Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happy birthday Trav and Luke

Today was the birthday for both my brothers: Trav and Luke. They are two years apart, but their birthdays fall on the same day. Here is an undoctored picture of what 26 and 24 years of living on the edge can do to a person:

Happy Birthday Trav & Luke!

We had a fun day celebrating Travis' & Luke's birthdays today.  Travis turned 26 & Luke turned 24.  Aunt Maggie and Cousin Beth were up from Chicago, and with John and Sarah, Luke & Nikki, Travis & Jennie, and Justin and I, we were quite a ruckus group!  We all met and John & Sarah's around 1 pm and had a nice afternoon of visiting, running to the fireworks store, and watching old home videos of the boys from 1987.  Then we had a wonderful meal of grilled chicken and brats, corn on the cob, fresh green beans, baked potatoes, homemade crescent rolls, chips and dip, etc.  And if we weren't stuffed enough, we followed it all up with Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.  I saw this cake on the smitten kitchen blog a couple of weeks ago and immediately decided I needed to buy the book that the recipe was in.  When Travis saw the cake, he asked right away if I would make it for his birthday.  Sounded great to me!  And yesterday, after the cake was made, he also requested Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Crunch Bars to line the plate.  Yes, it is completely over the top, but it was definitely a fun birthday treat.  After we were packed to the gills with food and dessert, the guys opened their birthday gifts, and then we headed out to John & Sarah's land in the country and the guys arranged quite the fireworks display.  It was a fun way to end the evening, even though there were several times of running for cover while laughing hysterically!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Note to the King Family

Dear Jim, Jenn, Maureen & Madie,

We love you!  BUT - You have crazy dogs.  Rest assured, they are well cared for and have thoroughly cleansed colons.  We just won't go into detail about where that took place!!  
And Dory sure can run fast, can't she?! ;)

Looking forward to seeing you soon.  Very soon.  Please come home soon...

Love & Hugs,

Justin & Julie

 A Note to everyone else - we're sorry to have to put you through that!! :)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quality Car Time.

Justin and I spent lots of time in the car today, but as it took us over to Hudson, WI/Minneapolis, MN, it was time well spent.  We got to Hudson right about noon, stopped for a quick bite to eat, and then I dropped Justin off at Troy Burn Golf Club.  His dad had to work in the area in the morning, so they decided to meet up there for their afternoon round.  They both agree that it is a very nice, but very challenging course.

Then I drove into downtown Minneapolis to Nicollet Mall for the Farmer's Market.  The weather was gorgeous, I got a primo parking spot and came away with plenty of goodies - bread, carrots, sweet corn and green beans.  I was very tempted by all the beautiful flowers, but I figured they would wilt by the time I got them home into water anyway.  A picture lasts much longer, even if it doesn't smell as nice!

I also just enjoyed walked and driving around the downtown area, with the skyways and sunshine!

After a quick trip to IKEA, I drove back into Hudson and walked around their downtown area and then along the waterfront.  I had brought a blanket and a book along in case I had extra time, and it was very nice to relax a bit before I returned to the golf course to pick up Justin.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back in the swing of things...

To make up for yesterday's lack of anything worth writing about, I'll give you two recipes for the price of one today.  

First off, I bought pears last week and promptly forgot about them until yesterday when I was going through the refrigerator and found the fully ripened and ready boscs in the drawer.  As we have been on somewhat of a muffin kick lately, I found a recipe for pear muffins.  This is a very good recipe, but I ended up with 10 muffins rather than 6 (definitely not a bad thing!).  I think it depends on how big your pears are.  I also added just a bit of water as the batter was a little drier than I liked.  They came out very very good though, and I will definitely keep this recipe around.

