Friday, March 27, 2009


Chuck and I got our backpacks recently! This means that our trip is almost here. We're really going to be getting on a plane on April 1st and heading to England. That's just crazy... But one step at a time! We're on the backpacks step right now. Let's just focus on that.

So we did a test run with the backpacks to see if we could fit everything in. We have been using a website called One Bag for all our packing needs. They have a checklist of items they recommend having and in some cases recommend certain brands that they've found to be the best. They also suggest using the bundle method to pack everything in the backpack (you can find more info at the one-bag website), so that's what we did. It worked great as far as I'm concerned! In fact, I have room to spare in my bag. I could bring a few more shirts or an extra pair of pants if I want. Chuck's was a bit tighter than mine, but he even had a bit of room to spare. So it was a good test run.

If anyone is interested, we got MEI Voyageur Backpacks. They're a tad pricier than say...your average school backpack, but a great investment for a year-long trip around the world. And I really like how the straps can all be hidden away so that it looks like a duffelbag or something similar. You can see it with the strap out in the center picture and with the straps all zipped away in the last photo. Very cool.

And as I already said, we're leaving for London on April 1st. Only five days away! It's really quite surreal. But very exciting! So we'll be updating as the days and weeks go by!


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vocal Recitals

It is that time of year that Florida Atlantic University's music program is putting on all their Junior and Senior music recitals before the summer break. So I was lucky enough to get to see my friend Gigi's Junior performance and my sister Robyn's Senior performance.

Gigi had a dual performance with Rose which was really beautiful. Gigi is so expressive - she's very enjoyable to watch as well as listen to. It was really great! I'm so glad I got to see her sing!

And Robyn's performance was great too, of course. She's just amazing. I can't put words to it so I won't try. Just know that she's incredible. And after all the recitaling we had a get together back at Mom's house. Family came down to see her perform so it was a full house with all the family and friends. It was really nice though! It's good to be around a bunch of people sometimes.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sunrise: Cocoa Beach

So we've spent the past few days in Cocoa Beach with Chuck's family. We won't be seeing them for another year, at least - that is if all goes as planned - so we're trying t fit in some family visiting before we head out to England. Let me tell you how beautiful it is here in Cocoa. It is SO beautiful! And relaxing. It's like a vacation. Living here would be like a never ending vacation (well, except for the whole going to work part). There are a number of good places to eat here too. Chuck and I are always into the eating thing...

Our favorite place so far is Slow & Low BBQ. Oh man, they have some good mashed potatoes, green beans, baked beans, pulled pork, garlic toast, and more. Highly recommended!

And Oh Shucks is good too. It's a great location: right on the sand of the beach, next to the pier. Looks like a great place to get a refreshing daiquiri or margarita as well.

And can't forget the Sandbar - one of Chuck's parents favorite places. Monday night is Mexican Mondays where if you buy a pitcher of beer you get a free order of nachos! Wooohoo! Actually, the nachos are pretty good. Wow, this really looks like a tourist's food guide to Cocoa Beach... Better move on to the actual topic of my post.

So since we arrived in Cocoa Chuck and I have been saying we need to get up and watch the sun rise over the ocean. It's hard to wake up early while on "vacation" so we didn't manage to do it until our last day there. But it was gorgeous! It's amazing how quickly the sun pops over the horizon once it begins the show. I mean, if you look away from the spectacle for five minutes it's over! It was really lovely though. We have thoughts of trying to see sunrises and sunsets all over the world on our upcoming trip. We'll see how that goes though...hehe.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Community Garden

So my Mom has a plot at the local community garden. I like to go over there every once in a while and see what's growing, and what's been picked, and what's dying. So we went over there the other day and checked out the different goodies that are growing at the moment. It was so full of life! There were eggplants, onions, green peppers, hot peppers, cabbages, squash, strawberries, green beans, peas, tomatoes, sunflowers, etc. And one of those sunflowers was huge! As big as my head, as you can see. It's really quite cool to have this garden in the middle of the Florida heat growing all these wonderful things. All the love and care that goes into it is nice to see.

We also saw the most monstrous caterpillar I have ever encountered. That sucker was 5 inches, at least. He was all soft and pudgy looking, but I wouldn't even think of touching it. I bet there are some places in the world he would be a delicacy though... They'd pluck him off his leaf and chomp him up. Eww. I try to be be culturally open-minded, but...eww. We did figure out what he was though (google is the best). He's a Manduca sexta, or a Tobacco Hornworm. They turn into a big brown moth after they pupate (which I don't think is a real word). One part creepy to three parts cute, but really cool to see.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eggplant Shepherd's Pie

Mom got some ground lamb and planned on making regular old Shepherd's Pie, but wasn't happy with the recipe she has. I happened to notice this little Greek twist on the dish linked to on my Yahoo homepage and mentioned it. She thought it sounded good so we decided to try it out. Good choice! I love the eggplant in this, by the way.

