September 2007


One of the things I want to be able to do now that I’m going to be home more is experiment with more time-consuming things like baking bread that I never seemed to have time to do when I was working all the time. Yesterday I made a half whole wheat loaf to ease my way into bread making, which turned out pretty well. I did it the lazy way by letting the bread machine do all the kneading and the first rising for me, which worked out perfectly since I was able to keep unpacking and getting the house ready for our visitors this weekend and the kitchen wasn’t covered in flour the way it usually is when I try to knead by hand.

This morning I made some whole grain cheese muffins, which turned out really well aside from the fact that they stuck to the bottom of the muffin cups a bit. I think if I butter and flour the cups next time instead of just spraying them with cooking spray that should take care of some of the sticking. I got the recipe from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, which I love because all of the recipes are 100% whole grain, as opposed to most “whole grain” recipe books that I have, which are really only partially whole grain.

The recipe notes to make sure you use a robust cheese as otherwise the flavor won’t come through, which I can definitely see. I used some Cabot cheddar, which is really sharp and flavorful, and they tasted really good. Our blender is still making its way here with the rest of our household effects, so I used the food processor to turn the oats into floury meal. Also, I didn’t have fresh buttermilk so I used powdered buttermilk, following the package directions to mix in the powder with the dry ingredients and the water with the liquids.

Cheese Muffins

  • 2 tablespoons minced chives or onions
  • 2 tablespoons butter or oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese and 3/4 teaspoon dill weed or parsley OR 1/2 cup grated cheddar and 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

If you use chives, they need not be cooked, but the onions are best when sauteed until soft in the butter or oil. Let the sauteed onion cool before adding to the batter.

Beat the egg, butter or oil, and onion or chives together. Stir in the buttermilk and seasoned cheese.

Blend the oats in blender to make about 1 1/2 cups of floury meal — or use 1 cup oat flour and 1/2 cup rolled oat flakes. Sift the other dry ingredients together and then stir in the flakes. Add the dry ingredients to the cheese mixture, stirring just enough mix.

Spoon into the muffin tin and bake about 15 minutes (I left them in there for an extra few minutes but that might just be my oven). These muffins are a pale, creamy color on top, and golden brown on the bottom and sides when done.

I forgot to include this in the last post, but Danny wanted me to add his favorite of the ultrasound pictures from last week. As you can see, the baby has his/her arms raised…we’re not sure if this means “stop squishing me with that sonogram wand” or if it’s inutero praise and worship, but either way it’s pretty cool that you can see the little fingers!

I should probably rename this blog since we’ll be living in the homeland until next spring, and this hardly counts as the ends of the earth, but until I come up with a new name that I like I suppose we’ll just stick with this one for the time being.

All week as I’ve been trying to figure out whether I was going to go on unpaid leave or quit for good and how the unpaid leave would work, I’ve been thinking of the entries on my friend Catherine’s blog about quitting her job. It’s definitely been an interesting experience. I’m continually amazed at how complicated bureaucracy can make everything. For instance, I’ve been trying since June to get answers on the rules associated with unpaid leave with no luck despite repeated e-mails to various and sundry personnel types. I finally ended up going into our personnel chief’s office, and lo and behold all the answers I could have really used when I was trying to make this decision three months ago came forth. This of course meant that I ended up having to make the final decision overnight because of the wheels I had set in motion before returning to the States. As you saw in my last post, the final result was that I submitted my resignation instead of messing around with any sort of leave.

I’m sure the weirdness of not working will probably hit me in a couple of weeks, but for right now I mostly feel liberated and relieved. I will say, though, that leaving this job does feel a bit like what I would imagine leaving the mob would be like. Not that anyone is going to put a hit out on me (that I know of), but once you’re out you are definitively on the outside socially as well as professionally. A lot of the people I work with are so wrapped up in their life with “the Man” that they honestly can’t figure out what I’m going to do without being part of that anymore, and just stare at me when I tell them I’m looking forward to life on the outside in whatever form that ends up taking.

The question I’ve most often gotten is, “but what are you going to DO?” Just to mess with their heads, for right now I’m telling them that I’m going to learn to make bread and look into working with an NGO or non-profit of some sort, which is a funnier comment if you know how suspiciously most gubment types view the people who work for NGOs…if “pinko commie” was still used I’m pretty sure that’s the term they would apply.

Please tell me someone else remembers the Berenstein Bears? I’ve used the “Berenstein Bears Talk About…” joke several times and gotten nothing but blank looks, which I’m hoping is because most of the people I work with are five or ten years older than me and maybe there was a gap in which people hadn’t heard of the bears.

