Archive for the ‘Food / Drink’ Category

Thanksgiving in Swaziland

November 27th, 2011 3 comments

This has been the first holiday season that I can ever remember where I have been away from family.  Growing up, our extended families always lived far away and we only saw them a couple times a year, but when it came to Thanksgiving and Christmas we always committed to long drives and hurried schedules in order to make sure we saw everybody.

We knew celebrating the holidays in Southern Africa could be tough.  Not only are we away from family, but the Swazi’s don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Instead of leaves changing, the coming of cool weather and football on TV, we have torrential downpours (when rain comes), 100+ degree weather and cricket on TV.  Plus, most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods are difficult or impossible to find.

BUT… instead of pouting about it, Beth, Mikayla and I made sure we had one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, we were able to talk with all of our families overseas (even though it meant waking up in the middle of the night, it was worth it).  Also, Beth was able to put together a lot of Thanksgiving themed activities for Mikayla including a song that we will try to post on YouTube when we get a chance.

As for having a Thanksgiving meal, our plans changed many times, but ending up being extremely meaningful.  At first, we tried to coordinate with several Westerners that we are close with to celebrate this American holiday.  However, due to schedule changes and other circumstances, no one besides us was able to attend.  So, we extended an invitation to the Swazis that we are closest with.  This included several of the mangers, the office staff, and a couple other people from the mission.

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When it came to food, Beth in particular was able to pull off some culinary wizardry (I am sure she will post about it on her blog shortly).  Although very hard to come by, we tracked down a frozen turkey and some smoked ham.  We had traditional mashed potatoes and green beans as well as the most amazing gravy I have ever had (thanks to the sisters!).  We had apple sauce, homemade rolls, deviled eggs, a Swazi version of collard greens along with butternut squash, and of course some sweet potatoes.  The award for creative substitution came with a variation of homemade pumpkin pie that we made with butternut squash.  It was phenomenal and if you didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t have known the difference.

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By far the most meaningful part of the entire meal was being able to share it with the Swazis we are closest to.  We were able to explain the traditions and also express our gratitude to them for their support and assistance in our transition.

I was particularly struck by the unintentional symbolism that emerged.   In America, Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and we originally tried to replicate and share that with other Americans here in Swaziland.  However, what ended up happening was much more in line with the first Thanksgiving.  Tradition holds that the feast is tied to the Europeans celebrating with the Native Americas as a sign of gratitude for their assistance upon coming to the New World.  While the parallels are not perfect, the similarities were striking.  We are outsiders who are new here, and were were able to share our gratitude with those those who were already here as a way of saying thanks for helping us make the transition.

After dinner, we all sat around for hours and enjoyed each others company.  We introduced the Swazis to the Wii and as it turns out, they are pretty good at bowling!

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As the evening wound down, the tone became a bit more intimate.  Several of guys who were still around thanked us for sharing the tradition with them.  They also expressed the things they were thankful.  Esau, our maintenance manager, said he was grateful to be a part of something that was bigger than just the people involved; because we are doing important things, we can work together even if we don’t always agree.  Johannes, our agriculture manager said he felt most thankful when he could look back at all the hard work and see the fruits of his labor.  He also said he was excited to see how people from different cultures could come and make new creations with current things (he was talking about Dad’s sweet potato recipe in particular).  Mzamo, our HR Director, continued this theme by saying he was grateful for how Westerners could come to Swaziland and make things better without having to change the culture.

At the end of the day, I drove everyone back to their homesteads along with leftover plates stacked high.  It gave me new appreciation for the dedication it takes for these people to come to work every day walking miles (some up to 6 miles each way) through the bush.

Our first Thanksgiving in Swaziland brought many firsts for us (first holidays away from family, first time cooking a turkey, first butternut squash pie, etc.) and many firsts for the Swazis (first thanksgiving, first time playing wii, first time to eat many of the foods, etc.).

Looking back a day later, I certainly missed seeing all our friends and family during this time, but at the same time, this weekend did more than anything else previously to solidify the notion that we are in the in fact in the right place.

Now we just need to set up our Christmas Tree and get ready for our first summertime Christmas.

Happy Holidays from the Kickerts!

Thai Coconut and Curry Soup

January 17th, 2010 1 comment

Once again I break from my normal posts of esoteric ponderings and theo-political rants to bring you a recipe we have been cooking up (don’t worry, I don’t intend to make this a habit.)  Beth and I have continued our Thai cooking kick and have loved what has come from it.  Here is a hearty soup we have made a couple times.  It is flavorful, spicy and brings a very pleasant sweetness.  It is not overly complex and the ingredients can be found in the international section of most major grocery stores.  If served with rice, it easily makes a meal. 

