Saturday, October 03, 2015

Eating Around the World - Greece

We've reached that point in the semester where life is stretched very thin. Writing, giving, and grading the first round of exams for professor Daddy means very late nights for Mama too, and any superfluities that can get trimmed from life are. Eating Greek food is not superfluous! But cooking it might be.

So, we got take-out. And it's good too! For $16 you get pitas, very good and thick tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, feta, a pile of gyro meat, and about two full sliced onions (way more than necessary.) It's enough for our whole family, and we couldn't eat at McDonald's for less. 

That said, we did make some extra pita bread to help stretch the meal. I was planning on buying it, but Walmart didn't have any, and running to an extra grocery store with grumpy little girls was more stress than making it at home. The hardest part about making pitas at home is getting the 2-year-old to stop eating the dough while you're rolling it out. I didn't use a recipe from the Internet, but mine is pretty similar to the Pita Bread recipe from King Arthur Flour. My only tip is to make sure you don't roll them too thin - more than the suggested 6" circles and you'll have thin spots that won't puff up to make a pocket. They still taste good, but pocket pitas are more fun. And only about half of mine turned out just right.

I also made a very simple Greek cucumber salad, which doubled as a pita filling. Again, I used a recipe from a cookbook so I can't link you the recipe, but it was pretty simple. One English cucumber, quartered and chopped, one small red onion, sliced in quarter moons, one pint of grape tomatoes, halved, 4 oz of feta cheese, 1/4 c. olive oil, 1 t. oregano, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Fast, fresh, and the perfect accompaniment to an otherwise fairly brown meal.

Just for fun, we also looked out how to pronounce "gyro". And then tried to say it ourselves. It's not the easiest word for a Midwestern American to say, but it is fun to try.

Along with the gyros, we ordered a couple pieces of baclava for dessert. All day I was fighting the urge to run out and buy some phyllo dough to make our own, but I'm glad I resisted. Sometimes food tastes better when you haven't spent hours cooking it yourself. To borrow a concept from Solomon, "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven" ...a time to cook, and a time to buy take-out.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Embroidered World Map, Part 2

Since I first wrote about our coin map project, friends have shared coins from 10 more countries, and I've added 5 coins to our map. Wow! It's been so fun to find out where friends have traveled, and to learn more about each place myself as I try to decide how best to make a simple thread drawing to evoke one aspect of each country.

The girls have also been enjoying watching the progress, reading the notes from friends, sharing their colored pencils for sketching, and sitting on my lap as I sew. This last can make progress slow, although the cuddles are always sweet.

I'm not working in any particular order, mostly stitching on coins as I have inspiration for a picture to stitch around each. So, this week I added coins scattered around the world. First up is this kiwi bird from New Zealand. This was probably the easiest design to settle on - the round body of the bird fit so perfectly around the coin!

This is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. I haven't traveled that much internationally yet, but I did spend three weeks in Turkey in college which was an amazing experience, especially as a Classics major! The Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox church, then converted into a mosque with the fall of Constantinople, and now is a museum open to the public.

This is me and Edward Bear in front of the Hagia Sophia. Sorry about the huge palm tree in the way. Edward came to Turkey with me, and I took pictures of him touring the country since I was on a trip with strangers and I didn't want all my pictures to be of people I'd only know for a short time. Edward was a fun unifying element in the photos, and now the girls really enjoy looking through the scrapbooks of his travels!

Just for fun, here's Edward in front of the nearby Istanbul Blue Mosque.

Back to the map now. South and central America are filling up quickly! This is a tortoise for Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

For Costa Rica I really wanted to make one of their gorgeously painted ox cart wheels, but after making a sketch or two I had to admit that there simply wasn't room for such a big design. So I did the Blue Morpho Butterfly instead, which I love almost as much. God has created so many amazing vibrant colors in nature!

