a touch of Christmas…

While I continue studying for final exams, here’s a little bit of what Christmas looks like at our house. I can’t wait for the end of this week, so I can fully enjoy it, catch up on sleep, and get started on the cookie baking part of things! Also, getting completely over being sick would help, too. : )  Enjoy!DSC_0486         DSC_0480DSC_0487DSC_0494DSC_0506DSC_0511DSC_0517DSC_0530DSC_0531DSC_0532

the sound & taste of australia…

As my YouTube account plays the sounds of the Voice Australia artists, it occurs to me that I didn’t share a recent surprise with you! A week or so ago, my dad suddenly came up and handed me a box, informing me that it was a late birthday present. Since it’s now June, and my birthday was at the beginning of May, I had no idea what could possibly be in it.

Once the box was open, I found myself staring at a jar of Vegemite. Hooray! I had finally run out of the last container, and was considering whether to get some in Greenville, or to order it online. Turns out, my dad had noticed that I had run out, and went ahead and ordered it for me. Talk about being observant! Now, the next item on my to-do list ought to be trying a “vegemecado” sandwich, with Vegemite and avocado. That’s because we seem to have avocados in the house, all the time. But I haven’t tried that concoction yet, even it was advertised on the Vegemite container.DSC_0359

My YouTube playlist is full of Karise Eden (last year’s Voice Australia winner), Kiyomi Vella, Celia Pavey, and all the rest of this year’s artists. If you have some spare time, go search Season 2’s artists, as they’re just fabulous. And no, I don’t watch the American version, as I’m not a big fan of the judges. The judges on the Aussie version are what makes it worthwhile. They’re so likeable, and good at coaching!

I’ll admit it, I really wanted Kiyomi in the final, but Danny Ross’s voice is pretty awesome, as well. From there, my choices for the positions of the top 4 were a bit off. When it came down to Luke Kennedy and Harrison Craig, I thought for sure that Luke would win. But I was wrong, and that 18 year old young man has a long career ahead of him. With his “chocolate/velvet/butter” voice (as my friend describes it), he’ll sell a million records, and being self-deprecating and kind, everyone will continue to love him. There’s an innocence about him that reminds me of Rachael Leahcar from Season 1.

While I’m on the subject of Australia (which all Americans are probably confused over, since I haven’t provided links to the singers), I missed the first State of Origin game. And since I know who won, I haven’t watched it yet. But now that I know where I can watch it online, I’ll be watching next time around. Go Maroon! Yes, I know that New South Wales hasn’t won in forever, but my adopted state of Queensland will always have my heart. Sorry.

My mention of Vegemite reminds me of a promise I made to friends, that I would send them a box of American goodies, after they sent me some Aussie tidbits. I haven’t forgotten! Being busy or paying bills at the wrong time have kept me forgetting. But I promise you, I’ll mail those boxes, eventually! I plan to have s’mores ingredients, so you can know what a real American s’more tastes like. Also, I have America’s favorite Easter candy hidden away in the freezer, which I hope will survive the trip. Sure, they’ll be a bit melted, but if you throw them in the freezer when they arrive, they’ll still be awesome!

And now, I look on FB and realize that some of my Aussie friends have had babies since I left there. One of them was expecting her FIRST child when I arrived in Australia. How about that for time passing? Craziness! The bubs just keep growing, you know!

Anyway, this post is definitely for the Aussies. I love you all, and keep things around that remind me of you. You’ll never be out of my heart.

tea time…

Ever since I was introduced to flavored coffee, at the age of eighteen, I’ve been a coffee drinker. At that time, I found both regular coffee and tea to be dull. But remembering how much I enjoyed the different FLAVORS of coffee, I would try out different flavors of tea, like Bigelow’s Raspberry or Constant Comment. Eventually, I discovered that I loved the different flavors of tea, especially the spicy teas and chai. DSC_0240

Then, I went to Australia, and found that what I termed “regular tea” could be pretty good, too. Don’t ask me what lapsong souchong and such are, but I started to learn my way around. You’ve heard some of this before, but the Aussies (like the British) are tea drinkers. I couldn’t help but learn about tea! Sure, they drink coffee (mostly instant), but that’s only a side note to all the tea that they drink at tea time (and every other time). I learned quickly to refer to that time as “smoko”, but I can’t say for certain whether that was what all Aussies called it, or just Queenslanders.

Since moving home again, I have created a tea & coffee drawer for myself, in our family’s kitchen. As the person who drinks the most variety of coffees and teas, it was necessary to have a spot for them all. The flavors of coffee come and go, but the tea types always stay the same. Not just because they last longer, but because once I’ve settled on a flavor of tea that I enjoy, I stick with it. I thought I’d take the time to share with you about it. DSC_0241

Returning to the U.S., I found out swiftly that my newest favorite tea, Russian Caravan, is not generally sold in the United States. Twinings has all sorts of flavors in the U.S., and I keep Earl Grey and Lady Grey in the drawer at all times (flavors I came to enjoy, in Australia)… but not Russian Caravan. Eventually, I ordered some from the UK, two good-sized bags of the tea leaves. Having tea leaves on hand, I had to make sure I had a way to brew it properly, too.DSC_0242

Some time ago, I bought my little blue tea pot from a specialty store in Pennsylvania. It holds about two mugs worth of tea. However, since we don’t have a tea kettle, at present, I cheat a little when I’m making it. After heating several cups of water to the boiling point, in the microwave, I pour it into the tea pot with the leaves, and leave it to steep. Some of you tea drinkers will be shocked, but I work with what I have.