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Thai Coconut and Curry Soup

[Serves 6  //  Prep time: 20min – Cooking time: 35min]


  • 1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 1/2 pound cubed Chicken (Tofu may be substituted)
  • Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Thai Red Curry Paste
  • 4 cups (32 oz) Chicken Stock
  • 14oz Coconut Milk
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped Ginger
  • 2 Tbsp Lime Juice
  • 1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 3-4 Large carrots sliced into discs
  • 3-4 Celery Stalks chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, minced, OR 3 Tbsp. frozen prepared lemongrass (may be omitted)
  • 1/2 large onion sliced
  • 1 Tbsp Minced Garlic (2-3 cloves)
  • 1 Bell Pepper chopped
  • 1/2 – 1 Tbsp Thai Chili Paste
  • 2 chopped Basil Leaves
  • Cilantro (to garnish)
  • 6-8 cups Cooked Rice (roughly 1.5-2 cups uncooked rice)
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Put 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. When it reaches temperature, add 1/2 pound cubed chicken. Season with black pepper. Cook until chicken is done.

Add 1 Tbsp Thai red curry paste and cook an addition 30 seconds while stirring continuously. Add 4 cups chicken stock (add less for a thicker soup), 14oz coconut milk and 1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger. Bring mixture to a boil.

Once mixture comes to a boil, add 1 Tbsp lime juice, (if you omit the Lemongrass, add an extra Tbsp lime juice) 1 Tbsp fish sauce, 1 Tbsp brown sugar 1/2-1 Tbsp Thai chili paste (depending on how much “kick” you like your soup) and vegetables (carrots, celery, lemongrass, onion, garlic, bell pepper) Return mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until vegetables have soften but are not mushy (approx. 15-20 minutes).  Salt and Pepper to taste. 

Right before serving, stir in 2 chopped basil leaves. Top each bowel with cilantro and serve with rice.

Note: Soup can be ladled over the rice, or the rice can be added to the soup depending on personal preference.

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Categories: Food / Drink Tags: , , , ,

Pad Kee Mao (Thai Drunken Noodles)

January 8th, 2010 2 comments

Beth and I have always had a special place in our heart for Thai dishes.  In fact, for our rehearsal dinner we rented out the entire Thai restaurant and offered a buffet.  However it has only been recently that we have ventured into cooking our own Thai food.

Below is a recipe for one of our favorite dishes called Pad Kee Mao or more popularly "Drunken Noodles."  This is an amalgamation of several recipes I found online and then adjusted  to taste.  Most of the ingredients can be picked up at grocery stores with a decent international section, or at your local Asian market.


Pad Kee Mao (Thai Drunken Noodles)

[Prep time: 30min // Cooking time: 30min]


  • 12 oz package medium rice sticks (rice noodles about the width of fettuccini)
  • 1 pound chicken
  • Oil (Peanut, Canola, Vegetable, etc)
  • Black Pepper
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh Cilantro

   Stir fry components (adjust to meet your preferences)

  • 4-5 Baby Corn stalks cut into 1” pieces
  • 2 Medium carrots sliced into thin discs
  • 1 small can bamboo shoots (drained)
  • 1 small can sliced water chestnuts(drained)
  • 2-3 stalks of celery sliced
  • 1 bell pepper (red, yellow, green or a combination) sliced into 2” strips
  • ½ medium onion sliced into thin strips
  • 4-5 Shitake mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs minced garlic (4-5 cloves)

    For sauce:

  • 1-2 Tbsp Thai Chili Paste (2 Tbsp is noticeably hot, but still tame by Thai standards)
  • 2 Tbsp Oyster Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 3 Tbsp Golden Mountain Sauce (a very flavorful soy sauce)
  • 2 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Lime Juice (1/2 fresh lime juiced)
  • 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp Rice Wine (use Cooking Sherry if unavailable)
  • 1 Tbsp Black Bean Sauce (or substitute Hoisin Sauce)


Begin by chopping all your stir fry vegetables as this can be quite time consuming.  If you are using dried shitake mushrooms you will need to soak them in hot water for up to 30 minutes so plan accordingly.

Cut up 1 pound of chicken (thin strips are better than cubes) and cook in large skillet with 1-2 Tbsp oil and black pepper to taste.  [Note: We have found it easiest to cook large pieces of chicken until they are about half done, then remove them from the heat to cut into smaller pieces, and then finishing cooking in the skillet.  It is less messy and easier to have consistent pieces.]