Next, as we have had an abundance of plums from our tiny little plum tree (and we really don't care for eating straight plums), I found a highly reviewed recipe for Plum-Apple Butter.  While not a true jelly/jam recipe (doesn't contain pectin), it is as close as I was willing to come to one.  This was a rather labor-intensive process with lots of putzy steps (which I am really not a fan of) and it made a huge load of dirty dishes (also not a fan of), but as I would probably only make it once a year, and only then depending on our plum crop, I'll also keep this recipe neatly tucked in my file.  
Plus, it's fantastic! 

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ready to Go!

I think Storm has the memory of a goldfish.  "What is this fantastic little house for me to sit in?  So comfy!"  She doesn't remember for a second that the only time these carriers ever come out is to take them to the vet so they can get shots.  As you can see from the picture, Norm remembers.  He remembers VERY WELL.  As soon as Justin brought these out of the basement closet, Norm ran down to Travis' room and hid under his bed.  And as soon as Justin let him out of the carrier upon arriving home, Norm ran down to Travis' room and hid under his bed.  He is there as I write this, several hours later.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dulce de Leche

Mmmm....dulce de leche.  Or in english, sweetened condensed milk (goat's or cow's) heated to produce a wonderfully thick, rich caramel.  I've made it in the past by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk, completely submerged in water, for 3 hours.  This is an incredibly easy method with incredibly tasty results.  However, recent warnings against this method (namely, that the cans can explode) and the fact that our house was like a sauna for several hours because of the steam, have led me to find alternative methods.  The first of which is the easy way - just go out and by it!  Well, as this product is not quite in the mainstream of grocery items available in Stevens Point, we drove down to Plover's Mexican grocery store, La Guadalapana.  And Hooray!  They actually carried two different types - one made with cow's milk and one from goat's (I had read about both on the internet).  So I happily scooped up both in order to make Alfajores this weekend, which is a Peruvian sandwich cookie, made with almond cookie dough and dulce de leche (or a similar product, manjar blanco, which I'll never find in Wisconsin unless I make it!) sandwiched in between.  
So this afternoon, after getting up from an un-nap (laying on the couch WANTING to nap, but Norm kept coming up and poking me in the face, grrrr), I set to my project of deciding which type of dulce de leche we liked better.  I rolled out the cookie dough, baked the cookies, and then set to our taste test.  I cut several cookies in half, on the left side using the cow's milk dulce de leche, and the right side using the goat's milk type.  While both were excellent, we all agreed that we liked the cow's milk type better.  
It had a richer, smoother, caramel-y flavor, while the goat's milk dulce de leche was a much stronger, cooked milk flavor.  I'm thinking we'll save the goat's milk type for over ice cream or with apples, and I'll use the cow's milk type for the rest of the cookies, and will stick with that in the future.  Plus, it is the same cost as a can of sweetened condensed milk, with out the work (or fear of destroying the kitchen).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Very Rare Photo...

What an absolutely beautiful day outside!  It finally rained last night after a week of ridiculously high humidity percentages, and the sky was clear and sunny.  Gorgeous.  After Justin and I got back from the gym, Travis and I went downtown to the Farmers' Market.  What a spread!  I always forget to take my camera there, and that is exactly where I wanted to take all sorts of fantastic pictures to post.  Ripe tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, peppers, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, flower bouquets, and on and on.  I had to hold myself back, and we still came home with a bag full of goodies, including beans, carrots, corn, and yellow and purple fingerling potatoes.  I love summer.
This afternoon Justin and I headed over to SentryWorld for a round of golf.  The weather was perfect, and we had a nice time spending the afternoon together.  I played pretty well on the front nine (for me) though Justin wasn't very happy with his front nine score, but then over the back nine I played horrendously (I just ended up skipping a couple holes - it was that bad), and Justin turned his round around (hee hee) and did very well.  You will probably never see another picture of me golfing, so enjoy it while it lasts!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

This one needs tweaking...