At first, I would pour my tea (full of tea leaves) through a small basket sieve into my tea cup, but then I made a visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation, last May. Instead of spending money on the actual tea, knowing how much of it I already had in my drawer, I bought several accoutrements to go with the tea. DSC_0243

One is the scissors-like tea ball that you insert into the bag of leaves, scoop out however much you want, and then leave the entire thing in your cup to steep. But I always end up with more leaves in my tea cup, because it’s hard to close the “tea ball” part of it, without getting tea leaves trapped in the cracks. DSC_0245

So, I brought out my other purchase, the fancily decorated tea strainer, complete with butterflies and flowers on the handle. You pour your tea (and leaves) through the slotted ladle, into your mug, and then put the strainer into its pewter “cradle” that it came with. This one really reminded me of how we made and poured tea in Emerald, though their tea strainer wasn’t as fancy.DSC_0246

My tea drawer also includes some green tea that my brother likes to drink, so he experiments with all my tea-making gear, as well. A few days ago, we also added to the collection of tea, when a Greek friend sent us a bag of what he called “mountain tea”. I haven’t actually tried it yet, because it smells a bit like rosemary, but I’ve been meaning to.DSC_0248

Per the pictures, you’ll notice that my favorite chai tea is of the Tazo brand. I don’t know why, but the best chais always include black pepper and cardamom. If you get any general brand of cinnamon or spicy tea, it won’t have a big enough variety of spices included. I don’t understand how black pepper contributes to the flavor of a tea, seeing as I don’t particularly like pepper in my food… but it works. DSC_0250

For years, another favorite was a flavor that I bought at Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million, called Hot Cinnamon Sunset, which tasted like you were drinking liquid fireball candy. I never liked fireballs, because they were too spicy for me, but when it’s turned into a tea, that changes the game completely.

When I’ve tried the mountain tea, I’ll have to let my tea-drinking readers know what it’s like. Our friend has warned us that it’s very strong. DSC_0251

look at the evidence…

When I first read the most recent flier for my Seabrook Conference, I remember thinking that the topic for the meetings looked very interesting, and also, that I’d never heard Rob S. speak before. By the time the conference started, though, I had forgotten what the topic was, but just had a feeling that the weekend of meetings would be awesome. Of course, they always are.

While I was thrilled by the first session, on absolute truth, and how the modern world tends to think it doesn’t exist (it does!), I just about fell out of my chair with excitement, when he explained what the rest of the meetings would be about. Why?

Because we were going to be studying how SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE firmly upholds the reliability of the Bible. Think you heard me wrong? You didn’t. We were going to go through six sessions on all the “ologies” of science (well, as many as we had time for), and how they support the Scripture.

As I enjoy reading books like Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution; The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus; and The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God, this was right up my alley. I might not have been good at science class when I was in school, but I like to learn about science from the books that I read.

I especially like books that challenge consensus, because “consensus”, as it’s known today, seems to be an excuse for accepting what others tell you, without looking into it further. Whether it’s challenging the “consensus” of global warming or evolution, or just something that’s politically correct, I want to learn more about it. For another example, on history, modern consensus, or political correctness, is starting to tell us that Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator and a saint, while Thomas Jefferson was the lowest of the low, because he was a slave owner. But do you believe everything you read? Have you read the books that are referenced in the bibliographies, or even checked to see if they HAVE references?

Back to scientific evidence and the Bible… many agnostics and atheists believe that the Bible and science are antithetical to each other, and that a true scientist can’t believe in the “fairytales” that exist in the Bible. But what if, the more you study the world around you, the more it confirms that the Bible is true? What if the Scriptures KNEW many things about the sciences, long before any scientists had hypothesized on these subjects, much less proved the truth of the matter?

I am not a note-taker, in general, and I rarely go back and look at them again, but for once in my life, I took a million notes. And for once, I was at a conference without my notebook (even though I rarely use it) and had to use the notebook paper provided in my camp folder. I used all the pages provided, and more, because I couldn’t take notes fast enough to keep up with our speaker. And when I got home from the weekend, I started to tell my dad about what we’d learned.

You should’ve seen me. After a few minutes, I went and grabbed my notes, then seated myself on the back of the couch. From my perch there, I kept saying, “Did you know this? You did? What about this? You didn’t? Oh, let me tell you about this…”, and so on. I went through all my notes, excited as could be. Some of the things I heard that weekend, I had already known. But MANY things I hadn’t. And because we’re talking about evidence, these things can be looked up, and weighed in the balance. By you, and by me.

John 3:12 (KJV) says, “If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”. Basically, if you don’t believe the things that the Bible says about our physical universe, how will you ever believe those things that are of a spiritual nature? To sum up, for all you scientists, if you disbelieve what the Bible says about science itself, why should you even think of trusting what it says about spiritual explanations?

So, as I meander through some notes, let’s talk about a few different “ologies”. I’ll start with astronomy.

Isaiah 40:22 (KJV) says, “It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in”.

Did you see that? Isaiah was written in 720 B.C., approximately. The translation of “circle of the earth” refers to the earth being round, like a ball that a child plays with. And in 1992, it was mathematically demonstrated that we live in an expanding universe, which is constantly stretching out. So, in 720 B.C., the writer of the Bible wrote that the Lord “stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain”… a long time before it was scientifically proven!

I have several other notes on astronomy, but they’re much more cryptic, so I’m going to head on into biology. If you are interested in seeing Rob’s website, it is http://www.christianevidences.org. You will find references for all the subjects he covers, and he covers archaeological, manuscript, scientific, and prophetic evidence. The sciences listings are still being updated, so if you’re looking for an “ology” that isn’t there, it should be up in the next month or two.

When we reached the subject of biology, we talked about the verses in Genesis 1, about the Lord creating all the creatures and plants “according to their kind”. Rob went on to talk about a study that was done on the Siberian gray wolf, which carries all the genetic information to create ALL the types and breeds of dogs. From Great Danes to chihuahuas, they’re all there, and you can breed that wolf down, eventually. But you can’t take a chihuahua and breed it UP, so to speak. It doesn’t carry the genetic information for any dogs but chihuahuas. So, if you think about it, the Siberian gray wolf was probably on the Ark, but the Great Dane was not.  : )

Did you know there are bugs mentioned in the Bible? I actually did, but I’d never thought of them as being serious references to the subject of entomology. But Proverbs 6 refers to the ant, and tells us to consider the ant for “her” wisdom. In the 1740’s, it was discovered that most ants are girls, and they’re extremely hard working. The male ants are lazy and basically there for reproductive purposes.

“Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.” –Proverbs 6:6-8 (NKJV)

It was also discovered that the ants have no leader giving the orders. They use pheromones to direct other ants to come and help them, when they find some food that they can’t lift on their own.

When it came to chemistry, I thought of some of my friends in the Chemistry department, at Clemson. In Genesis 2:7 (NKJV), it says that “…God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…”. So, research was done on this, and the human body has 59 elements in its makeup. All of these elements are found in the earth’s crust (everyday dirt).

Also, in 2 Peter 3:5 (KJV) says, “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water.”, which refers to how the earth was formed. If it was formed from water, the earth’s crust will also share the same elements that are found in sea water, right? Yes, it does. Exactly the same elements.

Then, we headed into meteorology. Job 38:22 speaks of “the treasures of the snow”. Have you ever seen an image of snow flakes, from under a microscope? They’re beautiful, right? And we’re told that no two are alike. Now, have you ever seen an image of man-made snow, under a microscope? They just look like lumps, nothing of beauty about them. Man cannot recreate the beauteous treasure which are snow flakes.

Why again, are we considering this? Before the world began, Satan challenged the Lord, and lost. He wanted to be “like God”, but couldn’t. So, he turned his thoughts to disrupting the beauty of creation. And he continues, to this day. For, if he can get people to challenge the Bible on its SCIENCE, again, why would certain people be willing to consider the evidence of faith and spiritual things? I am not saying that you can’t come to the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ without knowledge of science, but many scientists throughout the ages were only MORE convinced of the truth of Scripture, BECAUSE of the science that they study. Their studies confirmed their faith!

Continuing on in meteorology, the Bible confirms the weather cycle, long before anyone could explain how it worked. Ecclesiastes 1:7 (NKJV) speaks of how “All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again”. You may think that this is so obvious, why even mention it. But remember, this book was written back before any scientist knew how the weather worked. Those that didn’t believe in the God of Israel, they believed that thunderstorms were sent by angry weather gods, not that ocean water evaporated, to go up into the sky, where it would eventually pour out on the earth again.

With the subject of paleontology, things got REALLY interesting. Okay, I find all of this to be fascinating, but this was really a subject that I didn’t know anything about. Have you ever wondered why children seem to be reaching puberty, earlier and earlier? Now, did you know that the human skull keeps growing, for the rest of your life, which is why you get sunken eyes and the hats of your youth don’t fit, when you get old? What do those two have to do with each other?

Back in the 1700’s, there was an orphanage in one of the Northern colonies that burned to the ground. Sadly, a number of children died. In recent years, there have been studies done of their remains. My notes are a little cryptic, but I think the key thing was that these children didn’t even have all their baby teeth yet, though in our day and age, they would have had most of their adult teeth by then.

Have you ever heard of cephalometric imaging? Jack Cuozzo pioneered the method of telling how old someone was when they died, just by using this method to examine their teeth. He began to use this method to examine Neanderthal remains in Europe, which many scientist think aren’t human. But what if they ARE human, they’re just from a time when men lived to be hundreds of years old? You know, like when Genesis talks about the “generations of Shem”, and how Noah’s sons lived to WAY old?

Le Moustier was a Neanderthal skeleton found in 1909, and contrary to what carbon dating suggests, cephalometric imaging suggests that this man was 18 years old when he died. And had a full set of baby teeth. Whereas, La Ferrassie was 267 when he died, and La Chapelle au Saints was 283. Consider this, the next time you think about the Neanderthal man… they’re just us, living to be REALLY old, only getting their adult teeth WAY late, and their skulls are strange and huge, because the human skull keeps growing, as long as you’re alive!

So, basically, we ARE hitting puberty, earlier and earlier… but back in the time of Noah, they were a lot older than we were, when they reached that state of life. And after they got out of teenager-hood (were they in their 30’s, by then?), they got older and older, while their skulls got bigger and bigger…

The fossil record also supports the idea of catastrophism. In the Bible, this would be the Great Flood. How about the fossils that have pterodactyls that seem to have died in agony? Or the fossilized remains of a protoceratops fighting a velociraptor… and they must have been buried instantly! For those of us that were raised on The Land Before Time, and dinosaurs being hatched from eggs, I find the fossil of an icthyosaur giving birth to be fascinating. Yep, the baby’s half in and half out, with several more still in the mother. And this isn’t even getting into the remains of T-rexes in Hell’s Creek, MT.

I’ll just mention anthropology, briefly, and how every culture on earth has a distant memory of a shared history. That shared history would include Creation, the Fall and the Garden of Eden, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. Up until the mixing of the languages at the Tower of Babel, the people of the world spoke the same language. Obviously, I’m not providing verses for this, as I’ve been writing long enough on this whole post. But if you ever hear the creation stories from ANY culture, look for the shared history. There’s a reason they have their similarities.

The rest of our sessions went into evidence of Christ’s resurrection and the CSI test given to the reliability of the history of the Bible. Rather than write another mile-long post about them, I will suggest you look up Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, which covers these in detail. I can’t do this subject justice, and if I don’t put this post up soon, I never will.

Please remember, I am not a serious scholar of all these subjects, I am only trying to share what I learned and enjoyed. Everyone, including myself, would do well to keep looking up these subjects for themselves. If I have shared something incorrectly, or there is still more to learn on that subject (and I KNOW there definitely is!), I am open to doing so.

I think I have only given you the slightest taste of what our wonderful weekend of meetings covered, but if you have any interest in the above topics, please check out Rob’s website (www.christianevidences.org). He also recommended several other books that cover some of the sciences in depth, so if you’re interested, I can look those up. I hope you’ve enjoyed what I was able to share with you, and I hope you’ll look into it more, yourself!

come on, make that pav!

