Friday, July 27, 2007

Just a Nibble

Well friends, did you think that I was carried off by mad llamas?? Don't be silly! I simply have been involved in an art/decorating project of humungous proportions... Yes, my life has recently been consumed with many hours of painting, painting and more painting. Besides that I have been climbing cactusy paths in search of ancient Incan tunnels, giving tests to grumpy kindergartners and bearing the general craziness of children getting ready for a big program right before vacations.

All of these make for excellent blog entries that I have had no time to write (oh, and of course I have exciting pictures to go along with these entries). The happy news is that the program is over and vacation has officially started. Yay God for DESCANSO (REST)!!! I'm so excited about having two weeks off from PROMESA (especially after the past week!!!) The unfortunate news for you dear reader is that I perhaps will have no time for the next 9 days to write about these recent exciting experiences. Instead I will be off on the coast of Peru (Ica) with two of the other teachers creating more blog entries and even more photos to be shared. Don't worry, I won't forget to share them with you all.

It's back to packing for me but before I go, here is something of note: six months ago tonight I was on a plane on my way here! Isn't it amazing to think that I've been here for 6 months?! Praise God for a great experience so far! I know that He's got great things ahead as well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Adventures in High Altitude Cooking: Chocolate Torte

For the birthday party this past weekend (see post below) I wanted to make a special cake. So, I asked my dear former Landis' baker friend, Renée for a recipe for a spectacular chocolate cake that I remember stashed away in my memories of yummy layered cakes.

My first challenge was to find the chocolate that the recipe called for. There is nothing here that is specifically called baker's chocolate and I also had to secure some German chocolate bars. So, I headed off to my local grocery store (I must say a store with an impressive amount of interesting foods only appealing to extranjeros (foreigners)) in search of chocolate. I found a huge bar of milk chocolate that would do for my German chocolate. Then I looked at the bars of pure Cacao and wondered: is this really what I want? The store clerk said that you could use it for baking but often people here just try to tell you what you want to hear and not really the truth (that happens for sure when you are asking for directions). So, I ended up with a 400gr bar of Cacao and a 400 gr bar of milk chocolate.

I was a little afraid of high-altitude issues, so I went online in search of answers. I found a useful site that told me how to convert regular recipes to high-altitude. Apparently part of the problem with high altitudes is that the cakes rise too quickly. So I had add more flour and water and reduce the baking powder.

I adjusted my recipe (including transferring ounces to grams) and prepared my batter when I discovered one little problem: we had no round cake pans!! Oops! Thankfully we have multitudes of pie pans. I used three pie pans instead of two cake pans, stuck them in the oven and hoped for the best. The cakes came out a little more spongy looking than I expected and I'm not sure if I should have reduced the baking soda as well. They also had uneven sides from the wax paper and the pie plate shapes.

The next step was to prepare the chocolate and cream for the layers. The original recipe called for the cutting of the layers but my layers were thinner as it was so I just made use of what I had. I used cream between the first two layers and then put all the chocolate and nuts in between the next layers and covered the entire cake with cream (which hid uneven sides nicely). I decorated with chocolate shavings and strawberries and I was rather excited at how it looked in the end. As I was decorating it I kept saying: "ooh, this looks so great!!"

The problem came when we tried to cut the cake! The chocolate layer had cooled to form a thick chocolate bar like layer and when you cut into the cake you hit the solid center and the whole thing squished together!! Oops! This problem came from my three layers instead of two and putting all the chocolate in one place! The cake itself was moist and not too dry even though it had looked too spongy. The combo of the cream with the rich chocolate was so delightful! Yum... I think I'll have to try this cake again.

What the peices looked like after trying to cut the cake!

Monday, July 09, 2007

I don't know if anyone realized it but Saturday was a pretty sacred day. It was 07.07.07!!! Since seven is such a sacred number in the Bible, Saturday certainly must have been a special sort of day.

hee hee...

I'm not sure about the sacred part but I really did have a great day on Saturday. Since every day with the Lord really is sacred, I guess you could say that it was a sacred Saturday as well!


