Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mince Pies

Today, two American girls got together to make an English holiday staple - mince pies. Rachel's husband, Jonathan, is British and really loves them, so we wanted to have these on hand for our Christmas dinner in a few weeks.

Our pies turned out pretty good despite the fact that we had to make everything from scratch, from the fruity mincemeat filling to the pastry. We even had to borrow a proper food scale from my neighbor to be able to measure out the ingredients for the recipe since we Americans don't tend to measure food weight in grams. (And...c'mon people, you just don't find many recipes for mince pies with American measurements!)

We rolled and pressed and filled and topped.

We egg-washed (it's a technical term).

Then we baked. It was a little tricky getting them out of the muffin tins when they were done, but most of them came out successfully.

Rachel took one home for Jonathan to sample, and they have been approved for consumption.

Not too bad for two American girls.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Recipe Fail

You'll never know unless you try.

That is my cooking motto here. Even though I can find many of the ingredients that I need for the food I want to cook, I make a lot of things from scratch and I end up making substitutions often. The internet is a great help for substitutions. And I've found a lot of good ones.

But even though substitutions are out there, they don't always work for your specific recipe. And then your dish fails. (Oh, this perfectionist hates failing...especially in the kitchen!)

It happened to me this week.

Yesterday was Paul's birthday. One of his favorite desserts is New York style cheesecake, and in America, I successfully baked it for him many times. So, I decided to give it a go here in Tanzania.

The only problem is that you really can't buy cream cheese in Dodoma, and if you buy it in Dar es Salaam it is very expensive and doesn't taste good enough for the price. A friend of mine has had some success making cheesecake from plain yogurt that has been strained overnight, so I decided to try her method and substitute that for the cream cheese.

I had high hopes for my bowl full of strained yogurt as I whipped up the cheesecake batter and poured it into my springform pan. The taste was a bit off, but it looked a lot like what I had mixed up before in the States.

As it baked, I was further encouraged. I puffed up like it was supposed to. It started browning like it was supposed to. The top jiggled a bit like it was supposed to. So, when I thought it was done, I pulled the cheesecake out of the oven and let it cool. My hopes continued to be high. It looked pretty good.

But that evening, as I went to cover the cooled cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight, I realized that liquid was weeping from the bottom of the pan. That's certainly never happened to my cheesecakes before. I started to get a little concerned, but put it in the refrigerator and hoped for the best.

Josiah hoped for the best too. This was his message to Daddy yesterday morning: (Translation: Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you very much. I hope you have a great day. I hope your cheesecake tastes great.)
Unfortunately, my hope started to decline, when I took the cheesecake out of the pan to serve it. There was quite a bit of liquid sitting on top of the cake, and it wiggled WAY more that it should have.

But we stuck candles on it and sang to the birthday boy anyway.

The moment I cut into it, I thought something wasn't right. The moment I tasted it, I knew something wasn't right. It was wobbly. It was wet. It was NOT cheesecake. In fact, it was more like sweet cheese than cake. My cheesecake attempt in Tanzania had failed.

I have some ideas about why it failed. It's probably not a good idea to substitute your main ingredient (all 5-1/2 cups of it). The strained yogurt just has too much liquid remaining in it to make a firm, thick New York style cheesecake.

But hey, I tried. The birthday boy appreciated the effort even though neither he nor I will likely eat another piece of the...creation.

And like I said before. You'll never know unless you try.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What the First Rain Brings...

We had our first big rain of the rainy season here in Dodoma on Friday, which means that we also received a big invasion of flying termites.

After the first rain, a huge swarm of these innocent, yet annoying, insects emerge from the earth and swarm the air in a reproductive flurry. Then they drop their wings EVERYWHERE - all over our front porch (the picture below just doesn't do the mess justice), the ground, our car. And when you have to go outside, they stick to the bottom of your shoes, and then they come inside. While I'm happy for the rain that we so desperately need, the termites kind of gross me out.

Obviously, our insect-loving children aren't so bug-squeamish. They spent literally hours on Saturday morning, picking up termites, playing with them, and collecting them in a bucket.

Some Tanzanian kids like to collect termites after the first rain too. They gather up a bunch of the them, pick off any wings that haven't already fallen, and fry them up for a snack. (I'm told they taste like - you guessed it - chicken!)