The Australian pavlova… the one dessert I never got enough of, while overseas, and never had a lesson in, until the very end of my time there. As a result, when I try to make it here in the U.S., I start consulting multiple recipes and quizzing all my friends for their opinions on how to make it. Remember, Aussies have slightly different ingredients AND measurements than Americans, so nothing I do here will be exactly like we did there.DSC_1005

DSC_0005My impression, after multiple discussions with friends, is that every Aussie has their own perfect way of making one… or they admit defeat, and don’t make it at all. Maybe it always falls flat (though I don’t even know how that works, yet), or maybe they’re half American, so they were raised on a different combination of desserts. But another friend insists that there is no wrong way to make a pav. So, obviously, it takes all types to make a world. Even in Oz.DSC_0009

For my birthday, I decided it was time to make another attempt at pavlova. Not that anything was wrong with the last one, except technically, it wasn’t pavlova. They do say that it has to have cornstarch (cornflour, if you’re an Aussie) in it, to make it a pav. But as I’ve done more reading on the subject of the ins and outs of pavlovas, maybe it really was one, after all. The difference between a meringue and a pavlova is supposed to be that a pav is hard and crunchy on the outside and marshmallow-y soft on the inside, while meringue is hard throughout. So, last time, I thought I did, and then I thought I didn’t… and now I think I did make one, after all.  : )DSC_0013

DSC_0015If you are already looking for the recipe, I haven’t written it yet, so I think I’ll include it at the very end. So, if that’s all you want, scroll straight to the bottom of this page. You see, as I said, I was working from two recipes, tons of online advice, suggestions from my mom, and a little intuition thrown in. In addition, I had to translate the temperatures and measurements, too.DSC_0017

My original recipe, which my friend Imogen sent home with me, was printed off of taste.com.au, and is listed as a “Traditional Pavlova Recipe”. It doesn’t call for cornflour. For my second recipe, she e-mailed me the link to aussie.info.com. I did lots of flipping back and forth from one to the other, trying to decide what to do.DSC_0019

One problem is that Aussies use caster sugar (Americans don’t have this, except perhaps in a specialty store), which seems to be like granulated sugar that’s been blended slightly finer, but not as fine as icing sugar. In the end, we picked up a box of 4x confectioner’s sugar, which is probably too fine, but who cares? It’ll blend nicely into the egg whites, and it’s sugar. Adapt to the ingredients you have, especially if you’re too lazy to blend the sugar in the food processor.DSC_0021

When I began to dig out the ingredients, I practically had to climb into the cupboard, trying to find the cream of tartar, which was hiding in a small container,behind everything else. One recipe calls for it, and the other does not. One recipe explains that cream of tartar helps increase the volume of the egg whites, and gives the pavlova a crunchier crust. So, I thought, it’ll probably help, so I included it.DSC_0022

DSC_0023Remembering that I hadn’t messed it up the first time, so I couldn’t really ruin it this time, unless I did something completely ridiculous, I began my pavlova. I’ve never had any trouble with separating egg whites from egg yolks, so I quickly did that, and threw them in the mixing bowl. By the way, one recipe called for 6 egg whites, the other for 4-6. I think the 4-6 one was tailored more towards 4, so the measurements were a bit different. I went with six, and decided I’d swing with it. One recipe called for a pinch of salt, the other for a pinch of cream of tartar, so I used both.DSC_0025

DSC_0030My first recipe has my friend’s handwritten note that “Typically, in most Aussie pavs, you would use 1/4 cup caster sugar for every egg white – beat until no longer grainy”. So, it’s likely that their caster sugar is grainier than my powdered sugar, and you have to stir longer. And those cups mentioned are in Aussie measures, so I figured my 1 1/2 cups of sugar would work nicely with my 6 eggs. No, wait, one recipe called for 8 ounces of it… so I may have gone with that. Either works. I gradually added the sugar, vanilla, and white vinegar, though I think I saved the vanilla for the very end. It doesn’t really seem like vinegar and vanilla would go together.DSC_0048

DSC_0049Recipe #2 says to lightly fold in the cornstarch. This is where I needed a lesson on folding, from my mom, because I’ve rarely done any recipe that calls for it. The idea of gently stirring, in order to keep it from deflating, strikes me as very odd, but then, I’m using to stirring cookie dough. So, very carefully, I folded in the cornstarch, wondering what would happen if I stirred it too hard. Would it just evaporate before my eyes? That must be what my friend meant about it “falling”.DSC_0055

Also, in Australia, with no everyone having air-conditioning or insulation in their homes, I’m guessing that some of the issues may come with the fluctuation of temperatures inside the house. Even when our AC isn’t running, the house takes a while to change temp, so there isn’t usually any trouble with cooking projects reacting to heat and humidity.DSC_0056

DSC_0059Once the egg whites were ready, I put parchment paper on my cookie sheet, so that I could easily move it to a decorative plate, later. The first time, I didn’t do very well at getting the mixture in a circle, and hollowing it out to make room for the whipped cream. Of course, that time, I overwhipped the cream, so there wasn’t as much of it. But this time, I kept my circle smaller and piled it higher, in order to make a deeper hollow inside. And wished I knew, in detail (with pics), how my friends do it, and what it looks like when they’re making it.  : )  Recipe #1 also calls for making “furrows” up the sides. I’m still working on that part.DSC_0064

After much debate over the oven temperatures and timing, we put it into our convection oven. If you have a gas oven, the recipes call for starting with 400°F, and then dropping it to 250°F after ten minutes, and then baking for an hour. I see now that my first recipe calls for even lower temps. But if you have an electric oven, you start it at 250°F and bake for 1.5 hours. Final notation says that if you have a fan-forced oven (convection), then you “adjust accordingly”. Great, so we make it up as we go along. Eventually, we settled on preheating to 250°F, then dropping it to 235°, and baked it for an hour.DSC_0065

DSC_0066Though it was completely done, the outside of the pavlova wasn’t as crispy as it should’ve been, and the inside a bit soft, so I think I’ll bake it longer, next time. My brother has volunteered to eat any more than I want to make, for practice.  : )DSC_0069

When it’s baked, you turn off the oven, leave the oven partially ajar, and let the pav cool in the oven. I believe this is because if it gets cool TOO suddenly, it will fall. So, another case of possible “falling” that I have yet to experience, so I’m not quite sure what it would look like, if it did.DSC_0076