So lots has changed since the last post…some of the things are not actually recent changes but just recently being publicly discussed. Danny and I are expecting our first child in March, and now that I’m safely out of the first trimester with no problems we can finally share the exciting news beyond our immediate family members. Our OB/GYN practice recommends both an 8-week and a 12-week sonogram, so we’ve actually gotten to see the baby twice so far, which has been really awesome. Below is the best of the ultrasound pictures, in which it appears that our baby is already sucking his/her thumb. We’re not planning to find out the sex, so the his/her thing will have to work in the meantime.

I’ve gotten hooked on the weekly e-mails from babycenter.com, which compares the size of the baby to a different food every week. Last week it was a jumbo shrimp, and this week begins the week of the lemon. If you’re interested to read more about the size and development and such, check out the Week 14 article.

The other development, which definitely pales in comparison but is still worth mentioning, is that I submitted my formal resignation yesterday. Very liberating, of course there are still several bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through, but I’m on my way out and not looking back! Our household goods are apparently in transit but won’t even get to Baltimore harbor until the 26th, which means that 3-4 weeks after that we might get our belongings back.

This past weekend was the final weekend in our family roadshow, in which we’ve visited all of our various immediate family members and some extended family (or in some cases made them come to us for the time being). It’s been awesome after over a year of not seeing almost anyone that we’re related to in person to get to reconnect with them and actually spend some time with all of them. Of course, we haven’t gotten to spend nearly as much time as we’d like with any one part of the family, since there are so many various branches to visit with, but that seems to be the way it goes.

Tomorrow Danny and I head back to DC to move back into our house with our own things. Or rather those of our own things that have been in storage here in the States, since according to the super helpful travel lady that I talked to the other day they’re not sure exactly where my household goods shipment is or when it will arrive. When I asked if she could at least confirm that it had left our last country of residence, she informed me that was not her job, and that she would get a call when they had an estimated date of arrival at which point she would inform me of said date. Somehow I’m not terribly comforted, considering that it only took my things two and a half weeks to get from here to there when we moved, and it’s been nearly six weeks now since they packed our things up. I’m envisioning the movers having dance parties and goat roasts on our carpets and using all the beautiful yarn I bought in New Zealand to line their chicken houses or something.

Despite the fact that my furniture will apparently be sitting on bare wooden floors unless and until someone locates my household effects, it will be good to be back in our home again. The last year and a half seems sort of like a strange dream almost…like it can’t be real that we worked that much under such surreal conditions. It actually hasn’t been quite as weird to come home as I was afraid it might be, although it’s definitely been a change of pace to go from our previous life nonstop work and nothing else to six weeks of hopping from one relative’s house to another and seeing so many friends and relatives all at one time. In case you hadn’t already guessed, I’ll take this life over the other one any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

I know most of you are probably laughing already at that title, but just in case you actually thought we were cool, let me assure you that today proved that we are not. When we got off the plane here in San Antonio a few days ago, there was a poster advertising a new exhibit at the zoo entitled “Bug Mania!” This morning, you guessed it…Danny and I headed to the zoo to check out the wondrous world of bugs. And the prairie dog exhibit that is also at the zoo here, as I found when I looked up the hours of operation on the website.

Let me tell you, at 10:30 on a Thursday morning we were the ONLY ones there without a toddler or two in tow. The fact that the prairie dog exhibit was in the middle of the “tots zoo” section, which specified that it was built with children under five in mind, made it even better. If we had any shame, I’m sure we would have been very embarrassed to be the only ones over the age of four pressing our noses against the glass and squealing “look at the babies!”

Nevertheless, we had an awesome time walking around the zoo for a couple of hours, grinning and pointing right along with all of the three year olds at the monkeys and jaguars and bugs and such. We did, however, manage to restrain ourselves from crawling through the faux tunnel to get a better look at the prairie dogs, for which we were rather proud of ourselves.

Last night Danny and I made dinner for my parents and my grandfather, which was pretty exciting since it’s maybe the first time we’ve cooked dinner together when we’ve had access to whatever ingredients we wanted since our vacation in New Zealand in January. We were inspired to try our own take on shrimp and grits after I obsessed about eating them last month only to be somewhat unpleasantly surprised when it arrived at my table swimming in sherry cream sauce. We decided we could make a better sort of Cajun/Italian version without the cream sauce or the sherry, and although I might tweak one or two things, I think we succeeded in doing that.

Instead of grits, we made polenta, which we refrigerated for a few hours and then grilled briefly. We also grilled Italian sausages, shrimp, onions, tomatoes and bell peppers, which we layered on top of the polenta. I squished the grilled tomatoes a little bit when I put them onto the stack to moisten it up, but next time I might stew the tomatoes instead to make a sort of a light fresh tomato sauce. We also steamed some zucchini and some summer squash to go next to the shrimp and other things.

I forgot to get a picture of it before we ate it, but it turned out looking very pretty and I definitely liked it better than the kind that was drowning in cream sauce!