We didn't enjoy a termite feast in our house, but they did provide a full morning of "fun" for our kids. Yes, they must be MKs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Making 'Cents' of American Money

Now that furlough is months away instead of years away, I decided it was probably time to start (re)introducing the kids to American money. Josiah and Anna are both beginning to figure out counting with Tanzanian shillings, but pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters and dollars are quite foreign to them.

So, after finding this great money game idea at No Time for Flashcards, we decided to set up our own dining room table shop during their recent school holidays.

First we picked out some plastic food and made our price list.

Then, we reviewed the different coins, and how much they were worth. This took a little practice, but they seemed to catch on fairly quickly, especially Josiah. However, he was baffled why the oh-so-small dime could be worth more than the clunky nickel. (I don't know, son. I don't know.)

Finally, it was time to shop.

They each took turns picking an item, and then finding the correct coins to pay their bill.

It was a wonderful way to fill up a morning and teach them something at the same time. Josiah thinks he's ready to pull out the paper money next time and give that a try.

We'll see.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Five Years of Anna

(So, technically, the girl has already been five for a whole month now, but this slacker mommy is just now getting around to blogging about it. Better late than never...right?)

She started off so small and tiny 5 years ago, with gorgeous eyes and thick, dark hair that everyone commented about.

The next year went by in a blink (if you don't count the middle of the night feedings and fussy afternoons...those went on FOREVER!). Before we knew it, we had a spunky, I'd-rather-be-running-than-walking, one year old in pigtails blowing out a candle on her first birthday cake.

By the time the next year rolled around, she had mastered exciting skills like talking and sleeping in a big-girl bed. She never met a stranger, and continued charming the world with her sweet grin.

Year three was all about new adventures for our confident, blue-eyed cutie. This year, Anna celebrated her birthday in Africa with a cake baked over charcoal at our Swahili language school. It's a good thing that cake is a cake is a cake to a 3 year old!

Last year, Anna turned four princess-style at our home in Dodoma. Ever the outgoing, friendly one, she enjoyed it surround by friends from all over the world. (One of the great blessings of missionary life!)

And that brings us up to five - five wonderful years with our precious Anna. She lights up our home with her joy and her passion. She's affectionate and sweet and knows her own mind. She loves running errands with Daddy, cuddling with Mommy and doing her best to convince her brother to play babies with her.

As my friend told me today, "You've got a lot to be proud of there in that back seat."

I'd have to agree. Yes, we are definitely proud. May God continue to give you many more incredible years, my darling daughter. We love you!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mario Party

On Friday, Josiah turned 7, and we celebrated with a Super Mario Brothers birthday party.

The Birthday Boy
The Cake
Happy Birthday, sweet Josiah! We love you so much!

"Summer" Holiday Recap

Last Monday, Josiah and Anna started back to school after 5 weeks of "summer" holiday. However, since it's technically cool season in Tanzania at the moment, I should probably call it "winter" holiday.

Josiah started Standard 2, and Anna entered the Reception class. So far, the kids are really enjoying their classes, and we're all happy to be back in some sort of routine. (Yes, we are one of those families who thrive on routine.)

Having a few weeks of unstructured life was nice, though. Here's a brief recap of our "summer" activities.

Everyone's favorite activity was traveling to Kenya for our organization's annual conference. Each year, members of our branch gather together from our locations around Tanzania and Uganda for spiritual refreshment, fellowship, relaxation, and business meetings.

The conference theme this year was "Following Faithfully." The conference speaker, a former missionary in Tanzania, spoke to us out of the book of Mark, and both Paul and I appreciated the opportunity to sit under great teaching again.

Paul was asked to coordinate and lead the conference worship this year too, which was a lot of fun.

The kids loved getting to reconnect with friends, and spent LOTS of time swimming, even though it was cooler and rainier this year than last.

Anna had a blast playing in the sand nearly every day with her friend, Abigail.

The kids' program was also a huge highlight for our kids. Anna cried the day after conference ended because she couldn't go to her VBS class. Apparently, she had a good time.

Once we returned home to Tanzania, the last few weeks of the break weren't quite as exciting. But we had several fun play dates, did lots of coloring, and Josiah learned to ride his bike without training wheels. OK, that was pretty exciting!