After the pav was almost cool, I brought it out of the oven to finish cooling, transferred it to a pretty plate, and cut off the excess parchment paper. It moved very easily, with the paper under it. Then, I prepared to make the whipped cream. The recipe calls for 300 mLs of thickened cream, so I used a pint of heavy whipping cream (which is ~470 mLs, I think). This time, I measured it out, but next time, I’ll just use the whole container, because you can’t have too much whipped cream. Also, I need to mix it slightly less, so it will be a little softer.DSC_0080

Recipe #2 doesn’t have any description of how to make the whipped cream, so I ran with what recipe #1 said. I beat the cream, 1 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar, and 1 tsp of vanilla together. Then, I carefully filled my pavlova, spread it evenly, and decorated it with blueberries and strawberries. We forgot to get a kiwi, or we would have added that, too. And I don’t know if you can even get passionfruit, here in the U.S. (it would probably cost a LOT), so that couldn’t be included. But I’ve seen pictures of pavs with pomegranate seeds on top, too. Raspberries would probably be marvelous, as well.DSC_0088

In the end, the pavlova looked beautiful. So, on to the taste test. When I cut the first slice, I found that the outer crust was softer than last time, and gave no resistance to the spatula. It didn’t hold together very well on the plate, either, so I had trouble getting any photos that didn’t look like a pile of white fluff. My family were all surprised at how light it is, like dining on air, and eating more than one piece didn’t feel like overeating. But despite any criticism that I make of it, with the intention of improving the next one, I think it was delicious, too.DSC_0089

I love how the sweetness of the pavlova, which really is almost the consistency of a marshmallow on the inside, contrasts with the whipped cream. You don’t have to put sugar in the whipped cream, but if you do, there’s so very little, that you just taste creamy wonderfulness in it. And the fruit gives it a punch of flavor, unlike the sweetness and cream of the rest. And getting the crunchiness into the outside of the pav is my goal for next time.DSC_0091

But again, six of us polished off the whole thing in a matter of minutes. And as we joked, if you’ve met my brother, he doesn’t eat four slices of any dessert, just to be polite. And though it was suggested that I could make lemon meringue or key lime pie next, I’m afraid I shot down that idea, because I’ve never liked either desserts, particularly. Oh, I try them now and then, but I’m not a big fan of lemon or lime in desserts, I’m not exactly sure why.DSC_0092

So, thanks for staying with me for this whole extended description of my latest baking expedition. This is what my compilation pavlova recipe would end up looking like, though you can feel free to vary it as much as you like. Remember, this is an Aussie traditional dessert, only slightly revamped for Americans.  : )DSC_0093

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Rachel’s Aussie-American Pavlova

6 egg whites

8oz confectioner’s sugar, 4x (or caster sugar)

1 pinch cream of tartar

1 pinch salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp white vinegar

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Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until it forms stiff peaks. Gradually add sugar, beat until sugar is no longer grainy. Add salt, cream of tartar, vinegar, and vanilla, one at a time. Lightly fold in cornstarch.

Pile mixture into a circular shape, on parchment paper, on a cooking sheet. Build up the sides into walls, with a lower, “hollow” center. Make furrows up the sides, if you like. Bake until crunchy on the outside.

Electric oven: Bake at 250°F, for 1.5 hours

Gas oven: Start at 400°F, bake 10 minutes, then lower to 250°, bake for 1 more hour.

Convection: Bake at 235°F for 1 hour, 15 minutes (varies).

Let pavlova cool in the oven, with the door ajar. When cool, fill with whipped cream and decorate with fruit.

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Whipped Cream

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar (optional)

1 tsp vanilla

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Beat cream, sugar, & vanilla until soft peaks form.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed going on this pavlova journey with me. My thanks to all the friends that have given me recipes and made suggestions on how to achieve the perfect pavlova. All measurements and temperatures are American, so be careful, if you live anywhere else.  : )  I hope more of my American friends will try out this recipe, and learn to love it as much as I do!DSC_0098

a vegemite kick…

I’ve been eating my Vegemite, a bit at a time… but last week, I dug it out and I’ve been devouring it. Maybe it didn’t help that when I came down with my cold, I wasn’t able to tell myself to eat quite so healthily as I usually do. Breakfast is not usually homemade toast and bagels, I try and cut back on the carbs. But butter and Vegemite have just been calling my name.DSC_0890

And when the new batch of freshly made, still warm, homemade bread appeared on the counter, I knew what I was having for dinner. Occasionally, I put on too much Vegemite, and I get quite a kick to my meal. But the more often I eat it, the stronger I can handle it. And it’s so yummy.. No one else in this house ever had a reason to develop a taste for it, though, so I don’t have to share. Ha HA. You could say my time in Australia was well-spent.DSC_0891

This morning, my brother walked by and saw what I was eating, and asked if it was cinnamon on my bread. I should have made him try it, just to see his reaction to the unexpected. Oh, don’t worry, I have had them try it before, but not recently. But soon, I’ll go back to a bit less bread, and a bit less Vegemite. But Australia, it makes me think of you.

Now, how about some Russian Caravan tea to go with it? So long, I have tea to brew.

country by country, what draws you in?

On Friday, I gave a geography lesson. I haven’t done any review of the geography of Africa in quite some time, but when asked, I think I did pretty well. A co-worker was asking me if Libya was in the Middle East. Rather than laugh, I remembered that I was always better at geography than most of my classmates. There’s a certain grad student who’s from Libya, and comes by the cafe regularly, so this is why my fellow employee was curious.

Before I got my Kindle out to double-check, I was able to tell him that Libya was in northern Africa, either the country next to Egypt, or one more over. I couldn’t quite remember. I was pleased to find I was just about right, Libya being on the western side Egypt (while it’s Algeria and Tunisia that are to the west of Libya) . I was also asked about the location of Lebanon, but I knew exactly where that was, right next to Israel. Apparently, another student had been talking to him, and he found out they were from Lebanon, but wasn’t sure where that was.