So I have this new recipe for Key Lime White Chocolate Chip Cookies, and I am rather torn about it.  They were incredibly easy to make, and the flavor is really good - especially if you like lime.  But the texture is off a bit.  I think they needed another full cup of flour to give a bit more substance to them.  And maybe some macadamia nuts... maybe add more lime zest and back off on the lime juice... and something else... just not sure at the moment!  But honestly, I am not sure if I want to take the time to make something that is just "really good" and not "fantastic."  Though maybe they could become fantastic!  And as I write this, Justin thinks I should make them again.  And maybe my slight disappointment comes from the fact that I really just want another pan of those Peanut Butter Fudge Crunch bars...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Day in the Life...

My day had been going by, quite uneventfully. A morning jog around the Schmeekle Reserve, a trip to the grocery store (needed a new jar of peanut butter, as you can see), a quick easy lunch (warm french roll with Havarti Cheese - mmmmm) and then making a new recipe. And now my day is fantastic and wonderful and I have a recipe that will be with me until, well, until I have a heart attack from eating too many of these bars!!!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Crunch


6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

2 sticks + 1 tablespoon salted butter

1-16 ounce jar creamy peanut butter

3 cups crispy rice cereal

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups confectioners' sugar

Directions: 1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with heavy duty foil. In a medium saucepan, melt half of the chocolate and 1 tablespoon of butter over low heat. Remove from heat; stir in 1 cup peanut butter, then 2 cups rice cereal. Spread mixture evenly in the prepared pan; refrigerate until set, about 15 mins. Wash out the saucepan. 2. In saucepan, combine remaining 2 sticks of butter and salt; melt over medium heat, stirring. Remove from heat and stir in remaining peanut butter and confectioners' sugar. Spread half of the peanut butter mixture over the cereal layer. Top with remaining 1 cup cereal, pressing cereal into peanut butter layer. 3. In a small bowl, microwave remaining chocolate at medium power until melted, 1 ½ minutes. Stir into the remaining peanut butter mixture. Spread evenly on the cereal-topped peanut butter layer; refrigerate until set, about 45 minutes. 4. Cut into 16 pieces and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


While enjoying dinner tonight (no chippy chicken, thank you very much!) we received a phone call which only promised to increase the fun factor of the evening – Jenn King asking if we wanted to meet their family at Belts' for ice cream!  So an hour later the three of us walked down to meet up with the King family.  Here you can see the adults intent on eating their treats (and ignoring the camera) and Maureen and Madie enjoying their ham-tastic shakes (okay, the flavor was bananaberry, but Justin said it tasted like ham!).

Also - a word of warning - Norm does not like the idea of being catnapped (nor will you after he makes his displeasure known on your carpet!!).  

Sunday, August 17, 2008

An Outside Kind of Day

We had a very nice Sunday, much of which was spent outdoors.  After church Grandpa & Grandma (John & Sue) Miller dropped by and the five of us enjoyed a nice lunch out at Charcoal Grill.  Justin had to get some work done at home this afternoon, but Grandpa, Grandma, Travis and I went biking along the Green Circle Trail a bit.  It was a very warm afternoon but there was a good breeze, and since so much of the trail is shaded it was great for riding bikes.  
Shortly after we returned home Grandpa & Grandma headed up to Wausau and Travis, Justin and I headed over to Iverson Park for Woodlands' Picnic and Baptism.  They had grills roaring and we had a great time sharing good food and spending the evening with friends.  
Four of our good friends were getting baptized, Jim & Jenn King and Derek & Kari Leonard.  It was great to be able to see them take this next step in their walk with God!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Busier than Usual Saturday

I certainly had plenty to keep me busy this weekend.  I was organizing a wedding at church for a young couple, and between the rehearsal last night and the ceremony today, I had an awful lot of details to keep straight in my head!  This was a rather large wedding (almost 300 guests), with 9 bridesmaids and 9 groomsmen, two ushers, 4 greeters, parents, grandparents, plus the bride, groom and pastor.  Oh, and a full band set up on stage.  It was a bit of a puzzle at the rehearsal fitting everything, but everything came together in the end.  Once all the bouquets and boutonnieres were distributed and pinned on correctly it was easy sailing!  The ceremony went beautifully and the church was cleared out and everyone was on their way to the reception by 4:45 pm.

