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Rolled Grape Leaves

In Likes, Recipes on September 24, 2010 at 11:58 am

My great grandmother, Grandma Joe, was an amazing cook. She entered her recipes into contests and regularly won ribbons, awards and prizes. (Maybe luck ran thick in her blood, because, unrelated to her cooking, she once won a house by describing her favorite part of it: the master bathroom!)

Grandma Joe was known for only using immediate family as guinea pigs. She would make a pie or two a day in an effort to perfect the filling, but hide away anything that fell short of perfection from guests in the basement freezer. My father was tortured growing up with assorted delicacies influenced by her husband’s Lebanese heritage, including her infamous rolled grape leaves. Mmmm, I can still smell them!

Grandma Joe passed away before the recipe was written down. Fortunately, a family friend, Annette, offered to spend the afternoon the other day teaching me how to make the rolled grape leaves the way her mother had taught her. Like my great grandmother, Annette had never written down the recipe so as we cooked I studiously took notes. For me this recipe is a memory that comes to life when the smell of the grape leaves fills the kitchen.

Rolled Grape Leaves:

Supplies:

1 Medium Saucepan with Lid & 1 Saucer OR 1 Large Pot with Lid & 1 Plate

1 Large Mixing Bowl

Paper Towels

1 Cutting Board

1 Sharp Knife

Ingredients:

2 Jars of grape leaves (Imported, not from California – the imported ones are thinner, better)

~1.5 lbs ground beef (Grandma Joe traditionally used lamb)

~1/3 cup uncooked white rice

3/4 small can of tomato paste

½ stick of softened salted butter

~2 tsp cinnamon

~2 tsp salt

3 good dashes of Cayenne

Pepper to taste

1-2 lemons, wedged

2-3 chopped garlic “toes” (cloves)

Optional: Pork Chops or Chicken Wings or Rhubarb

Directions:

  1. Open and drain jar of grape leaves. Gently remove leaves from jar and unroll while rinsing with running water. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.
  2. Combine meat and next 7 ingredients (through “pepper to taste”) in mixing bowl. Use hands to mix well. Add more tomato paste if mixture feels too dry.
  3. Separate grape leaves. Lay leaf on cutting board flat side down with the pointed side away from you & use a sharp knife to cut away any tough veins or stems. Place a small amount of meat mixture near the “stem” of the leaf and roll like a cigar (being sure to encase the ends).
  4. Place extra cut-off pieces of grape leaves in the base of the pot (to keep the rolls of sticking or burning). Pork chops, chicken wings or rhubarb can be substituted here as desired.
  5. Place a layer of rolls in the pot (all going one direction). Sprinkle with chopped garlic, salt, and lemon juice.
  6. Continue to layer rolls in pot, alternating directions with each layer & topping each layer with garlic, salt & lemon. (Rolls should not be packed in, but may touch.)
  7. Place saucer upside-down on top of the rolls. Fill the pot with water until it just reached the edge of the saucer. Place the pot on stove over… Read the rest of this entry »
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Top 10 things I miss about Japan now that I’m in America

In Adventures on September 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm

The restaurant I lived above. I deduced it's called the Red Raven, but could be wrong.

1) Not being able to read anything.

(The cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima where very large and heavily populated. My personal bubble was never bigger than my umbrella. But despite loud noises, bright lights, and brushing shoulders with people a head shorter than myself on a regular basis, I found the city to be quite peaceful. The fact that million dollar advertising and marketing campaigns, signs in store windows, and flyers on the street were unintelligible to me made life far less stressful. It was quite nice.)

2) Being told I have a pretty face.

(Sounds conceited, I know. But get this: I was told I have a pretty face BECAUSE… it’s small! Yep. My face is gorgeous, not because of my big root beer brown eyes framed with long black lashes, or my Portuguese complexion and curly hair but because I have a face that’s small. If only the definition of beauty was so simple.)

3) The niceties.

(I would say thank you all the time just because it reminded me of the song “Domo arigato mister robato”.)

Tofu 3 ways with rice, salmon & eggplant.

4) The food.

(Everything I had in Japan was delicious. I’m not a picky eater, but I’m a great cook and a self-proclaimed food connoisseur. The morning pastries with fish and corn on top, the neon pink fish cake next to my egg over easy and fried fish skeleton made me a little concerned at first, but beyond the strange lack of visual appeal they were quite delectable.)

5) Umbrellas and sunbrellas.

(Everyone carried clear plastic umbrellas in the rain. At first I thought it was just the fad and latest fashion statement, but I soon purchased one for myself after realizing the convenience of seeing where you’re going in a crowd while still maintaining proper coverage from the rain. When the sun came out so did beautiful patterned sunbrellas.)

Umbrellas are such a big deal that they have umbrella lockers!

6) Taking my shoes off.

(Whether it was in a home or at a public school it was expected that shoes were removed and slippers put on in their place. Who doesn’t love being comfortable?)

