That one time I tried to make salsa

Last week our nanny gave us a bag of tomatoes fresh from her garden.  It was a very nice gesture with only one small problem – neither of us eat tomatoes.  Well we do eat tomatoes, but only if they’re mixed in with other things.  I couldn’t tell her that, and I felt awful for being a tomato-hater.  I resolved to find a recipe and use the tomatoes over the weekend.  My friend Erika had a long list of suggestions.  Spaghetti sauce – too much work, and plus, we have Ragu.  Bloody Marys – don’t drink those.  Caprese salad – nope!   Then she suggested salsa.  Now, I don’t eat that either (yes, I have issues) but JR does and he had a fantasy football draft so he could take it there to share.  Perfect!

I looked up a few recipes and they were all pretty much tomatoes, onion, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, and some spices. I was also supposed to buy a jalapeno pepper, but I didn’t see any of those at the store and I wasn’t sure what other kind of pepper to substitute.  Once I was home, I dusted off my food processor – yes, it actually had dust on it – and got started.

Things started off well.  The food processor is AMAZING.  Why don’t I use it more often?  I was throwing in tomatoes, onions, and garlic left and right.  I didn’t exactly follow a recipe because they all seemed to generally say the same thing and I wanted to wing it.  JR chopped up some cilantro for me, and we added that and some lime juice.

Everything was chopped and blended, and it actually looked good!

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I was feeling really proud.  Look at me go!  I asked JR to taste it and with one look, I knew I had failed.

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I didn’t want to give up, so I retraced my steps and searched the internet for help. Only then did I realize that the cilantro I purchased and added to the salsa was in fact parsley.

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Oops.  Also,apparently the jalapeno (which I hadn’t been able to find) is a key ingredient.   So I walked to the little store down the street in search of a jalapeno.  This is what I found.

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The internet – and some salsa-savvy friends – advised me to try roasting the peppers before dicing and adding them, and to add more lime juice and garlic.   Let me tell you that I’ve never roasted peppers once in my life, but I felt kind of fancy doing it.  I followed all of those instructions and then put the salsa back in the fridge overnight.   The next day, when JR got home from work I begged him to try the salsa again, thinking I had surely nailed it this time!

He was less than thrilled, but I think he felt bad for me so he agreed.   I was full of hope as he took a bite.

Once again, his face said it all.

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And down the drain went the salsa.  The funny thing is that this ALL started because I felt guilty not using the tomatoes our nanny brought us, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her we don’t eat them.   Oh well, I’ll get you next time salsa recipe!

Christmas in July!

Hooray – our consumables shipment arrived last week.  It truly felt like Christmas to open the boxes and find the items I had purchased back in April.  Even more important than delightful food and drinks for us, Abby’s crib and mattress arrived.

The first night we put her in there to sleep, we found her completely flipped around the next morning.  Apparently she enjoys the extra space!

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This was our second consumables shipment.   If you are at a post designated to receive consumables, you can ship up to 2500lbs in two separate shipments, as long as your second shipment is sent out before the start of your last year at post.   When we first shopped for consumables in May of 2013, it was a big guessing game, and I definitely got too excited about purchasing giant quantities at Sam’s Club. Which would explain why, more than a year later, we still have an almost full container of Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce just hanging out in our fridge.

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It’s not that easy to calculate how much of a given item you will need for an entire year (or more).   We’re also very lucky that we can order many food products from Amazon prime, and our Embassy opened a commisary last year so we can stock up on other essentials there.   Another lesson learned – expiration dates.  We purchased two large bottles of ibuprofen that are sitting unopened in our apartment.  They expire in September 2014.   Maybe we’ll have a lot of headaches in the next few months?

You also have to consider storage.  We don’t have a lot of extra space, so there are rubbermaid storage bins stacked tall all over our apartment.  Some have shampoo and conditioner, the aforementioned ibuprofen, and some other favorite things.

This shipment was a bit easier because I knew what we could get in Kosovo, and I knew what we missed the most.   For JR, that was beer.   There isn’t a lot of variety here, so I went to The Party Shop (8 months pregnant) and called him from the store to discuss prices and quantities.  The store owner was super helpful and he ordered everything I requested and had it boxed up for me to pick up a week later.

A sampling of the beer order:

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JR looked something like this as he opened the boxes:

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My needs were very simple.  I am a Jif Peanut Butter fanatic.  I really think if I ever ran out of peanut butter, I’d have night terrors.   You can buy a small jar at the military base, and our commisary carries extra chunky -but WHO eats extra chunky PB?  It’s meant to be smooth and delicious.

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We’ll see if that lasts me for the next year.

The other thing I really miss is cereal. (Well, that and ice cream, but you can’t ship ice cream, sadly).  And I don’t do grown up cereal, I want the sugary deliciousness of Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Lucky Charms and the like.   This is what $200 at Walmart will get you!