But I know what you all really want to know - what did I bake today, right?!  Well, in preparation for the church picnic tomorrow evening I tried a new cookie recipe.  Usually if I am taking something somewhere like that I stay with a tested favorite, but the reviews were very good for this one, so I figured I couldn't mess them up too badly.  "But Julie," I hear you say, "those look like plain ol' chocolate chip cookies - how boring!"  Oh,  ye of little faith, these are no ordinary chippers.  Throw in some peanut butter, some roasted peanuts, Ghiradelli chocolate chips and some Penzy's cinnamon, you have yourself a winner!  The cinnamon is such an unexpected punch, and leaves such a smooth finish (am I talking about a bottle of wine or a cookie for goodness sakes!) - seriously addicting!  If I have time tomorrow I am hoping to also put together turtle bars to take as well.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cupcakes v. Rambo

Let's play a little game.  You guess who partook in each activity for the evening.  One of us whipped up a batch of Black & White Cupcakes, while the other two watched Rambo.  I know, this is a pretty tough one...  

Here is a picture of the manly men (note the fact that they each have their own blankie!) watching Rambo:

And here is a picture of my cupcakes.  Mmmm...cupcakes...
I'm happy with my choice!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Yesterday afternoon I was driving home from Wausau after a nice lunch out with my mom, when a rock hit our windshield.  Thankfully it was just a chip and was located on the lower half on the passenger side.  As soon as I got home I called the auto glass repair place (with the little red trucks, beep beep!) and scheduled them to come out this morning.  So we were given the illusive "8 am to 12 pm" time slot.  So I woke up a little earlier than usual, and began waiting.  Couldn't go for a run, couldn't go to the grocery store (I needed oatmeal for cookies!), etc.  I jumped in and out of the shower (didn't want to miss their call!), and then ended up sitting on the couch.  Continued to sit on the couch.  Norm came and sat on the couch with me.  Got off the couch at 11:30, deciding to take a picture of the chip to post on the blog.  As I turned to come back inside the house, here came the truck, pulling into our driveway at 11:45.  The chip was fixed in 5 minutes and my waiting for the day was finally done.  On to the store for the oatmeal, and then mixed up a quick batch of Monster Cookies.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chippy Chicken Failure

So we were watching a new show on the food network, and Justin decided he wanted to try what they were making.  It didn't necessarily sound all that bad at the time, chicken tenders coated in crushed nacho cheese corn chips and a special seasoning blend and pan-fried.  As chicken was already on my shopping list, a bag of doritos was an easy addition.  Obviously my brain is still a little foggy from all the traveling, because it should have had warning bells going off like crazy.  It really wasn't until it was in the pan cooking that the major doubts began washing over me like a tsunami.  This was going to be bad.  Very bad.  And you know what... It was bad.  Very bad.  The fact that this recipe made it onto a nationally televised spot is proof that the end of the world can't be far off.  Do not cook anything in doritos, please.  Just eat them out of the bag if you need to, just don't coat anything in them, sprinkle them on top of anything, etc.  It is now time to go to Belt's to make up for this crazy bad dinner!

Monday, August 11, 2008

La Comida! (Food!)