I think my favorite design to date (maybe tied with the Dutch windmill) is this Mexican sombrero and serape. I was always planning on a sombrero for Mexico, but I came across serapes for sale when I was looking for Mexican fabric to making a baby swing. Right away I knew it would be the perfect motif to add to my Mexican design. It was fun to needle weave such a small scarf!

Zooming out, here's a picture of the whole map, along with the coins that are yet to be sewn on. 11 down, 13 (and counting) to go! Here's the updated list of countries for which we have coins:
  1. Argentina
  2. Bermuda
  3. Belize
  4. Bolivia
  5. Brazil
  6. Canada
  7. Chile
  8. China
  9. Costa Rica
  10. Ecuador
  11. France
  12. Honduras
  13. India
  14. Mexico
  15. Namibia
  16. The Netherlands
  17. New Zealand
  18. Peru
  19. The Philippines
  20. South Africa
  21. Switzerland
  22. Turkey
  23. The United Kingdom
  24. The United States 

If you've sent coins for our project, thank you, thank you, thank you! This project wouldn't be possible without you! I'm hoping to keep posting updates of the map progress every week or two, and I'm looking forward to continuing to share this project with you all.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Eating Around the World - Germany

Ah, Germany. Land of my great-grandparents' childhood. And, unfortunately, not my favorite food in the world. Some families really hold onto their culinary traditions (Collin's great-grandmother immigrated from Italy around the same time as mine, and his family still has an Italian feast of braciole for Christmas dinner,) but my family fully embraced American traditions. We ate ham for Christmas. Despite all that, this week we were up to Germany in our world tour, so German food was on the menu.

In our attempt to be more excited about German night, Laurel asked if I'd braid her hair like a German girl. We've been reading beautiful picture books of Grimm's fairy tales all week, so I think she wanted to look like Gretel.

Here's the one part of the meal I was excited about. A couple weeks ago, in anticipation of our German meal, I started fermenting a jar of sauerkraut. I've never really liked sauerkraut, but I suspected that homemade sauerkraut would taste a lot better. And, thanks to this cool pickling lid I have, it wasn't any harder to make than a bowl of coleslaw. It just took two weeks of waiting for it to ferment.

I used the recipe (and video tutorial) from the makers of the Perfect Pickler, except I added a couple tablespoons of yogurt whey to put in some good bacteria and jump start the fermentation process. I've done this before with kimchi, but I hadn't tried making sauerkraut before. The end result was pretty good. It wasn't as interesting or as effervescent as the kimchi, but it still had a slight sparkly taste to it. For our meal, I mixed it into a salad with a tart apple, a shredded carrot, and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, sugar, and lemon juice (just enough to keep the apples from oxidizing.)

Along with the sauerkraut salad we ate German potato salad which, apparently, is actually German and not just German-American. Thanks to my all-time favorite German grocery store, Aldi, we were able to buy actual Bavarian bratwurst imported from Germany for the centerpiece. And, because I was short on time, I adapted my go-to bread recipe to make a loaf of slightly sourdough sesame bread. All I did for that was to divide the dough into two loaves, roll the wet dough in a pile of sesame seeds, and brush with beaten egg about 10 minutes before they were finished baking. The bread was surprisingly good, and different-tasting with such a deliciously chewy but crunchy crust. 

Oh, and of course, we had to have some German beer from Aldi too. I'm not a beer lover, but you can't really have a German meal without beer. Incidentally, have you seen the fascinating photo project from a few years ago of A Week of Groceries In Different Countries? Scroll down and take a look at all those beer bottles in the German photo. Obviously, it's pretty essential. So I tried a sip of the Wernesgrüner, but I can't say it added anything. Fortunately, Collin thought it did.

Because it was a crazy week, and because Aldi has plenty of German imports, we bought a box of German Cocont Spritz for dessert. The girls didn't really like most of the meal (Annie's summation of the sauerkraut was ""It makes my mouth not taste very good"), so we had to use the promise of cookies to get them to finish their plates.

Finally, they got to bite into their cookies!

The cookies, unfortunately, also weren't that great. Laurel's sad face seems to be saying, "I persevered through the sauerkraut and potato salad for this??"

