Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gingerbread Cookies

As I sip my rooibos chai tea and munch on a gingerbread cookie, I’ll just try to ignore the 75* outside, sun flowers blooming and peaches ripening on my fruit trees.  It is December, after all, and the season for things that taste and smell of cinnamon and cloves.  Right now there is cinnamon banana carrot bread baking in the oven and the Christmas tree is lit.  It's as close to cozy as it can get.    

Yesterday while it drizzled outside, Kyle and I baked up some absolutely delicious gingerbread cookies.  I can’t remember why I decided to make them; I’ve never made gingerbread cookies before.  And I don’t even have a gingerbread man cookie cutter.  But the idea popped in my head and wouldn’t leave.  So, I turned to my trusty friend, Google, and came up with this super easy, fool proof, can’t go wrong recipe.  The entire time we were busy whipping these up, Kyle kept saying, “I love baking!”  The boy was made to play with me in the kitchen.  He loves to snack, he loves to get dirty and he loves cookies.  We do all three.

We pulled up a chair and got to work.  The only thing I did slightly differently was use blackstrap molasses.  I should’ve known to cut it back a bit.  After it was all mixed up, I had a taste and it was sure strong.  I stirred in some extra sugar, maybe another 1/4 cup, and it helped.  Once they were baked and iced, the flavor was perfect!  They aren’t awfully sweet, but the royal icing does take the edge off the depth of molasses and ginger.

Since it is spring going into summer (as much as I hate to admit it), my kitchen is warm during the day.  So I did feel that the dough was a bit soft for rolling and cutting.  I would pop it in the fridge for half an hour to help with that.  But, for this go around, we just rolled with lots of flour and on wax paper.  I also wished I had sprayed my wax paper with a little non-stick spray because they stuck ever so slightly during baking.  Maybe my dough was a tad bit too thin.  What do I know about gingerbread?  Nothing.  Except that it tastes good.  And this stuff tasted really good.  That's all I care to know.

After they were iced and ready for consumption, I took the container outside so I could offer one to the boys working in my garden. Our neighbors use the yard for planting and send their boys up here for weeding and watering.  It's not uncommon for me to test a recipe on those guys.  They're quite adventurous kids.  The first one, Khotso, tried to take the whole box out of my hand.  I've lived long enough to know two teenage boys and a box of cookies would mean I'd be back in the kitchen baking more real soon.  The other boy, Tsolo, who speaks English better, laughed at him and gave him such a hard time for trying to grab the whole container.  Then two flirty girls walked in the yard, obviously trying to interact with the boys and I was left to offer them a cookie, too.  Well, there went half my cookies.... Oh well, we didn't need two dozen anyway.

Next up, my absolute favorite Christmas cookies.  I'm already drooling....

'Tis the season for baking!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


For our Thanksgiving on Saturday we invited our Basotho family over for a traditional American dinner.  We often have them over for some American cuisine.  They've yet to try something they didn't scarf.  Saturday we also invited one of Kyle's little friends and his mom.  So that was five adults, three teenagers and four kids.  I warned them ahead of time that it would likely be a bit odd for them.   We’ve heard that the Thanksgiving menu combination sounds weird to non-Americans.  I was slightly nervous about trying to tackle T-day on my own but with the help of our friends’ daughter, Joy, we pulled it off!

(Sorry about the poor quality of the pictures.  Photography was obviously not first priority, eating was.)

Friday Joy and I started by making pies.  That is the most important part, right?  I had planned on doing a pecan pie and a chocolate chip pie.  But with the first mention of pie, Joy burst out exclamations about how much she loved the apple pie with cinnamon she once had.  Well, with that the plan changed.  First an apple pie.  Then a derby pie to combine my desire for pecans and chocolate.  I don’t think we have any future in opening a bakery based on the looks of things.  But if we were scored solely on taste, I think we could make it big time.  I’ve never had much luck with pastry dough but trying a new recipe from a friend changed that.  At the dinner table there was a lively debate going on between the derby pie eaters and the apple pie eaters.  The people who chose apple pie first were adamant that it was the best.  The derby pie team was convinced theirs was the best.  Of course each side opted to try the other pie and I don’t think we ever came to any conclusion on the winner.  In my opinion the derby pie took the prize because let’s be honest, pecans and chocolate are a show-stopping combination. 

Turkey isn’t easy to come by here, as you might imagine.  It’s not exactly an African-raised meat choice.  While during this time of year you can find them (I presume because of a relatively high foreigner populous), they are typically quite large and quite expensive.  My oven is small.  It is probably not much more than 1/2 the size of a standard oven in the US.  I knew there was not a way in the world I was getting a turkey and anything else in the oven.  So, I skipped the turkey and went with a ham and butter baked chicken.  Since chicken and turkey are something like cousins, I didn’t figure the substitution would be too frowned upon.  It wasn’t.  

A couple months back I found sweet potatoes at the grocery.  There are ‘sweet potatoes’ here but they are different, purple on the outside and off white on the inside.  The ones I found were brown on the outside and orange on the inside, just like I wanted.  I peeled, cooked and pureed them and sealed them in the freezer for sweet potato casserole.  French fried onions don’t exist here so I made my own for green bean casserole using this recipe.  Thankfully I had some Stove Top stuffing waiting in the cub bard, to me it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.  I also made mashed potatoes and yeast rolls.  

A true American food

Being away from our loved ones is tough during special occasions.  We are hoping and praying the timing works out for us to be home for Christmas next year at the beginning of our home assignment.  Last year we visited with friends for Thanksgiving in South Africa and with more friends for Christmas in Maseru.  This year, however, we decided to stay close to home for the holidays.  I'm trying to be all here, not wishing we were anywhere else.  We bought a small Christmas tree, we've hung our few Christmas decorations and we're hunkering in for a cozy holiday season.  Fortunately, living in the nose bleed section of the world keeps the temperates relatively cool year-round.  At night, with the tree lights on, it is still comfortable to snuggle under a blanket and watch a movie.  Regardless, we do miss home and the excitement that holidays bring with family.  Yet we are so, so thankful for our dear friends here who share life and its joys and heartaches with us day in and day out.  They truly are our family here and we're glad they humor us enough to celebrate some holidays American-style.