7) Perfect curls.

(I thought the curls I had as a toddler had left my head for good until I walked around the most hot and humid part of the earth I’ve ever experienced. The first day I was in Sasebo Japan I left the house with straight hair and returned as an oversized Shirley Temple.)

8 ) Toilets that are labeled “Western Style”

(While I preferred to think it was in case I got the urge to pee like the cowboys in old black and white westerns, I’m pretty confident they were just letting me know it was a toilet I could sit on, instead of the typical bowl in the ground.)

The sleeves are supposed to be long and the bottom is supposed to touch the ground, but this is the best we could do for a 5'8" giant.

9) Not stopping at cross walks.

(In many places the cross walks were like bridges that went over the lanes of cars, eliminating traffic caused by constant use of the cross walk signal.)

10) Having people freak out over my handi-snacks, trident gum & Quaker oats granola bars.

(Enough said.)

Top 10 things I missed about America while in Japan

In Adventures on September 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm

1) Being able to read.

(Not knowing what food I was ordering off a menu, which button to press to flush the toilet, how to leave a note for the people I was living with nor being able to utilize mass transit (for fear of not knowing where the bus was headed) made me question if that was what it felt like to be 4 years old; unable to read, only capable of recognizing logos, symbols, and pretty colors.)

2) Taco Bell.

(I would recite my favorite order every now and again just to make sure I was still American: “I’ll have the #3 Double Stuffed Burrito with steak and no fiesta sauce. *Pause impatiently while employee inquires about level of heat desired in my hot sauce* Medium. Thanks.”)

3) My pillow-top mattress.

(When I was shown to my room at first I thought they’d forgotten to give me a mattress. There in my room stood a wooden bed-frame spanned by a board with a 2” thick futon where a mattress would usually reside. Back pain, here I come!)

4) Riding in a car bigger than a Barbie jeep.

(I saw a semi-truck smaller than my brother’s little ranger pick-up. They’d think a mini-cooper was normal and tow-trucks probably couldn’t move a 4-runner without difficulty!)

5) Showering.

(I know it was fluke, but the hot water wasn’t working correctly where I was staying. It would run really hot for about 30 seconds and then go freezing cold and stay there. The solution: I took to filling a bucket with 30 seconds worth of scalding hot water and having a “sponge bath”, at the end of which I would rinse off really fast.)

6) Driving on the right side of the road and the left side of the car.

(Sitting shot gun on the left side of a vehicle is beyond strange and driving on the left side of the road was very uncomfortable. One day, however, it came to fruition as the car I was in yielded to oncoming traffic and turned left at a red light and I shrieked with fear! It’s like an inexpensive amusement park ride, one time is all it takes before you’re shaking your head “no, not again.”)

7) Fruit.

(I had watermelon the first day I arrived and cherries the day before I left… that’s it. I saw one fruit stand and the watermelon was $12 (US) and an apple was $1.25 (US) each! At those prices, I bet the cherries I ate came from right here in Oregon.)

8 ) Air Conditioning.

(I think there’s some law over there that dictates when you get to use your air conditioning because, despite dripping with sweat, no one was using them! Fans became our favorite and most functional fashion accessory.)

9) Shoe shopping.

(I’m not sure what size I would’ve been but they probably didn’t even sell my size unless I went to their version of a Big and Tall store. By the way, I only wear a 7 ½.)

10) Wearing heels.

(I love to wear heels. I wear them whether I’m sporting a dress or a pair of jeans. But in Japan I slipped on some heels, towered over everyone, almost smacked my head on a door jam, and then quickly packed them away for the remainder of my stay.)

Quote of the Day

In Quotations on September 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

“Is that seat saved?”

“No.”

“Are you?”

No Objections to this Classic Courtroom Drama

In Likes on September 21, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Either a tenth of the population is at home sick, or it’s simply good television.

In 1970 (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), KPTV gave Perry Mason its infamous weekdays at noon time slot. Other than a brief ten-month period during which it resided at 12:30pm, KPTV has aired Perry Mason in the same weekdays at noon time slot ever since. In fact, according to polls of Portland audiences, nearly a tenth of the population watching TV at noon on weekdays is watching Perry Mason! (Glad to know I’m not alone.)

When I was growing up, Perry Mason was my “sick show”. Since it was on during weekdays only, I had to be home sick from school to get the opportunity to watch the best defense lawyer at work. On days my father was home, we got a kick out of guessing who had committed the crime (almost always a not-so-shocking murder) and writing our guesses down on scraps of paper as proof that we hadn’t changed our mind part way through the trial. Now, all grown up, I often watch it on my lunch break, which I strategically plan parallel to Perry Mason’s noon showing.