  1. I used ground lamb even though the recipe calls for lamb shoulder cut into chunks. I think I would use the shoulder next time though, because the recipe has you brown the pan while you're sauteing it making a nice delicious gravy base for the sauce. It's not so easy to brown ground lamb, not to mention the excess fat that ground lamb leaves behind.
  2. Instead of kasseri cheese we got a chunk of provolone and grated it. And don't get the sliced cheese! Provolone slices are completely different than the chunk!
  3. Be sure to give yourself a good few hours prep time because it takes just about the whole afternoon to get this dish ready.
The Verdict

I personally thought this was pretty delicious. The potato topping was great! I think I might use the topping recipe for mashed potatoes next time I make them. And the gravy sauce had a really nice, complimentary flavor. Mr. C appears not to be a fan of lamb, so although he thought it was good he wasn't the biggest fan. Finally, Mom thought it was good. and had some for lunch at work the next day.

I found the recipe on Epicurious in their Bon Apetit section, submitted by Jeanne Thiel Kelley:

  • 1 1 1/2-pound eggplant, cut into 3/4-to 1-inch cubes
  • coarse kosher salt
  • 7 Tbsp (or more) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 lbs well-trimmed boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • all purpose flour
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 3 cups beef broth (preferably organic)
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano

  • 2 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/4 cups (packed) coarsely grated kasseri cheese (5 to 6 ounces)
Makes about 8-10 servings.

  1. Filling: Scatter eggplant on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt; let stand 1 hour, tossing occasionally. Rinse eggplant and pat very dry.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and sauté until tender, about 12 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl.
  3. Sprinkle lamb generously with coarse salt and pepper, then dust with flour to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in same pot over medium-high heat. Add half of lamb. Sauté until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer lamb to large bowl. Repeat with 2 tablespoons oil and remaining lamb. Transfer second batch of lamb to the large bowl.
  4. Add 1 additional tablespoon oil to same pot, if needed. Add onions. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until very tender, about 10 minutes (bottom of pot will be very dark). Add wine to pot. Increase heat and boil until wine evaporates, scraping up browned bits, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice, broth, garlic, and oregano and bring to boil. Add lamb with any accumulated juices. Cover; reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour. Uncover and continue to simmer until lamb is very tender and gravy thickens slightly, about 45 minutes. Stir in eggplant. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and chill.

  5. Topping: Preheat oven to 375°F. Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 14 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, melt butter with oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add milk and bring to simmer.
  7. Drain potatoes. Return to pot. Stir over medium heat until excess moisture evaporates. Add milk mixture and mash potatoes until just smooth. Stir in cheese. Season with coarse salt and pepper. Drop potatoes over filling by heaping tablespoonfuls, covering completely.
  8. Bake pie until filling is heated through and topping is golden, about 45 minutes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Itzhak Perlman & Letterboxing

Chuck and I have been busy the last few days. Between hanging out with long time friends and making new friends we managed to go see Itzhak Perlman in a rehearsal with the Russian National Orchestra at Mizner Park. Obviously, he's an incredible violinist and it was really cool to see him playing there in front of us in just his street-clothes. Although everyone is playing the same music they would be playing for the performance, it feels a bit more personal to watch them when they're not trying to put on a show.

One of the other things I liked about it was that we got to see them actually work on the pieces. At first they played straight through everything without stopping. But after that they went back and focused on particular parts. We were too far away to be able to hear what instructions the conductor was giving to the orchestra (and I think we was speaking in Russian, so we wouldn't have understood anyways), but I think at one point Itzhak suggested a different fingering for the violin section. So they all played it the new way and scribbled their notes in the music about the change. They're just like a regular community-orchestra! Only much, much better...

We also discovered a scavenger-hunt-like activity called letterboxing. Basically people have hidden "letterboxes" all over the country (and the world even) and list the location online. Then others can go and find the letterbox, inside of which is a stamp and a little notebook. Ideally you have your own signature-stamp that you stamp in the little notebook, and you bring your own logbook to put their stamp-mark in. Kind of like signing a guestbook. I know, it may not sound that exciting, but it was fun to follow the clues. Something along the lines of: "Go to the 7th trail marker. Turn left and go to the big rock. Continue past to the lone palm tree. Go left to another big rock." Etc

We went to find the Salem Sue box that was hidden in the High Ridge Scrub Natural Area. We've driven by the park a couple of times, but never actually stopped. It's mainly a habitat for Gopher Tortoises, but houses lots of other critters too (like grasshoppers, which were buzzing around us at every step). It was surprisingly pretty. "Natural Florida" landscape doesn't sound like it would be very nice, but it has it's own charm and beauty - if you can get past the heat. So hot! So not only did we find a letterbox, we explored an area we might not otherwise have thought of visiting! I think that alone makes it worth it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Homemade Oreo Cookies

Although this blog will be temporarily turning into a travel blog, I have plans to squeeze in a few more recipes before the plane takes off. I have a month to do almost nothing, and so far I have turned to cooking to keep me occupied. I made a delicious Penne with Mushroom Marinara dish just the other night (although I replaced the chicken with Italian Saugage, yum). And these Tangerine Cupcakes have been marinating in my brain for a couple of days now. And last night I went ahead (at the urging of my boyfriend) and made some imitation Oreo Cookies!