So we don't have to end on that disappointing note, here's a happy Eliza picture from earlier in the day. Is there anything cheerier than a happy baby?

And here's a pretty picture of a little posy in a pitcher from my grandmother. This has nothing to do with the rest of the post, except that thinking about my grandparents makes me think about my German heritage, and so there we are right back where we started at the beginning of the post. Lots of good things came from Germany, even if their food isn't one of them.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Eating Around the World - Sweden


When I was in college, I lived in an apartment with three good friends. We ate dinner together almost every night, a rarity that I appreciated only later when I realized how uncommon such familial atmosphere is among roommates. Two of my roommates were Swedish-American sisters. Any time they wanted to have a private conversation over the dinner table they would switch to speaking in Swedish, and my other roommate and I were left staring at each other across the table and be like, "So... how was your day?"

Anyway, when we reached Sweden in our geographical world tour, all I could think about were the delicious Swedish pancakes (pretty much like crêpes) that Sara and Jessica's mom would make when I'd spend the night at their house. And I thought of all the yummy Swedish cookies Sara would make in our apartment. But when it came to dinner I was kind of stumped, so I wrote to Sara for suggestions.

Sara suggested meatballs with lingonberry (or cranberry as a substitute) sauce, which she said "is a standard kids meal or busy week night meal. It's kind of like how we treat pizza." Alternatively, she suggested, "A special adult meal might be some kind of grilled fish with a white sauce and tiny, boiled new potatoes served whole. The fish is very often garnished with lemon and dill. They eat all kinds of fish but salmon sticks out as one of the yummiest ones."

I was all set to make meatballs, but when I offered the girls both options they emphatically went for the fish. So, grilled salmon it was. I made it pretty much like this recipe, except I substituted Greek yogurt for the crème fraîche in the sauce, and I left out the capers.

On the side we had boiled new potatoes from our garden, including a couple of the spectacularly purple "Magic Molly" potatoes. I don't think those are particularly Swedish, but they are pretty!

We also had a thin-sliced cucumber salad, which is kind of like a fresh refrigerator pickle. So good, and such a perfect contrast to the creaminess of the potatoes and white sauce.

Everything was delicious, although Collin made the same comment he's made with many of our European dinners, "It's good, but it's pretty Midwestern, isn't it?" Since he grew up in western Wisconsin, I can understand why Scandinavian food probably does taste pretty normal to him. Things will be a lot more different as we move out of Europe and into the Middle East and Asia.

And dessert! A three-layer sponge cake filled with whipped cream custard and strawberries. I used strawberry freezer jam for the filling and fresh strawberries for the top. I was short on time, so I made the cake from a box, but I used this recipe as a guideline and for the filling (which I doubled since I had three layers). Needless to say, this was a hit with the girls.

While on the topic of recipes, Annie wrote her first recipe all by herself during her afternoon quiet time! Can anyone tell what dish you'll end up with after following these instructions? (It's very American.) Now she's on a roll, and says she's going to make a book of them. "It's not just a cookbook! It's a recipe book!"

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Embroidered World Map - The Beginning


Today I get to share with you the beginning of a new collaborative art project that I'm extremely excited about. I've been thinking about this for over a year, and with our focus on geography in kindergarten this year, the time was finally right. 

Here's the project: I'm embroidering a world map, filled with coins from countries all over the world. Each coin will be worked into a little picture that symbolizes something important about the country - it might be a landmark, or a part of the flag, or something the country is particularly known for.

After rummaging around my house, I found coins from 14 countries which you can see laid out on the fabric map above. Six of them are already sewn on, and I have sketches for the other eight. When it's all finished, I'm either going to frame it or stretch it over a frame (the fabric map I'm using is canvas, so it would work well either way), and hang it on an empty wall in our guest room.

Here are a few close-ups of the coins that are finished. Things are already getting a little crowded in Europe. A Dutch windmill, Switzerland's Alps, and France's Eiffel tower all overflow their borders and almost entirely cover Germany.