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Any guesses on how long that cereal will last?   My goal is Thanksgiving!

Six Months

It’s hard to believe we’ve been living here for six months already. Time is going by so quickly. It’s especially crazy to think that in another six months or so, we’ll be talking about bidding on our next post (in addition to a few other life changes!). I bought two cartons of milk at the grocery store this morning, and when I got home, I put one in the fridge and one in the pantry, without thinking much of it. And then I realized how that is something I’d never do at home, but it’s perfectly normal here, because milk is different and can be stored at room temperature. Look at me adapting!

Work is going really well. Right now I’m working on a project involving youth leaders in Kosovo. Some figures estimate that more than half of the population of the whole country is under 25. Unemployment rates are also alarmingly high, around 45%. Young people are the future here (and everywhere, really) and there is no shortage of bright, motivated youths in Kosovo looking for opportunities to better themselves and their country. I’m also working on some of our educational and professional exchange programs. So far, I’ve had the chance to travel to a few different cities and I really love that I can see more of the country.

Last weekend was the 238th Marine Corps Ball which is an annual birthday celebration of the Marines and is usually one of the largest formal events each year for Embassy communities worldwide. It was fun to get all dressed up for a fancy night out with our friends and to witness the formal ceremony put on by our Marine Detachment here at post.

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In other exciting news, we hired a housekeeper! I made a rookie mistake by agreeing with JR that we wouldn’t hire a housekeeper until I had a job. I won’t fall for that again. But now we have a lovely lady named Yllka who will be coming once a week (hopefully twice a week soon, I just need to work on a power point presentation to convince JR of why that will be better for everyone). What Yllka lacks in texting ability, she makes up for with charm and excellent cleaning skills. It is the best feeling in the world to come home to a clean house. I still prefer to do my own laundry, but I happily hand over the ironing to her. I think I’d rather scrub floors than iron – I hate it that much.

Of course, I still feel this desire to clean before she comes. I don’t want her to think we’re slobs. For a few years when I was younger we had someone clean our house on Fridays. I always remember my mom’s rule – if your room isn’t picked up, the door stays shut and she’s not cleaning it. And then I’d have to do it myself. I didn’t understand it then. Why am I cleaning up BEFORE a housecleaner comes? But it stuck with me, and now I like to have things neat and put away before someone else cleans.

We also just got our first bulk order. So, we have an employee association here, and if you are a member, you get a few benefits like a discount on dry cleaning, discount at the commissary, and you can participate in the bulk order. Every few months, we get an e-mail with a few spreadsheets attached, listing out all of the items available for purchase. Then the association makes one large order through a military base in Germany, and a month or so later, the items arrive here. The spreadsheets are daunting. There are like 40,000 items available. And sometimes the name is written in shorthand, and you have to kind of guess exactly what it is, and how many you are actually ordering.

It’s also tricky because you are ordering in bulk (hence the name). JR does not understand why we needed 12 boxes of pancake mix. I, on the other hand, feel confident that we’ll eat them all. If not, we’ll give them out as gifts. One family ordered a CASE of mayonnaise, and they said they’ll eat every jar. A few other items we ordered:

– Roasted garlic triscuits
– tater tots
– texas toast
– pillsbury biscuits
– chicken noodle soup

Very happy we have an extra freezer!
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Our commissary recently had a Grand Opening. It’s a small store, but they’ve managed to fit a lot of stuff in there. I helped with ordering, and you can see that reflected in some of the items for sale, like Smucker’s Strawberry Jam, Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie, more Diet Coke than I could drink in a year, and Oreos. It’s nice to have easy access to a few favorite items from home, and I think the commissary will do really well.

Hard to believe that next week is Thanksgiving, but we’re looking forward to it!

I Keep Dancing On My Own

In shocking news, I’ve been kind of busy lately. It’s been great!

We did a few fun things over the weekend. On Friday night, JR’s boss hosted a happy hour. He had a great spread of food, wine and beer (and sangria!). It was nice to catch up with people that we hadn’t seen since before our trip. On Saturday, Amy and I went for a drive without any set destination. While we were stopped for gas, Amy pointed out that a wedding party was passing us. It’s a caravan of cars, and the last car is decorated for the bride and groom. Saturday was a big day for weddings around here, because we saw at least 15 other wedding caravans that day!

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We wound up driving to Prizren. We walked around the shops and stopped in at a cafe for some ice cream.

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Note the skinny arm. Amy gets me.

So as I said, this week has actually been busy. I volunteered to be the secretary for the board of the employee’s association, and we’re currently hiring a general manager, so we’ve had interviews and work to do for that. The maintenance men came over on Monday to help me hang pictures (apparently, you aren’t supposed to hang them on your own, so let’s all pretend that we did not, in fact, hang anything up ourselves). It feels even more like home with our stuff on the walls. My favorite is this photo wall (it’s a work in progress):

picture wall

Today has been wonderful. Amy let me borrow her car, so I drove to the big grocery store. I really love driving. It just feels good – especially when it’s nice out, and the windows are down and you put your favorite Robyn song on (note the title of this post!). The most exciting part is that the grocery store had chicken at the butcher counter!! I confirmed that it was chicken, and through a bit of charades, confirmed it was boneless. Then I had this exchange.

