Rachel Comes to Visit

Again, this was over a month ago, but my sister did come to visit.  She was here for my graduation, but she stayed for a week.  This is just a quick run down of the food we ate and some of the activities we did.  Mostly we just hung out and enjoyed the nice weather.

Our first dinner was at Porto das Pipas because my sister really likes the octopus there.
I ordered the squid, which is also very good.
Ryan had a steak, which is buried underneath all of those homemade potato chips.
The next day I headed down to Angra with my sister.  This is the only major city on the island, and is actual small for what you might consider a city.  It is also the capital of the island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On the way we stopped to take pictures of one of the coolest sculptures I have ever seen.  This is in the middle of the roundabout just before you reach the bull fight arena in Angra.  This was not here when we first got to the island so it was neat to see the entire process.  There are actually 3 bulls jumping and all point in different directions.
After walking around and doing some shopping, we stopped at one of my favorite sandwich shops, Sandoxa (pronounced san-do-sha), for some lunch.  Rachel had a nice salad and then we ordered some veggie burgers with an egg.  So good!
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One thing my sister really liked the last time she was here was the corn bread.  It is very different from American cornbread.  So we went searching for it.  The closest we came was a this, except despite being fresh baked and warm when we brought it home, it was a little burnt.  Didn't stop us from enjoying it!
The next day we went to another favorite snack place called Mimos.  I had my favorite tuna melt.  It is on a local made onion roll, with local caught tuna, topped with hardboiled eggs and melted cheese.
That afternoon my next door neighbor asked if we wanted some potatoes (and by some I mean that big bucket below).  It seems he had his biggest harvest ever and had no idea what to do with all the potatoes.  We gladly accepted.  Even better was that he gave us some of his eggs too from his chickens, and we all know eggs go great with potatoes!
Dinner was at a restaurant that we call the whale.  Actually, it is called O Cachalote, which means Sperm Whale in Portuguese, and there is a giant whale sculpture coming out of the front of the building.  The owner is very nice and we love to dine here.  He showed us his newly completed upstairs dining room.  This would be for 2-4 people wanting an intimate dining experience, perhaps for a special occasion.  He had just put the finishing touches in the room and was eager to show us.  Of course it looked beautiful.
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Both my sister and I ordered the fish, which was presented beautifully, just as the owner, who is also the chef, always does.
The next day we headed to the wine museum.  It is so nice to walk around the grounds there with all the pretty flowers.  Here is my sister enjoying the Azorean air.
Dinner that night was at home and about as local as you can possibly get.  We started with eggs, which came from my neighbor.
The day before, Ryan had gone spearfishing and caught a couple Veja (Parrotfish).  He cooked these in locally made butter (yum)
Then we had some potatoes, also from my neighbor.
The end presentation for both myself and Ryan was a breakfast burrito (wish the tortilla was local but it wasn't) with a side of potatoes (seasoned with Old Bay), the fish and some olives.  My sister does not eat dairy, so she just had some eggs and potatoes along with the salad she had purchased from the organic farm in our village.
While Rachel was visiting, San Joaninas was going on.  This is a huge festival in Angra, non-religious, despite the carrying the name of St. John (Sao Joao in Portuguese).  There were so many people and things going on, so we just went to check it out a little while my sister was here.  The highlight of the food part was probably the churro lady from Lisbon.  They were hot and fresh, and filled with chocolate, just like they do in Spain.
Here you can see a float for the parade, and some little cheese and sausage stands set up in the small square.
We were hoping to visit the local crafts tent, but they did not open until 7 pm, so we settled on lunch at another favorite, AquaEmotion.  It is mostly a favorite because of the location directly at the marina, overlooking all the boats.

We started with some sardines.
My sister enjoyed a gorgeous salad packed with shrimp and tropical fruits.
Ryan and I enjoyed a local cheese plate (they know how to do cheese out here!) and then we each ordered a tuna baguette.  Seriously way to much food, but very tasty!
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Here we all are enjoying the meal and the view.  Just behind us is the outdoor patio and the marina.
This is another float we passed by on the way back to the car.  They have massive parades with insanely decorated floats and elaborate costumes.  This island is known for it's festivals.  They have the most out of all the islands.  All summer long is one festival after another.  In fact, this weekend starts another major one known as Festas da Praia, or Praia Fest.  Hoobastank is playing this year.  Oh, INXS played at San Joaninas last month, and that was huge.  For this upcoming festival, they will have more bands, but none that Americans would know.  They will have restaurants and other food vendors from the mainland, and tons of people will come from mainland, the US and other islands to enjoy.  Enough about that and back to the current post here.  Just can't help getting excited for this weekend.
For our last dinner with Rachel here, we went to Buzius, actually for the second time, because her all time favorite is the spicy squid (Calamari Fra Diavolo).  I have shown pictures before, and therefore didn't take any new ones, but this is one awesome dish.  Ryan had the eggplant parm, which is my second favorite dish there.
The last day she was here we went to Praia da Vitoria, the second largest city (and not much of a city by most people's standards) on the island.  We enjoyed some coffee and the great ocean view, chatted a little more and then said our goodbyes as I took her back to the airport.
Next time she comes to visit me we will be in Japan.  I know she has been waiting years to travel to Japan so I am glad she has an excuse now.

I love you Rachel!

QUESTIONS:  Do you have any siblings?  Do you get along?  Do you visit each other or plan trips together?