My Saturday started with a trip to an outside racquetball court in a little park. The park was a 15 minute walk from my apartment in Magisterio and I went on the invitation of Luz. Luz is our directora at PROMESA and my Wednesday morning prayer partner. She and her friends from La Vid (her church) have started playing racquetball on Saturday mornings. Jessica and Alisha also came with us on this outing. It was a beautiful sunny day and I did something extremely silly (besides my manner of playing racquetball-we'll talk about that in a moment)-I forgot to put on sunscreen. Oops.. now I have a lovely sunglass shaped sunburn on my face and left ear.

The last time that I had played racquetball was something like ten years ago during a college phys ed elective. Oh dear, that sentence makes me sound horribly old - I really do try to forget my age and I succeed most often until I make statements like that! Anyway, as those of you who know my sport skills can imagine, racquetball and I were not an instant match. Oh I had so much fun playing but it was more about survival than skill. I even succeeded in getting some points but like most of my sports achievements(?) it was pure luck. I can't recall how many times I saw the ball whizzing toward me, how I jumped and swung and how many times I missed the ball. It was ridiculous really!! When I was a teenager, I had a complex about sports. I was afraid of balls flying towards me. Volleyball was about fear of having to do something and when the ball did come towards me: defense. I really did not like my non-sportyness (especially when youth group thrived on volleyball) and I felt bad. I know that had a lot to do with a general bad self-image but it was really tough to get over.

Thankfully, the Lord does not leave us in our awkward teenager stage too long. Along came college and God's transforming work in my life. I began to appreciate whom God created me to be and I grew up. Thank you Jesus! I'm no longer under the burden of not liking my non-sportyness. Now, I can laugh at myself without it stinging. I thoroughly enjoyed myself on that racquetball court even though I probably looked excessively silly. hee hee..

Our dear friend Jessica was the reigning champeon. She beat the other six players and I think she would have just kept winning if she hadn't turned in her racquet to someone else!! I learned some new words in Spanish like: cheer - hacer barra, good try - buen intento and score - la puntaje. My body was not so cheerful about the racquetball the next day... Boy did I feel old on Sunday!


The second exciting event of my day was lunch at a Cebicheria. That's an exciting name for a seafood restuarant. I went with Luz and her friends to have a first time experience of Ceviche. Ceviche is a typical Peruvian dish - lemon marinated fish. It's not cooked - just marinated. We first had a yummy fishy cilantro soup with rice and lemon and then a pile of Ceviche. The flavor was great although it was spicy! The restaurant had live music and one of the musicians dedicated a song to the people in the restaurant including the blue-eyed visitor (ummm... would that be me?). Ceviche is supposed to be really good in Lima and on the coast. I guess that makes sense: coast - fish....


The third part of the day was a birthday party at Dawn and my apartment. Two of the PROMESA teachers were having birthdays surrounding the weekend. We had all nine of the teachers over for pizza (which we made) and cake. Wendy and I even tried to make cheese fondue out of a tin of cheese (a gift from the Swiss government! It was given to my housekeeper's son to help him gain weight....yummy). We had to add milk and butter to make it dippable but I think that it worked.

We all sat around in our badly-lit kitchen eating and chatting. We ate a lot of pizza and talked and talked... I think we all determined not to talk about our students the entire time. Marisol was the conversation moderator - once in a while she would say: "new topic!". We talked about politics...we talked about movies...we talked about jokes that people did or didn't remember...we talked about the future and people's dreams. I tried to ask the deep birthday questions in Spanish (what was your favorite memory fromt the last year; what did God teach you; what are your dreams for the next year?) but I think those questions really require more thinking time.

By the time the cake (see an alternate post for cake story) came out people were a little full. I think us North Americans gobbled down our peices the fastest. Some of the girls just looked at their peices! But never fear, I happily employed a common Peruvian practice: doggy bags! Yes, whenever you are at a special event/meal you must remember your bag to take home your leftovers! It's so funny to see people whip out bags at weddings (the last wedding I was at actually handed out bags). So, several of the girls took their cake home in bags that I handed out.

Thus ended my lovely day!!! Next year we'll have an eight.eight.eight day... hmmm... what shall I do?

(L to R) Pamela, Luz, Dawn, Wendy & Jessica

Alisha, Marysol, Hilda, Ruth & Pamela

Wendy proudly shows off a birthday card from Jessica and Alisha.