Me: May I please have 2 pounds of that chicken?
Lady: Ma’am, we are not in Britain. This is Kosovo (said with a smile.) You want 2 Euro of chicken?

I was thinking that 2 Euro would buy me approximately one sliver of a chicken breast. I also didn’t understand why she thought I was British, until I realized that by asking about pounds, she thought I was talking about British currency, not weight. It was all resolved when I asked for 2 kilos of chicken instead.

I’m irrationally excited about this chicken. In part because it came nicely packaged like this:
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And it didn’t look like this:
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I came home and continued my productive streak. Being unemployed seems like a perfect reason to actually make the things I pin on Pinterest, instead of just sitting around pinning them. I cut up fruit and made individual servings for smoothies to freeze, and I made peanut butter banana bread.

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banana bread

4th of July

We had a great day yesterday celebrating the 4th. We were invited to a cook out in the afternoon, and I wanted to make strawberry and angel food cake skewers. I’ve made them before, and it is so easy. Buy an angel food cake at Kroger, along with fresh strawberries and blueberries. Wash the fruit and cut the tops off the strawberries. Cut the cake into small squares, and then thread onto the skewers. So fast and easy.

It was a little bit more involved here in Kosovo. First, there is no Kroger, and no pre-made angel food cake. Bondsteel sells some cake mixes, but not angel food. My mom was nice enough to send over a couple of boxes of cake mix (she also included Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, because she’s awesome like that.) Unfortunately, stawberries are no longer in season here, and blueberries are not yet in season, so I needed to buy frozen. And I had to visit three different grocery stores just to find the blueberries.

Once I had all of my ingredients, it was almost smooth sailing. The angel food cake is supposed to be cooked in a bundt pan. Don’t have that. Of the recommended options, I only had an 8.5in loaf pan. So I had to make three small cakes. But it turned out nice enough!

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The cookout was really nice, tons of great food and lots of red, white and blue. After the cookout, we wanted to walk downtown to Mother Theresa (the pedestrian boulevard) to see the local 4th of July celebration. I’m not sure if there are any other countries that celebrate America’s Independence like Kosovo. There was a stage set up on the street and the first speaker said so many wonderful things about our country, and what our country has done for Kosovo, and how they were happy to celebrate with us. Kosovo’s president, Atifete Jahjaga, and our Amabassador, Tracy Jacobson, also gave speeches. (The first speaker spoke in English and Albanian. The president spoke in Albanian only, so I didn’t understand. When our Ambassador stood up to speak, I assumed she would speak English. I forgot she speaks at least 5 other languages, including Albanian, so she addressed the crowd in Albanian. She is awesome.) The whole time they were speaking, there were images flashing in the background of American leaders.

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Next, the Iowa National Guard Band performed a few songs, including God Bless America. I was feeling a little bit homesick, but I was also feeling proud. Proud to be an American, proud to be in Kosovo, and incredibly proud of JR and his colleagues (here and around the world) for all of their hard work. (I have a great video of the band performing, but I can’t figure out how to upload it.)

We went back to our place to relax and hopefully see a few fireworks, which we did! Then, because no 4th of July is complete unless I’ve listened to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” at least three times, I started watching various YouTube videos of the song and of course ended up in tears. Since I was already crying, it seemed logical to search for videos of “surprise military homecomings”. Don’t EVER do that, unless you want to ugly cry.

This one ruins me every time. I realize I’m posting the video, but really you should not watch this unless you are alone and you have tissues.

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!

All for under 10 Euro!

We had a great weekend exploring Albania, and I’ll update with a post on that soon. Today I wanted to stop at the bakery for some bread, and then I went to a small store down the street for some cleaning supplies. JR and I battled on whether or not we could have a housekeeper before I get a job, and he won, I’m sad to report (even though he had logic on his side, I still thought I had a chance!).

I’m still surprised by how affordable things seem to be here. Coming from DC, it’s a big change. Although, I’ve been told certain items are way overpriced (like avocados for $10 each. Good thing I don’t eat those.) Here’s a picture of what I got today:
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I purchased the bread and apple turnover at the bakery down the hill for .65 cents. I don’t know how you say Euro cents, but the point is, under a dollar.

The store owner was very helpful, and with his decent English, and my excellent gesturing and acting out what I wanted to clean, he helped me pick out the cleaning supplies. I also got gummy bears for JR, some strawberries and potatoes, and soap. It was 8 something Euro. Now I just need to put those cleaning supplies to use…