Well, first and foremost, we certainly did not go hungry while in Peru.  And for the most part, the food was phenomenal.  Anyone coming from a meat & potatoes area like Wisconsin probably won't struggle too much with liking the food from a meat & potatoes (emphasis on the potatoes) country like Peru.  I am trying the think if there were any meals (other than the one at the Chinese restaurant) that didn't contain either potatoes or yucca (pronounced You-ka, which is another tuber, similar to the potato).  I won't go over every meal, just some of the more memorable ones, or there would be way too many pictures on this post!  Also, I already posted a picture of our typical breakfast on the first day of the trip, so check back to then if you missed it.  Just add scrambled eggs with ham to the picture, and that was what we had every day for breakfast.
Our first real meal was lunch at our hotel in Chincha (Legas Hostal).  The first course was a salad of sorts - cold mashed yellow potatoes formed around chicken salad, called causa.  I know, it sounds awful, but I really liked it, as did the majority of us.  The potatoes had a bit of zip to them, which really complimented the creaminess of the chicken salad.  It was a unique dish and a fun way to begin our culinary adventures!
We ate two of our meals at a nearby restaurant called Luisa.  The first one was a saucy beef dish, served with rice, beans and yucca.  
The second meal we had at Luisa was a very common offering, carapulca con sopa seco.  This is a spicy potato stew served along side mild seasoned noodles (dry soup), yucca, and typically came with chicken or pork (in this case pork).  We also were served this meal (with chicken) by one of the homeowners we worked beside.
My favorite meal of the trip was served at the hotel and is called aji de gallina (ah-he day gah-yee-na).  It may not be the prettiest dish, but I loved it (and yes that is a hard boiled egg on it - I didn't understand it, but I gladly ate it!).  The sauce was a combination of a creamy gravy and shredded chicken, and it was served with rice and potatoes (beneath the sauce).  The point was to mash it all together and enjoy.  It really reminded me of one of my very favorite meals growing up, rice and chicken casserole, but with a bit more spice and texture.  It is on my agenda to try to make this at home!
One of the craziest meals we all enjoyed was eating out at the Chinese (Chifa) restaurant.  This was one we were not prepared for though.  
The food just kept coming and coming and coming.  It started out with a delicious broth soup with wonton dumplings and slices of pork and cabbage - wonderful.  And then began the onslaught of platters.  A dish with mushrooms, broccoli, and chicken (terrific!), a chicken dish with green onions and a salty sauce, pork fried rice, a chicken and cabbage dish with crunchy noodles (possibly my favorite), sweet saucy pork with peaches, and finally finished with freshly brewed jasmine tea.  And by the way, the picture was taken toward the end, after about half the platters had been removed!
Another very memorable meal was on our final work day, when Hector and his family pulled out all the stops to feed us lunch.  They even spread out a beautiful lace tablecloth, that was very obviously saved for only very special occasions.  We had arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), on top of which was potatoes with a spicy cheese sauce.  I wasn't feeling the best this day, but the potatoes and sauce were irresistible!  
And if we all weren't full enough they had also made ceviche for us to try, which is fish and seafood marinated in lemon or lime juice (also served with yucca).  This meal easily cost the family a week's worth of wages, but they gave willingly and happily to show their appreciation.  
There was also many types of drinks that we tried at each meal.  As the water isn't safe to drink without boiling, different ingredients are added while boiling to add flavor.  I didn't write down all the names, but one reminded us of gingerbread, one tasted exactly like Trix cereal, one was a mix of lemongrass and chamomile, we also tried barley juice (much better than it sounds).  
And of course, the national drink of Peru, Inca Kola, which is a sugary sweet, yellow soda that tastes like cream soda but smells like bubble gum.  It was at every dinner out and every lunch.

That, in a large nutshell, was our trip in food.  Lots and lots of incredible food!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chincha to Lima to Home