Canada gets a maple leaf around a maple leaf penny. I was thinking about one of the larger coins since Canada is a pretty big landmass to fill, but Laurel insisted on this combination.

Brazil is represented by a soccer ball.

And the Philippines have the "Three Stars and a Sun" from their flag.

So, here's where the collaboration comes in! I have coins from 14 different countries so far. I've marked all the countries represented in red on the map. As you can see, some areas are pretty well covered, but there are some shockingly large omissions. For example, I don't have a single coin from the continents of Africa or Oceania. And the huge areas of Russia and China are similarly empty.

If you've been to one of these countries and come home with a pocket full of extra change, would you consider sending us one of the coins for our map? You'll get to see it turned into a beautiful picture on our map, as I post progress updates both here on my blog and on Facebook. And, if you're ever in our area, you can come see the map in person once it's framed and hanging on our guest room wall!

Here is the list of countries I have already:

The Netherlands
The Philippines
The United Kingdom
The United States 

If you'd like to join in by sending a coin our way, leave me a comment here, send me an e-mail at mama.hobbit.arts [at], or message me on Facebook! And for a look at some of the ideas I'm tossing around as well as tutorials on some of the embroidery stitches I'm learning, you can check out my Pinterest board too.

Also, if you're sending a coin and have a special memory from your visit, or a favorite picture you took, I'd love to hear about or see that too. I'm really looking forward to going on this armchair journey around the world with all of you!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lemon Lavender Ice Cream Recipe

Today I have a spectacularly delicious recipe to share with you, but to tell you about its creation I have to go back to a hot summer day in June, 2008.

This is our wedding cake. It was also spectacularly delicious. It was a lemon-lavender cake, rich and dense like pound cake, slightly tart with lemon and sprinkled throughout with tiny lavender flowers. Every year since, I've made a lemon-lavender cake on our anniversary. And although we eat anniversary cake leftovers for the whole subsequent week, Collin always says it isn't enough and that it's too good a cake to only make once a year.

This is a Meyer lemon tree that I gave Collin for his birthday a year and a half ago. It's actually our third lemon tree, but the first two were very sad stories that we don't have to go into now. This tree has grown beautifully, and gave us about 10 ripe lemons last winter. There was one lemon still on the tree during that first harvest that wasn't quite ready, and it kept growing and not ripening for months. By this summer it had swollen into a huge lemon, green with a light yellow tint, and about the size of a grapefruit. The poor little tree was bending over with its weight! Collin picked it finally, hoping it would finish ripening off the tree.

After a few weeks hanging out in my kitchen, the lemon did turn yellow. Here it is, next to a Cutie clementine for scale. It wasn't very pretty, between it's ungainly size and spots of insect damage, but it had put so much work into growing to that size I had to make something special with it. Plus, it will be months before the next lemons will be ready.

After discussing a few options, lemon lavender ice cream seemed like the right thing to make with our one lemon. And, happily, it tastes exactly like our cake turned into an ice cream flavor! Without the specks of actual cake, that is, because soggy cake rarely tastes good in an ice cream. This one is very lemony, very creamy, with a faint taste of cream cheese just like our wedding cake, and sprinkled throughout with lavender flowers. It's a keeper!

The recipe itself is based off the best ice cream base I've ever made, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. I've tried a number of other ice cream recipes, from egg yolk custards to condensed milk concoctions, but I always come back this one as by far the superior recipe. If you like homemade ice cream, this is seriously your one book to own. I can't say enough good things about it!

Lemon Lavender Ice Cream Recipe
Adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

Makes a generous 1 quart


  • 1 jumbo, 2 regular size, or 3 small lemons. Meyer lemons are wonderful for their mild flavor and floral notes, but regular lemons will be just fine too, just a little tarter.
  • 2 T. sugar (for syrup)
  • 3 T. (1 1/2 oz) cream cheese
  • 1/8 t. sea salt
  • 2 c. whole milk, plus a small splash
  • 1 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 2/3 c. sugar (for ice cream)
  • 2 T. light corn syrup
  • 4 t. cornstarch
  • 2 t. dried lavender flowers (available with bulk herbs in many health food stores or larger groceries)
  • Calendula flower petals (optional - calendula is a very mild-tasting edible flower that makes a lovely garnish.)