From there, he wanted to know a little more about Libya, and I didn’t know much. And then I remembered that Benghazi is there. He was aware of what happened in Benghazi, to our ambassador, so this gave him some information he could really connect with. Again, I find it interesting that several of my co-workers will come to me for news and information, whether it’s local or international. They seem to be aware that I keep up with current events, and I do my best to fill them in on anything they want to know.

The day after the Boston Marathon bombing, as soon as I got to work, I used my Kindle to get back online, and continued to check updates. I was not expecting to be immediately surrounded by my co-workers, wanting to know what was the latest news. Sure, one news channel was on the tv, but it seemed to be looping the same stuff, and was no help. But without even realizing that I was reading the news, as they spoke to me, they knew I would be able to tell them all I could. At the time, the first bits of information were coming in about the Tsarnaev brothers and the Boston manhunt.

I was actually thinking about this, while looking at my blog stats page. In one day, it is so fascinating to find that I received views from not only the U.S., Canada, and Australia, but also Slovenia, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Singapore, Algeria, the U.K, and South Africa. What is it that draws people, from country after country? Of course, it could be only one person, per country, who looked up a picture, and never read the post. But doesn’t it make you curious who they are, what they’re interested in, and why they come to you for stories and information?

Of course, when you’re checking your stats page, you can get an idea of what blog posts people are looking at, and you become even more curious over who’s reading the Australia posts and who’s checking out the ones you wrote in the last month. Is it the kitten pictures? The travel photos and explanations? Or maybe you just write things a little more clearly, and interestingly, for someone who has never been to the U.S. or Australia.

I managed to connect these slight threads of thought, because as I wonder why my co-workers look to me for information, or what it is about me that draws them in, the same relates to my writing. You want to think you’re just utterly fascinating, but that’s being a little too… well, less than humble. You want to think that you can tell them things that no one else will. Or that you have a perspective that no one else ever looks at.

To think about it from the other side, what draws you to other people or other bloggers? What makes you want to talk to them or ask them questions? What do they know or how do they speak, that draws you to them? Is it their personality or just their fascinating array of knowledge? I don’t have answer, as I’m just rambling over a few ideas here. But I thought I would go ahead and share, anyway.

Even if you pretend no one’s listening, people still see you and hear you. Are you saying anything worthwhile? What will you be remembered for?

life is a logic puzzle…

If asked, my close friends would probably describe me as “oblivious”. In a way, they’re right. If I am out and about, I don’t really like meeting strangers or making introductions, so I tend to avoid eye contact and pay more attention to the objects around me. Don’t get me wrong, if someone friendly starts talking to ME, while I’m in line to get coffee, I will respond. But I’m not usually the initiator. Unless that person has children. Little kids are a totally different ballgame than grownups.

Sorry, I’m getting off track. Whereas some people like to watch people, I don’t watch people… because then they’ll think I’m watching them, and I’ll be embarrassed. So, I don’t notice when guys walk by, talking louder and acting macho, for my benefit (but my friend does). I don’t notice the woman that is trying to get my attention, unless she says something. I don’t realize that the elderly lady in the grocery aisle is upset or joyful… but if she asks me to reach something for her, I’ll be happy to do so.

I’ve decided that my obliviousness is partly natural (because I’m naturally shy around people I don’t know well) and partly ingrained habit. But the whole ballgame changes, if I’m paying attention. And when I’m paying attention, I notice all sorts of details, and have no trouble remembering them. How did I know how old you are? You told me, six months ago. How did you know my name? I read it on your student ID, every day, and paid enough attention to remember it. How did you know that? I was paying attention.

My job as a cashier has allowed me to create a comfort zone of sorts, where I know what is expected of me, and it doesn’t require enough brain power to distract me from thinking. I do a lot of thinking and observing, while I work. And like I said, when I’m paying attention, I remember what I see and what I hear. Of course, writing a blog helps, because you learn to observe and remember the details, because somehow, you’ll always find a story to tell. I don’t mean to tell tales on people, but sometimes there’s a story inside of what you see, told by a large group of people, not just one person.

When you see a person regularly, you can’t help but observe what they’re like. Ten months ago, I may not have noticed a thing about them. Now, I can recognize them at a glance, even at a distance, and from the front or back. And when you talk to fifty “regulars”, every day, but only have a minute (or less) to speak with them, you catalog away in your head what you said to them today, yesterday, and last week.

Part of the problem is, as a girl, everything relates to everything. So, already, this little thing reminds me of that little thing, which leads to this big thing, and did you know about such-and-such? I make connections, in my mind, on all sorts of subjects… and when you’re talking to people a lot, you look for the connections, so you can think of something to say for 30 seconds, on the following day. Because, again, I hate small talk, and the less I know a person, the worse I am at it. But the more I know a person, the more I can think of to say to them (and the less “smallness” there is about it). And then, I might just startle them by continuing a conversation I began three weeks ago, which they’ve long forgotten.

I hope I’m not already confusing you with my rambling, slightly disjointed post. Remember, everything relates to everything.  : )

Where do logic puzzles come into this? I love logic puzzles, though I never reach the most difficult levels, because I do so much better with the information provided. Meaning, I don’t do so well when I have to lapse into supposition. Did that make sense? The easier levels of logic puzzles require you to guess at why Johnny was 2nd in line, but Lizzy was not last in line. Using the information provided, you cross off the wrong names, and eventually discover the right one. All based on fact and information that you KNOW.

The higher levels of logic puzzles ask you to find the answers, based on the guess that maybe Freddy was second to last…. or maybe Bobby was second to last. How does either option affect the rest? If you’re like me, it screws up all your other answers, making you forget what was reality, and what wasn’t. You can only solve them by guessing at one answer, in order to get the rest to fall in line (like in a Sudoku puzzle, but with words, instead of numbers). I like to deal with what I know. And yes, I can guess… but I’d rather not.

So, with plenty of brain space left for thinking and observing, even while conversing with students and counting out their change, I store away every bit of information that comes my way, especially from the people that I know the best. Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t try and remember things to be nosy or to make mischief. I do it because it helps me understand and know people better… and possibly, I might make a friend, eventually. Another co-worker doesn’t always remember what a regular customer said to her, two minutes after they said it. I want to know, how could she forget?