They were fun to make once I got past the butter dilemma, which I will detail for ya'll in the notes section. I made mine nice and big - mainly because I didn't have any small cookie cutters. Actually, I didn't have any cookie cutter and had to use the opening of a wine-glass. It worked out pretty darn well though. And now I can make my own, much healthier Oreo (at least in regards to the trans-fat issue - they're still dripping with calories).

  1. I suggest using an actual stick of butter with Tbsp markings on it. I thought I would be able to just measure out spoonfuls of soft butter in a regular tablespoon, but that left me with a very dry bowl of cookie mix. I ended up adding more butter until it looked right. And "right" was when the mixture mostly stuck to itself while mixing, and I could easily pack it into a greasy little ball in my hand.
  2. I didn't have any shortening for the cream filling so I just used butter. All butter and no shortening still makes a good cream filling. I also added the powdered sugar bit by bit until it was the consistency that I wanted.
  3. I suggest actually using an electric mixer to mix the filling. I mixed by hand at first and was disappointed at how flat and dense it was. After a couple minutes of beating with the mixer it was a bi lighter and fluffier. Not a huge difference, but enough that it was worth it to me.
  4. Shaping the cookies: I did not use a rolling pin. Instead, I took one handful at a time and pressed it to between 1/8 - 1/4" on a sheet of tin foil (make sure your tin foil is sized to fit on your baking sheet). Then I took my make-shift cookie cutter (ie: wine glass) and pressed it in, twisting a few times to break through those pesky sugar crystals. Peel back the remaining dough and use it for your next cookie. Once your tin foil is full of cookies, slide it onto your baking tray and just cook them right there on the foil. Easy transfer and easy clean up.
The Verdict

I personally thought they were great! I mean, they don't taste exactly like an actual Oreo, but if you want a chocolate, cream-filled cookie they hit the spot. And it feels so much better to eat a homemade cookie than those preservative-filled ones at the store. Mr. C says "Delish." He actually fought me for the last bite of one we shared last night... And Mom highly approves. She even took one to work to have with her lunch today. So yes, an overall success!!

I found the recipe at the incredible Cupcake Project (who got it from Heaven is Chocolate, Cheese, and Carbs, who got it from Smitten Kitchen, who got it from a book called Retro Desserts). Phew:


  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 10 Tbsp butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
Cream Filling:
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening (I replaced this with more butter)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
Makes 20 3" cookies, or 10 assembled cookies.

  1. Dough: In a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar.

  2. Beat in the butter and the egg. Continue mixing until dough comes together in a mass.

  3. Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately 2 inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. (see the "Notes" for more tips!)

  4. Bake for 9 minutes at 375 F. Be sure not to over cook them! Set on a rack to cool.

  5. Cream Filling: Place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2-3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.

  6. To make a cookie, pipe teaspoon-sized blobs of cream into the center of a cookie using a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch round tip. (or, if you're like me just plop a blob of filling in the center of a cookie). Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press (I found spinning to be helpful too), to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Back at Mom's

Well, we are all moved out of our apartment now. It was a big task, but we're finally finished. Thank goodness we started packing boxes at the beginning of February, otherwise... phew, otherwise it would have been just horrible. Really horrible.

The main problem was getting rid of furniture. We didn't manage to get rid of the couch until our last night in the place. And the only reason we finally did get rid of it is because we had Dad's truck (thanks Dad!!). And I think I accidentally scratched a cop car while dropping off the couch. I somehow managed to throw my car keys across the parking lot right at an undercover cop car while yanking couch cushions out of the truck. I like to think I was sticking it to the Man, yeah!

We ended up making about three full trips with the truck, so thank goodness Dad let us borrow it. We would have been up a fecal-infested river without any means of maneuverability if we hadn't had that truck. It's amazing how much stuff one accumulates. And we were so kind as to drop off eight garbage bags full of various random things to Goodwill. Although it's probably more accurate to say that Goodwill was kind enough to take eight bags of crap off our hands.

Last of all we cleaned our little hearts out of the apartment. Thanks go to Mom for coming down and helping out. She scrubbed that stove clean! There were some spots we cleaned that I swear hadn't been touched in the past 10 years. And I say the worst part was mopping the whole place with our sub-par mop. We had to run back and forth to the kitchen sink, scrubbing the dirt and hair off of the old, used Mr. Clean scrubby pad. Why oh why must I shed so much?? But after about an hour we finished that final job, said goodbye to the place, and got the heck out of there.

And boy were we sore the next day. We're still sore (at least I am) two days later. And there's still a bit more work to do (like selling my sister's old bed that was replaced with our one-year-old bed). And there's a ton of stuff to put up on or But we're one step closer to leaving time! One step closer to our big adventure!