We left our hotel in Chincha early on Saturday morning, and started making our way toward Lima. We made a couple of stops along the way. The first was an interesting experience. Jose Hipolito Unanue was a Peruvian of some prominence that built a huge mansion, pretty much a castle, that is somewhat of a tourist spot now. It turns out he built his wealth by illegally trading African slaves. Parts of the castle that are open include tunnels to the dungeon that held slaves, the auctioning block and paddocks. While the property must have been spectacular to see when it was in pristine condition, it has not been maintained for many years. It is in a pretty terrible state and will continue to crumble away. Honestly, to me it felt a fitting end for that type of place.  Our second stop was at the coast for a lunch near the beach. We walked along the beach, some of the crazier guys went for a (very cold) swim, we walked down the long dock, and shopped a bit at the tables some locals had set up with trinkets. Since it is winter in Peru there were very few others out, but it was still a pretty place. We even saw some dolphins and a sea otter frolicking in the water (what else do dolphins do but Frolic?!).Then we headed into Lima for an afternoon shopping at the artisan markets, finding alpaca sweaters, blankets, t-shirts, purses, and fun other items to take home for gifts or souvenirs. Lima is a busy city that I would have enjoyed seeing more of. I appreciated the chance to see even a bit of it. After dinner we headed to the airport, where we had to part ways with a vital part of our team for the last 10 days - our translators. Pauola, Dave, Claudia, Aldo, Gabriel, Christian, Emily, Raquel, and Gordy truly became like family to us as we relied very heavily on their assistance with the language. Then, after two long flights and a bus ride, we are back safe and sound, with many memories and stories. Thank you to everyone for your prayers! I'll still have one more Peru-orientated post tomorrow with pictures of some of the food we got to try.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Let there be Light!

Today was our last work day of the trip. The teams at each work site worked fast and furiously to finish as much as we could. One team worked on laying bricks and mortar walls, one group finished covering a roof with cement, and another team got the electricity working. It was great for Raul, Hector, and their family to be able to flip a switch and the light to come on, in a safe, livable house. The window and doors will be installed shortly and they will begin to move in. This is Raul's (nearly) completed house, and Hector's is right next door. Hector has seven daughters, and Raul is his son-in-law. Hector is considered the leader of their community, and has worked very hard on taking care of the needs of his neighbors and family. We really enjoyed working beside him, hearing his story, and getting to know him and his family.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Building Process...

So we now have pictures of many of the steps of building an adobe home (of which we're working on four separate homes). Here is a quick lesson. The first step is mixing mud for the bricks. This involves getting the correct dirt mixture bought and delivered, having water delivered, and hacking straw to give the bricks extra structure. In some cases, as on one of the sites, the homeowner doesn't have enough money for the dirt mixture and old, broken adobes (from walls that fell in the earthquake) have to be crushed before the water can be added. The formed bricks need to set out between 4 and 7 days, depending on if the sun comes out! One two-room house needs over 1000 bricks. While the first round of bricks dry, trenches are dug and filled with concrete (mixed by hand) to provide the foundation (all of the homes thatwere destroyed in the earthquake did not have a solid, cement foundation). Then more mud is mixed to act as the mortar and layers of bricks are laid for the walls. A special plastic mesh, called maya, is draped and then painstakingly tied tight to the interior and exterior walls. This is a vital step, as the mesh is what keeps the walls from tipping in the event of another earthquake. More mud is mixed and spread over the mesh. At this point bamboo beams (treated for termites and stained) is nailed to form the first layer of the roof (which serves as a very beautiful ceiling for the interior. Electric boxes, lights, and switches are also installed. Cement is then smoothed over all the walls and forms the top layer of the roof. Install doors and windows, paint it, and you have a sturdy, warm, secure home.

Please continue to pray for health. We are doing well, though Lori pulled a muscle in her back and is hurting. Everyone with intestinal issues are on meds and doing much better!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

August 6th

Feliz Cumpleanos a tu, Feliz Cumpleanos a tu, Feliz Cumpleanos a Allison, Feliz Cumpleanos a tu!

Happy Birthday, dear Cousin Allison!  Sent all the way from Peru!

Today's tasks weren't very different from yesterdays, with spreading mud on the walls of another one of the four adobe houses we are working on. We also worked at staining the bamboo for the roof (the stained side is the ceiling and concrete gets poured on top). As you can see in one of the photos, all of my weight-lifting is paying off (don't be fooled - those branches I'm carrying are willow, and were feather-lite!). It's hard to believe there are only two days of work left.
Please pray for team health and strength, a number of the guys are feeling the effects of the different foods!