This information may never do me any good, but I’ll still have remembered it, and practiced my observation skills. Maybe I’ll be able to use it to write a fictional character, someday. Who knows? And sometimes, I can solve a mental puzzle that no one else cares about, but which satisfies me. And boy, do I need some mental exercise, when I’m at work.

For example, a professor said to me, “As they say in Germany…”, which led a co-worker to believe that he was German. Nope, he isn’t, I insisted. Why? Well, firstly, I’m pretty sure whatever he said in German was bad German, which means he isn’t fluent. No, I don’t speak German, but my dad does and my dad’s side of the family is Pennsylvania Dutch (you know, Pennsylvania Deutsch). So, I might not speak it, but I know what the accent sounds like, know what the names look like, know quite a few of the word spellings (word person, remember?), and recognize it when spoken. This professor has a name that is NOT German, used an atrocious German accent, and I don’t trust anything he says, anyway, so it probably wasn’t even a German saying.

Some things can be figured out by the process of elimination. If you know where a last name is NOT from, you can narrow down where it MIGHT be from. The prof isn’t the first person I’ve done that with. And again, if you think about it, when you definitely know something is NOT something… it’s still something you know. Therefore, I’m still working from what I know (please tell me someone understood that convoluted statement).

Another example… two grad students disappear from the cafe for a week. It’s two weeks until spring break, so they can’t be on vacation. If one were sick, the other would still come in, and it isn’t likely that they’re both sick enough to stay home. They aren’t related, so if something terrible had called one home to their family, the other would still come in to school. Therefore, since they work together, they must be away on a business trip. Who cares, you say? I do. It was satisfying to come to a conclusion, and even more satisfying to find I was right, when they got back.

Today, a certain teacher came in and informed us that there had been a party for their department… and after the party, his car had been towed. Of course, he had to tell me about it in detail, but when he finally left, I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m sorry, maybe you’ll think that’s mean, but he’s the only person that would make me think that was funny. He gives us such grief, at times, I thought this was downright hilarious. The best part is, he knew why he’d lost his coffee card… because he had to write down the information of the towing company on it. That had me in a really good mood for the rest of the day, as you can imagine. But remember… there was a party.

Running with that piece of information, several grad students came in for lunch. They never come in at lunchtime, why today? I asked two of them, and both told me it was because of the party. Oh, I knew about that party. But what does that have to do with coming in at lunchtime? I finally went back to those grad students and tried again. Turns out, because they were out late at the party, they were up past their bedtime, and they hadn’t made lunches to bring with them today. So they walked across the street, at an unusual time, to have lunch. Now, the dots are connected in my mind, because that’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. And I’ve heard more about the party, by then.

Next grad student arrives, and I ask him where the party was at, because if asking about a party isn’t a splendid conversational gambit, I don’t know what is. He answered me, and followed it up with the response I mentioned earlier, “How did you know about that?”. Well, people talk to me, I respond in kind, and I listen, observe, and learn.

Who’s oblivious, now?

international festivities at clemson…

A year ago, if I had walked onto Bowman Field during the International Festival, I wouldn’t have known a single person there. Of course, a year ago, no one would have told me about it, and even if they had, I’d have been too chicken to go amongst all the college students, by myself. And probably, some smart aleck is going to tell me that this discussion is moot, because one year ago, I was still in Australia. Let’s not be picky, whoever you are. But since you mentioned it, there wasn’t an Aussie table at this festival, so I didn’t get any pavlova. Le sigh.DSC_0147

DSC_0148But this year has been different. I know quite a number of Clemson grad students who are from a range of countries, and one of them was nice enough to tell me about this festival, and suggest that I come. After that, several other students told me about it, and I figured it was a good weekend to attend two festivals, one in Pendleton (Spring Jubilee), and one in Clemson. And it was a gorgeous weekend for both!DSC_0149

When I first arrived, I did quite a bit of wandering, checking to see what countries were represented, but not really sure what I should try. Eventually, my problem was solved when I started running into people that I knew. After asking for a recommendation, my first friend suggested that I try something that he made, called dhal vadai. Yes, I made sure I took pictures of the descriptions, as well as the foods, because you can be sure that I would never remember their names, later.DSC_0111

DSC_0110After Duminda promised me it wasn’t spicy (I still looked at him askance, because my siblings and I don’t agree on what counts as “spicy”), I tried one. And I’ve been looking up all these foods on Wikipedia (just so you know), to make sure I don’t say anything COMPLETELY ridiculous about them. This one was savory and shaped like a fritter, and really good. If the paper hadn’t listed lentils as an ingredient, I would have guessed it had corn in it. And he didn’t lead me on, it wasn’t overly spicy, so I survived (don’t laugh, ask me some other time about how Indonesian spices and I got along, many years ago).DSC_0113

DSC_0114I did stop to look at the Libya booth, but didn’t see my acquaintance from there, so I kept wandering. And found several people I knew at the Nepalese booth. Naresh promptly asked me if I wanted to try something with peppers in it, and I demurred, so he suggested that I try a samosa dumpling, and then for dessert, lal mohan.DSC_0118

DSC_0115While I was eating the dumpling, I talked to another friend and tried to make small talk with her toddler, but he just frowned at me. Too bad we didn’t have more time, toddlers and I usually get along really well. I think it was past his naptime. I wish I had taken a picture, though, he was too cute.