Despite being monochromatic, Perry Mason is still very much relevant. In fact, in my opinion, the show is in many ways better most any lawyer or crime oriented show of today. Unlike viewing today’s law and crime shows, when watching Perry Mason you have to pay attention to the story line (particularly the first 10 minutes, or you might as well not watch the rest) in order to accurately follow the plot and eagerly anticipate what might happen next. While it probably bore those who prefer to veg on TV or need pretty colors to hold their attention, I have always enjoyed sharing my lunch with Perry Mason, Dela Street, and Paul Drake.

It has been rumored that when Patrick McCreery became KPTV’s general manager in 2008, they told him that he could make any change he desired, but Perry Mason could neither be canceled, nor changed from its weekday noon time slot! Show me a series today with that kind of viewing or staying power!

Stubborn or Just Stupid?

In Experiences on September 20, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Cow Crossing

It’s been said, “two heads are better than one”, but after this weekend’s escapade, that’s highly debatable.

ETA was 11pm Friday, September 17th.

My friend Jake and I left at 8pm on Friday, September 17th for a retreat in central Oregon. While we were in high spirits, looking forward to spending time with our friends, the weather obviously disagreed with our general demeanor & expressed this through torrential downpours that put the windshield wipers to shame.

By 10pm it wasn’t unusual to see the silhouettes of trees made visible by strikes of lightening followed by nearly inaudible crashes of thunder (muted simply because the sound of rain on the windshield was so impressive). After stopping for sustenance, we were no longer in cell range and came to a fork in the road that was seemingly familiar, but the GPS we’d been casually relying on for 21st century reassurance was making us second-guess our whereabouts. Following brief consideration we decided it was best to trust technology and turned around, taking a turn that the purple line on our iPhones so confidently recommended.

By the time the paved road became a gravel road (which any normal person would’ve taken as the sign to turn back), and the gravel road became a dirt road we were 4 hours away from home and nearing our destination (according to the steadily decreasing space between our vehicle and the red dot denoting our the desired location).

Sharing moments like: passing a cow-crossing sign and laughing aloud about how ridiculously unnecessary the sign was and then, within the hour, slowing to a stop to politely share the already-too-narrow road with a few rogue cows, kept frustrations at bay. After multiple bucks passed through the beams of our headlights and many mice narrowly escaped death-by-tire we began a mental tally of the animals we encountered: 2 cows, 1 rabbit, 1 mouse, 1 more cow & 2 calves, 1 buck, 2 does, 1 more buck, 1 cat, more mice, 1 horse, another rabbit… Pretty soon the two of us had goals; I wanted badly to see an Elk and he had his fingers crossed for a cougar.

Around 12:30am we came around the corner to be faced with a large gated entrance. We may have been an hour-and-a-half beyond our ETA, but we were finally here!

Within minutes I discovered how devastating a small, simple thing like… a padlock can be. Read the rest of this entry »

Desire & Indecision

In Thoughts on September 17, 2010 at 10:47 am

The other day I heard someone inquire, “What if I say, ‘I do’ and then I meet someone at the reception?” Sounds crazy and there very well may have been some sarcasm implied, but I think it thoroughly encompasses our fear of second-guessing the decisions and commitments we make.

I can’t make decisions without knowing all of the surrounding circumstances, every other option available and what those around me are choosing to do. When I go to a restaurant I can’t decide what to order without first having heard what everyone else is ordering (particularly those whose plates I wouldn’t be too shy to sneak a bite from). My brother and father recognize this trait and find it thoroughly entertaining to withhold any hint of what they plan to order until the time comes, thereby hindering my ability to make a decision and getting great enjoyment out of my frustrated discomfort with being forced to make an “uneducated” decision. While I’d like to say my indecisive habits end with choosing a meal from a menu, this example just scratches the surface of my habitual delayed commitment.

People like myself have been termed “afraid of commitment”, which is another way of saying we can’t make up our minds. But perhaps our problem isn’t with a fear of commitment, but with our desires. Perhaps if we change what we desire, commitment wouldn’t be as daunting. We readily commit to getting what we want, whether it’s good grades, a spouse, a new pair of pants, or our next meal. We don’t hesitate to spend our time, energy, and money each day on things that we subconsciously (and consciously) commit ourselves to. Unless you’re like me and can’t even make up your mind on which hand soap to purchase, the biggest decision that often haunts you is that of what and whom one should resign themselves to love. But does it really matter whom we choose to love, as long as we love? Is the act of love what matters, or the object of our love? What are we most hesitant to commit to?

Waiting for answers to every question we posses will only bring more questions. Does knowing this make us more fearful of commitment because the object of our love isn’t fully known (or understood) or does it make us want to jump feet first into love, knowing we have questions but we’d rather gain the answers through experience than sit on the sidelines and hope to understand the game by the time we’re too old to play. Is it better to know we’ll succeed before taking a risk, or is the point of making a commitment to take the risk of not knowing whether we’ll succeed with confidence and have faith in our desire?