelangelo offers the best views of Florence and rates are a steal for staying in the city.  With a terrace restaurant, store and the city of Florence a short walk away, camping under the olive trees is convenient and memorable.

The Penny Project

Another 400 word essay!

Today I will purchase a roll of pennies, and for half a dollar I will make 50 people happy.  I will leave pennies on benches, drop them on sidewalks, scatter them like seeds, one at a time.

Do you remember the rhyme?

                     Find a penny

                     Pick it up

                     All day long

                     You’ll have good luck.

I believed that saying when I was a child, and remember the joy I felt when I found a penny lying on the ground.  It promised abundance and I expected good fortune the rest of the day.  Every happy coincidence confirmed that a single penny had brightened my life.

It doesn’t matter if the penny is old and well-worn or shiny copper.  If it looks old, a child will look carefully at the date it was made.  She may marvel at this small coin that passed from pocket to purse, hand to hand, for years before her own birth.  If the coin is newly minted, its brilliance will make the finder want to keep it in a jar to admire later like a firefly trapped on a summer evening.  Even an ordinary dull penny promises the same luck.  And if the newly discovered penny is then thrown into a wishing well or fountain, good fortune is increased as well as being passed on to others.

I remember when a penny had real value.  I was best friends with a twin brother and sister, and after school we would stop at the Ben Franklin before continuing the walk home.  There we could choose from bins of penny candy, some costing 1¢, some costing a nickel, but always less than a dime.  It was difficult to choose between so many types and flavors.  The store was a dime store with wooden floors and merchandise stacked nearly to the ceiling.  The choice  was incredible if you were looking for plastic dolls, paper doilies, artificial flowers or small jars of bubbles.

A few years ago I went back to my neighborhood and drove by the “Five and Dime.”  I had told my daughters about my walks home, the traditional stop, and wanted to let them feel the boards creak under their feet.  It had been replaced by a pet supermarket, the bubbles and doilies now gourmet dog biscuits and squeaky toys.  And nothing cost a penny.

Still, I think that I’ll go to the bank and get a roll.

From My Bookshelf: Cooking Classics

Some weeks I use a meal planning program to map out every night’s menu and develop a shopping list and life is easy.  Other times I let spontaneity take over and I’ll buy something from the farmers market and figure out how to use it later or look in my fridge, Google a few ingredients and see what recipes come up in the search.  In either case, getting to the point where I can confidently whip up something on the fly came years of knowledge stemming from a handful of cooking classics that are still on my shelf.  The following are more than books – they have guided me and shaped my cooking style over the years and their recipes have become a part of the fabric of our family memories.  Online blogs, websites and databases are definitely a great development and some may argue that books have become obsolete, but don’t forget the well-loved classics that have helped many lifetime cooks like me.  Call me old school, but inscriptions,  flour and torn pages are all part of the experience and stains are like clues on a treasure map.  The more you find, the better the recipe in most cases.

Joy of Cooking

Even Julia loved it! Well-worn copies from the library of Julia Child

Joy of Cooking (1985 edition by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker)

I am constantly surprised by the breadth and depth of this all-inclusive volume.  With hundreds of recipes, thorough and simple-to-understand instructions and many favorite basics, the Joy of Cooking is a must have.  My copy is falling apart at the seams and its pages carry the stains of many haphazardly joyful cooking experiences.  I’ve often thought that the only thing missing was nice photographs, so a recent series of JOC books that focus on a particular area (breakfast, soups, vegetarian, etc.) and feature full-color photography might be worth checking out.

American Wholefoods Cuisine (by Nikki Goldbeck and David Goldbeck)

I discovered this cookbook when working at a natural foods cooperative and authors Nikki and David taught me use new and unfamiliar ingredients to build a new repertoire of favorites.  Life has come full circle and I find myself referring to this cookbook again to support a whole foods lifestyle.

Sunset Easy Basics for Good Cooking (1982 edition by Janet Johnson Nix)

This book was a gift from my grandmother, and the front page bears the inscription “To my dear granddaughter, hoping this book will help a bit in your ‘domestic’ interests”.  Well, it did and this book is still a good reference for dishes such as basic bread, quiche, pancakes, crepes, apple crisp, soups, salad dressings  and many others.  The 1987 edition by Jerry Anne Di Vecchio was updated to include more low-fat recipes and this book features “how-to” photos illustrating technique for those new to a recipe or cooking in general.

Eater’s Choice (1987 edition by Dr. Ron Goor and Nancy Goor)

Unfortunately, high cholesterol seems to run in our families.  This book was helpful when I became aware of this health issue and my ability to control it to some extent and lose weight by making healthier food choices.  Good basics and simple ingredients form the basis of the Goors’ recipes and I appreciate the simple, clear directions.  I haven’t looked into the newer editions but would recommend their books for those interested in a lifetime of health.