I told Sabina that the samosa tasted a bit like chick peas, but I hadn’t recollected that the sign didn’t have chick peas (garbanzo beans) listed on it. It had a flavor like the white chili my family makes, which has cumin in it. I should’ve asked if they put any in it. But maybe the cilantro combined with the peanuts tricked me into thinking there were chick peas in it, because it did have a bit of crunch to it, and a great flavor.DSC_0116

DSC_0117The lal mohan looked a bit like a doughnut hole, and IS made of a deep fried dough (different type of dough, or so I’ve read), and soaked in a sugary syrup. It might have had cardamom in the syrup, as I think it had some spice to it. I love cardamom in my tea and fruitcake, so this is a good spice for me.  : )  It was VERY sweet, but a nice contrast after the dumpling.DSC_0119

DSC_0120There was a mile-long line for the kabobs at the Turkish tent, and though I would eventually come back to the dessert, for the time being, I kept going. I found someone else I knew at the next table, where they offered me a beef burek. This was a meat-filled pastry, and tasted wonderful. I should’ve gone back for another. But when I remembered to take a picture of the label, one of the guys commented on how I should have pictures of people, and not just the food. I asked if he wanted me to take one of them, and he backpedaled.DSC_0121

But as I walked away, I took one anyway. I’m just not very good at making people pose for pictures, especially if I don’t know them very well. I think he saw me do it, though his buddies didn’t notice. I think it came out well, because this booth didn’t have a tent over it. The rest of the tents didn’t let in a lot of light, so you couldn’t really see anyone at work over the food or their pots and grills. Wonderful sunshine-y day, great for photos… have I mentioned that yet?DSC_0122

Oh, I couldn’t figure out which country this booth was for, because they didn’t have a sign. Somebody suggested it might be Bosnia, but I wasn’t sure. But you know what? Photos are wonderful things. While going through them, I discovered that their table had a flag on the front of it (two pictures above this). Just have to match the flag, and that would make this the table representing Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This was a day for figuring out where several other acquaintances of mine were from, for the first time. Some of them were surprised to find I didn’t know they were from Sri Lanka or Nepal. But even if I know most of their names, I still don’t immediately ask for their country of origin. That would be nosy and/or unnecessary. They might as well ask me the same question, and then I can tell them my cousin’s rigmarole about a German pirate and an Irish chick. Or was it an Irish pirate and a German chick? I’ll have to ask him.DSC_0124

DSC_0123Back to the Turkish tent, I was confronted by four or five dessert choices, and had no idea what to choose. I didn’t think I needed excessive amounts of dessert, so I just picked one. So, I received a small plate of semolina pudding. Now, while it resembled apple sauce (though it was too thick for that), and the coloring of it looked like it could be just solid brown sugar, it wasn’t like either of those.DSC_0125

DSC_0126Semolina is a wheat byproduct, from milling durum wheat, which has a texture similar to American grits. I can attest to that, because I had expected something softer, but semolina gives you more to chew on (as does grits). In a good way, before any of you remember my opinion on grits.  : )  This was very sweet and rich… and I was stuffed, when I had finished it. As much as I would have loved to try some more food, I didn’t have any room left, so I didn’t end up using all my tickets.DSC_0127

DSC_0128At this point, some of the dancing began. Some of my acquaintances among the grad students are from Nepal, so they were all front and center to watch their friends do a Nepalese dance. I missed the introduction to this one, so I can’t be more specific than that. It just looked like a lot of fun, and both the dancers and the viewers were really enjoying themselves.DSC_0129

DSC_0130DSC_0131By the way, I really did try to cut back on the dancing photos, but I liked so many of them! They were having such fun, and despite that pole being in my way, I think a lot of them turned out well. Such a sunny day meant I could take dancing photos with no blur! Hooray!DSC_0132

DSC_0133DSC_0134When the first dances were done, I went a-wandering for a while, and checked out the flags that were planted all along the side of Bowman Field. I did go even further than that, going into the Carillon Garden, but those pictures can wait for another time.DSC_0141

DSC_0142DSC_0144While waiting for the next group of drummers and dancers, I spotted a little girl happily banging away on a drum that was as big as she was. She was just precious, and really enjoying herself.DSC_0167

DSC_0169When the African Dance and Drum Troupe (I can’t remember the correct name of the group, sorry!) began to play, a little blonde boy (look for him in the green shirt, overalls, and bucket hat) kept running up to examine the drums… and then he would get intimidated by all the close-range drumming, and run back to his parents. But later, when audience participation was requested, and everyone began to clap, he joined in, and did a great job of it.DSC_0170

DSC_0172DSC_0173The drumming went on for quite a time before the dancers joined in, and then they really got things moving. I saw any number of people in the audience, from all different countries, that couldn’t stand still, because of the music. These all seemed to be countries where lively cultural dances seem to be the norm. I wouldn’t call American dancing particularly cultural, you know. And I’m mostly Pennsylvania Dutch, so I don’t think we have much of a rhythm gene.  : )DSC_0178

DSC_0175DSC_0176But before long, one of the audience members couldn’t bear to sit out the dancing, any longer, and joined in with gusto! I’m not sure exactly where he’s from, nor do I know who he is… but I know who he was sitting with and talking to, so I’m going to find out. This gentleman brought the house down, and it was a joy to watch.DSC_0180

DSC_0181And boy, did those drummers enjoy having another dancer up there. The girls were out in the audience, trying to search out volunteers. They even tried to drag one of the grad students up there, but he wasn’t having any of it.  : )   They found some others, before long, though. Until then, they joined in with the gentleman dancer, and had a high old time of it.DSC_0182

DSC_0183After the dancing was over for a while, some more people went up to try out the drums, some of whom I know. It was a beautiful day and everyone was having a great time. There were a few other small dances, with music from other countries, but I didn’t take any more pictures of them.DSC_0185

DSC_0186DSC_0187For a multicultural festival, this was a fun one, even if I didn’t have a group of friends to wander around with, this time. The last one I attended was in Australia, so I’ll try not to think about it, or I’ll get homesick. But there is something to be said for having some acquaintances on campus, to make you feel like you belong (somewhat). I suppose it’s another step towards getting to know the Clemson campus better than I ever did when I was growing up around here.DSC_0189

DSC_0191I keep finding the new (to me) and interesting side of things at Clemson, and sometimes, others help me to see it. So, I’m glad someone told me about it, and that I got to attend Clemson’s International Festival!DSC_0194

DSC_0195P.S. If any international blog readers or Clemson students notice anything incorrect that I’ve said about the dancing, the people, or the food, please feel free to correct me! I don’t want to leave any really obvious inaccuracies on here, you know.  : )DSC_0211