It was a great "summer"!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Water Problem

Last week (the day we had a group of ladies from the States arriving to visit us...of course), we noticed that the water pressure in our house was quite low. We also remembered that we hadn't heard our water pump run for several days either.

Our water pump brings water indoors from the town water supply or from our large underground tank when the water from town is off (which it was that day). So, we called the maintenance men from MAF and asked them to come take a look.

Unfortunately, this is what they found in our underground tank:
The roots from a tree on our compound had grown into the tank, clogging our pipes and causing our water pump to malfunction. Unfortunately, it was late in the day when the maintenance guys came to check out the problem, so there was nothing they could do until the next day.

We had hardly any water in our indoor tank at that point, which meant that we wouldn't be able to flush our toilets, have much water flowing from our sinks, and showers were definitely out of the question.

Thankfully, our visitors were very understanding of our water problem and got to experience the joys of flushing toilets with buckets of water collected from our neighbor's house. Oh, and the power was off when they arrived too. :)

I'm happy to report that the men did come back the next day to remove that huge pile of roots from the tank, and the water was flowing again by lunchtime the next day.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Growing an International Vocabulary

One of the benefits of living and working among a community of international expatriates is the effect it has on your vocabulary.

Before I came to Africa, I had a mostly American English vocabulary. Yes, I understood that people in other English-speaking countries used different words than I did to describe certain things, but my working knowledge of those words and phrases was limited.

That's not the case anymore. I've lived among English-speakers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and others for long enough now that my international English vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds. I even find myself interchanging my Americanisms for the way others might say it when I'm in an international group.

See how my vocabulary has grown:

  • You don't wear pants, they're trousers. Pants are underwear.
  • You don't have fries with your hamburger, you have chips. Potato chips are crisps.

  • That red, tangy condiment you put on a hamburger is tomato sauce, not ketchup.
  • You don't put jelly on bread, it's jam. Jelly is gelatin. (Side note: I've discovered that many of my non-American friends think that peanut butter and jell-uh, I mean, jam together is gross.)
  • You don't push your baby in a stroller, you push him in a pram.
  • You don't trim your bangs. You trim your fringe.
  • You don't put food from the market in the trunk. It goes in the boot.
  • You don't look under the hood of your sedan. You look under the bonnet of your saloon car.
  • Living here in the land of huge thorns and horrible dirt roads, we've had more flat tires - I mean - punctures than I'd care to mention.
  • You don't mail a package, you post a parcel.
  • You don't give a kid a cookie. Give that kid a biscuit.

  • You don't use an eraser to erase a mistake , you rub it out with a rubber. (Um...yes, we'll have to have a gentle conversation with our kids about this one before they enter the American school system again.)
  • You don't love your mom. You love your mum.
  • When a child get's his first bicycle, it comes with stabilizers not training wheels.
  • You don't hang out your laundry with clothes pins. You hang out the washing with pegs.
  • When you need to wipe your face during a meal, you use a serviette not a napkin.
  • You change a nappy, not a diaper.
  • The baby sleeps in a cot, not a crib.
  • If you're making Mexican food, add some coriander to your salsa, not cilantro.
  • You don't let your dog out into the back yard, he buries his bones in your back garden.
  • You don't go on vacation, you go on holiday. (I think this one might stay permanently in our family's vocabulary. It just sounds more fun and luxurious to go on holiday than vacation.)

  • If you're exercising, you put on your trainers, not your tennis shoes.
  • Garbage doesn't go in the trash can, rubbish goes in the dust bin.
  • You don't watch a movie, you watch a film.
  • If your friends invite you over for tea in an international community, you'd better make sure you understand what they mean. They might only be serving you a cup of tea and a biscuit, or they might be expecting you for dinner/supper.
  • And after tea, it's always polite to ask your host to help with the dishes - I mean - washing up.
  • You don't take a turn kicking the soccer ball, you have a go kicking the football.
  • If you're cold you put on a jumper, not a sweatshirt.
  • If you head over to the pool, don't forget your swimming costume.
  • If you're taking a hike, you need a rucksack, not a backpack.
  • Kids don't learn to go to the bathroom to pee, they go to the toilet to wee.