Last month I graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Master of Human Relations degree.
This program is available on the main campus, and then at many military bases in the US and Europe.  There is an OU office here at Lajes.  The professors came out to the base to teach the classes.  In my short time here on this island, I was able to complete my Master's degree, and that is just awesome.  The degree is useful for just about any position where you plan to work with other people, either as a helper, mentor, counselor, or just dealing with coworkers on a day to day basis.  The foundation is based on Psychology and theory, but the classes spanned a much greater set of topics.  I took a course in chemical dependency counseling and one in creative problem solving.  I took one in psycho-social development and one about at risk youth populations.  I even took statistics...again!  Overall, this was a great program and a great way to keep my mind going while at this remote location.  I liked that it was different from my MPH program.  I feel like I have had a wide variety of graduate courses to learn from, but still specific and relevant to my field and career goals.

Even cooler was that the base held a graduation ceremony.  The main focus is military members graduating with their CCAF (Community College of the Air Force) degrees, but there are a few other programs that are run on base, and some that are not, and so everyone gets to participate.  I would say 30-40 people graduated between all of the programs.

My sister even came to visit for the occasion.
Just like any graduation, we all lined up.
Here I am at my seat, getting ready for the opening remarks.
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Blurry since I am in motion, but I promise this is me walking across the stage.
Here I am getting my diploma (not the real one since that is mailed), which is handed to me by the Commander of this base.
Afterwards I quickly posed with my sister.
Then I headed over to take a class photo.  This is everyone graduating from the OU program.  The professor visiting for the class of the month (they stay for one week of instruction, including the weekend) was there and gave a speech as well.
Congratulations to the Lajes OU Class of 2011!

Congrats as well to everyone who graduated this past Spring!

QUESTIONS:  Ever heard of Human Relations (as a program or coursework)?  Did you know military bases overseas offer courses on base and some with visiting professors?

Making Meals, Sticking with It

It's hard to believe that at this time my kitchen is packed up, and well, it just doesn't even exist.  My things are all out of the house, and all we are left with are some suitcases and other things to get us by until we get to Japan in a few weeks.  As far as the kitchen is concerned, I am left with plastic forks, knives, spoons, and paper plates and bowls.  There is limited ways to cook food, and so for the most part, I don't.

But before all those things were packed, and after Italy, I did fit in a few last meals in our kitchen here.  Making at least 2 weekly meals is my goal, but I knew this move would come in the middle and there was just no way to prep a whole meal with nothing in a kitchen, so I am alright with taking a break until we are settled in Japan.  So, like I said, there were a few more meals made here.

First up is a pizza like stuffed roll.  Too bad it didn't quite go as planned.  Never fear, food does not have to look 100% as good as planned to taste 100% as good as planned.

My filling consisted of soy crumbles and zucchini.
I did use some prepackaged French loaf dough.
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To my filling I added some tomato sauce.
After cutting the dough down the center, I rolled it out to make a place to "fill".  Then I topped with mozzarella.
I rolled them up and sealed them together at the seams.
Or so I thought!
Within seconds of starting to bake I realized I may not have sealed them as well as I thought and this would not do.  Oh well!  Looks like pizza and will probably taste like pizza, just not a pizza roll.  It was a success regardless of looks!

Next up was a pepper chickpea soup.  I love to make soups.  I love that I can add whatever I want and have a different creation every time.
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I used a tomato base along with a can of veggie stock, and then added those to my sauteed veggies.  Near the end I tossed in the chickpeas so they would not get too mushy.  This was a huge success!
It seems I like chickpeas.  My third meal also contains them.  I made some spicy potatoes from some that my next door neighbor gave to us.  He had the biggest harvest he has ever seen and has no idea why, but he has tons and tons of potatoes this year.  We have been happily eating them, and will certainly miss them when we move.  To make these potatoes I just chop them in chunks and coat with Old Bay seasoning.  I don't add anything else.  Then I bake them in the over for 30-45 minutes.
The focus of this meal, however, was the chickpeas.  I sauteed up some peppers, onions and garlic.  Once these were getting soft, then I added the chickpeas.  Again, I waited so they did not completely turn to mush.
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This made an awesome meal, and not to mention some awesome leftovers.
My final meal that I prepared in my kitchen was a salmon dish.  We had frozen salmon and I knew for sure this would have to get eaten or it was going to wind up in a friends freezer.  I marinated the salmon with pineapple juice, low sodium soy sauce, fresh grated ginger and red pepper flakes.
To go with this I made those same Old bay potatoes, and steamed up a side of green beans.
To top my fish I sauteed some garlic and olive oil, then tossed in some soy sauce to coat these cherry tomatoes.
Then the fish was ready to be plated up and served.
I think this dish turned out beautifully!
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It is a little sad to know my "kitchen" is gone, but I am please to know that whenever I was here (except for a few times with visitors) I was able to cook dinner twice a week.  When I set this goal it was to make meals that required me to actually cook, not just heat things up.  I am always in a rush and running around, so I found I rarely had time to actually cook, and I have a very short attention span.  But I realized this is not a good enough excuse to not cook more often.  I needed to slow down and spend some time connecting in the kitchen with my true passion for food.  I wanted to get this skill down before we are parents because I want my kids to see me cook and feel comfortable in the kitchen.  It was important to me and so I made this a priority.  I have made many great meals and I am actually impressed with myself.

Thank you all for sharing in my adventure in the kitchen.  Next time you see me going at it, I will be in Japan!

Stay tuned for more posts of things that have happened since Italy, a month ago.  Still working at getting caught up.

QUESTIONS:  How often do you cook dinner?  What is your favorite dish to cook?