1. Lemon syrup: With a vegetable peeler, zest the lemons in large strips. Set the zest aside, and juice the lemons. Combine 1/2 c. of the lemon juice with the 2 T. sugar in a small pot, and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and chill.

2. Place the cream cheese and salt in a stand mixer or mixing bowl and whip until smooth. Set aside.

3. Combine the 2 c. milk, cream, 2/3 c. sugar, corn syrup, and lemon zest in a pot. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat. While the milk mixture is heating up, add a small splash of milk to your measuring cup and make a slurry with the cornstarch.

4. Boil the milk mixture for 4 minutes. Remove pan from heat, and stir in the cornstarch slurry. Return pan to heat, and boil another minute or just until the mixture is starting to thicken.

5. Pour a spoonful or two of the hot mixture into the mixing bowl with the cream cheese. Mix until the cream cheese is fully melted and incorporated into the hot milk mixture. Add the rest of the hot milk mixture to the mixing bowl, and beat until no lumps remain. At this point you can remove the lemon zest (easier) or let it continue to steep in the ice cream mixture until chilled (harder to remove, but more flavorful).

6. Chill the ice cream base. If you're in a hurry, you can set the mixing bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice water. I usually just cover the bowl and put it in the fridge overnight, and come back to freeze it the next day.

7. When the mixture is fully chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the maker directions. As the ice cream is churning, add the dried lavender flowers and lemon syrup. Spin until the ice cream is thick and pulling away from the sides of the canister, a lot like when you're kneading bread.

8. Pack the ice cream in a storage container, and place in the coldest part of your freezer for at least 4 hours.

9. Scoop ice cream into glasses, and sprinkle with more lavender flowers and/or calendula flower petals. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Eating Around the World - Spain

Behold, the enormous and mouth-watering pan of Spanish paella that was our dinner tonight. This picture was actually taken by Collin, who pulled the pan out of the oven to serve to our dinner guests while I took our 4-year-old to urgent care in the next city over because she stuck a wooden bead up her nose. Anyway, I can't really say we got much of the Spanish meal experience that I was hoping for, but it did make tasty leftovers.

Paella is Spain's most well-known dish, but it isn't part of the regular meal rotation in the Hobbs household. (Actually, we don't have a regular meal rotation. Meal planning is an area where I really need to improve.) Before looking up any recipes, Collin and I discussed what we thought paella was, and each of us had a different impression. I thought it was like a sort of Spanish jambalaya - thick and saucy. Collin thought it was drier, and more like a Spanish flavored biryani. It turns out that we were both a little bit right, but he was closer to the truth than I was. Paella is often saucy or even mushy, but it's not supposed to be. Good paella is a flavorful rice dish, where the rice absorbs most of the liquid in the dish as it cooks.

I used parts of a recipe in one of my cookbooks, as well as the very helpful instructions in this video. One of the best tips I found was to place the whole pan in the oven to cook the rice to keep the heat even enough. I was using my biggest skillet - a 14-inch cast-iron pan - and while it does a great job holding a large amount of food, it doesn't heat evenly on my much smaller burner.

Although I had to make a number of substitutions that basically disqualify this dish from the strict definition of paella (I used long grain rice instead of short, I used turmeric instead of saffron, and I didn't have any rabbit meat) we enjoyed it very much. It was an especially great end-of-summer meal, since it used tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and green beans from our garden, all of which are pouring in right now. If I had a meal rotation, I'd definitely add this recipe. As it is, I'll just have to try to remember we liked it and that we should make it again sometime soon. And if it's on a night where I don't end up running out of the house in an emergency, I might even make gazpacho or churros to go with it.