  • And, finally, one of my all-time favorite new vocabulary words: During that hour before the evening meal when your kids are frustrating and unmanageable, they don't whine, they whinge. I love that! I just sounds appropriate.
So, there you are, mates. Aren't you proud of how my vocabulary has grown?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Daily Obstacle Course

Lately, my daily drives to and from town to take Anna to school seem like a bit of an obstacle course.

Why? Well, because of these, mostly...

Rainy season has basically come and gone now, leaving potholes big and small in most of the paved roads. (I won't even mention what the rains have done to the dirt roads.) Because of this, even on my short 10-minute drive, I feel like I always have to be "on my game" to avoid slamming into potholes. And hitting a few is simply inevitable, especially on the road through our neighborhood (above).

I will never complain about Missouri roads again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Can I just say that I love living in a culture where manikins shaped like this are the norm, where hangers curve out to make wide hips, where curves are desired and appreciated?

Not sure I'd ever buy this hideous specimen, however.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Begging for Broccoli

A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed something amazing.

We were in a supermarket in Dar es Salaam stocking up on a few items that we can't get in Dodoma. As we strolled casually through the refrigerated section, my kids started jumping up and down and clapping their hands.

"Oh, Mom!! Please, can we get this? I miss this sooooo much. Please!!!!"

No. They weren't begging for a sweet treat like ice cream or flavored yogurt. They were begging for broccoli (of all things).

Broccoli is one of the items we can't purchase in Dodoma. (As a broccoli hater, you won't hear me complaining.) We can get lots of other fresh vegetables, though - tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cucumbers, green beans, and lettuce (sometimes). But broccoli is (dare I say it) a treat.

Well, what kind of mother would say no to kids who are begging for a healthy, nutrient-packed vegetable? This mom didn't. We bought them a package and made their day.

Back home in Dodoma, we steamed up that begged-for broccoli and melted some cheese on top (the only way I can choke the stuff down).

They loved every bite.

Who knew a kid could miss a vegetable?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A New Pet?

When you find a hedgehog in your garden, of course your kids will want to keep it as a pet.

I must admit, he is pretty cute.

But, thankfully (for his sake), he was released again to forage and burrow.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mom and Dad in Tanzania

It's been a few weeks now since my parents came to visit us in Tanzania. In some ways, it feels like they were here just a few days ago, and in other ways it feels like their visit was a simply a really good dream and I have to pinch myself to make sure it was real.

But it was real. And we had a marvelous time together.

We felt like we were able to introduce them to quite a lot of our life here during their brief visit. We traveled and did some of the "touristy" stuff, but we were also able to spend an entire week at our home in Dodoma, which was probably my favorite part. It was great for Mom and Dad to see a slice of our life: meet our friends, see our office, go to our church, and experience how we shop.

Here are some snapshots of the visit:

We spent their first day in Tanzania at the beach in Dar es Salaam. It was a nice, relaxing way to start the visit and help them begin to adjust to the time difference (8 hours head of what they were used to).

Josiah wanted Grandma to experience a bajaji (3 wheeled scooter) ride in Dar.

We also had to take my folks to T-Square, one of our favorite inexpensive restaurants in Dar, where you can get delicious Tanzanian food.

On our way out of town, we overwhelmed them a bit at Slipway, a tourist place where you can buy arts and crafts from all over the country.

Halfway home to Dodoma, they got to experience a "Tanzanian drive thru," buying pineapples and cashews through the car window.

At home in Dodoma, we took them to our church,

They visited our office and met our co-workers,

I took them shopping at our local open-air market,

And we had dinner with our house helper and her family.

But as wonderful as all of that was, I think my parents would say that two of their highlights from the trip were our visit to two Burunge villages and a wildlife safari at Mikumi National Park.

In the village areas, they were able to get a tour of some Burunge farms and homes,
And we had a lovely lunch with the family of one of our co-workers. Mom and Dad had so much fun!
During our safari, we all put our cameras to good use shooting photos of of elephants, giraffes, impalas, buffalo, and zebras roaming around in their natural habitat. We even saw hippos and lions, which are sometimes difficult to spot.

We all had a wonderful time being together again after 1-1/2 years. It's hard to think that it will be another 1-1/2 years before we see them and other family again back in the States. But we're so grateful to have these memories to hold on to until then!