While you are cooking your chicken, begin preparing your rice noodles.  You will break the noodles into 3-4” pieces, place them in a large bowl and cover with boiling water.  Let these sit 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

Prepare your sauce by mixing all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside.

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[Vegetables, Brown Sauce and Noodles]

Once your chicken is cooked, drain it and set aside.

Add 1-2 Tbsp of oil to a large skilled (use the same one you used for the chicken if you like) and bring up to medium-high heat.  Add your stir-fry vegetables and sauté.  If the vegetables begin to dry out, add a small amount of water.  Cover between stirrings.  Vegetables are done when they are firm but no longer crisp.

Add the chicken back in, along with previously prepared sauce and cook a 1-2 minutes on medium heat.

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Reduce heat to medium-low and add in the noodles (drained).  If your skillet is not large enough, you may need to transfer things to a large pot at this point.  Add 3-4 chopped basil leaves.  Cook until noodles begin to absorb the sauce and the basil leaves begin to wilt.

Remove from heat and serve on plates garnished with cilantro.

Enjoy!2009-12-25 Christmas 017

[Final Dish]

Easy Hot Cocoa from Scratch

November 9th, 2009 No comments

My wife is usually the one who makes posts about recipes, but tonight I cooked up something of my own that was worth posting.   We were wanting some hot chocolate and lamenting the fact that all we had was raw cocoa powder and most recipes we found online were fairly complex.  So we improvised and things turned out really well.  Here is what we came up with.


  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt


Combine all the ingredients into a  1 quart Nalgene bottle (obviously wide-mouth is the way to go) righten the lid and shake.  After all ingredients are mixed, unscrew the lid but leave it in place.  Microwave for 3-4 minutes until hot.  Serve in mugs with marshmallows. Enjoy.

Of course the Nalgene just makes things easier.  You could always mix the ingredients in a container of your choosing and serve it however you want.

Top 10 Candies

August 19th, 2009 3 comments

Many of my last few posts have been pretty heavy, so I figure it was time to return to the lighter side of things.  A few weeks ago Beth and I completed a series of Top 10 lists.  In one of my those posts I revealed one of my favorite foods was candy.  I decided to go more in depth and explore my favorite candies.  Here is my top 10 list.

  1. Sour Watermelon Slices – A little slice of heaven.  My grandparents used to buy these a local version of these before the Sour Patch brand came out.  I can (and have) gone through a 2 pound box of these in24 hours.
  2. Nerds Jelly Beans – A relative new comer to the list as these have only been around a few years.  Nerds Coating over a jelly bean core… how can you go wrong?  My only complaint is that after about 100 or so of these they don’t seem to be as good.
  3. Air Heads – I can think of no other candy that manages to pack as much sugary sweetness into a wrapper.  I try not to buy the 6 packs because they don’t last.  I love letting them get soft in my pocket before opening them up.  Cherry and Watermelon are my favorites.
  4. Shock Tarts – I think they are called “Shockers” now, but whatever the name, they are excellent.  Another candy you can’t eat too much of, but I can easily go through a pack without blinking.  I have often ate so many that my mouth became raw.
  5. Nerds – A true classic.  I think some of my earliest candy memories involve Nerds.  I remember trying to hide a pack in my pocket and getting frustrated because they were too loud.
  6. SweetTart Jelly Beans – My favorite seasonal candy.  We usually buy 5-6 bags, but they only last about a month after Easter.
  7. Sour Patch Kids – These still remind me of the Movie Theatre where my brother and I would get these every time I would go.
  8. Dots – These are a love or hate candy (but not so much as JuJuBees, which I also love).  These have to be the most filling candy of all time.  I will eat a box and feel like I ate a meal.
  9. Giant Chewy Sweet Tarts – If we go only on eating enjoyment, it does not get much better than these.  However, I am always a bit disappointed by the packaging.  I feel ripped off when I only get a few of those large discs of sugary goodness.  In all honesty it probably for the best because I could eat 20 so without thinking.
  10. Sour Jolly Rancher Gummies – These are the newest addition to the list after I discovered them a few weeks ago.  These chewy bites taste just like Jolly Ranchers and are coated with sour sugar.  I went back a few days later and bought the remaining stock.

After going through this list a clear pattern is emerging.  I like sour chewy/gummy things and have a clear affinity for Wonka candy (By the way, Beth’s teaching partner Lara has the same addiction).  I am not big on hard candy (I crunch it immediately) and I don’t really like chocolate — but don’t get me wrong, if its sweet, I will eat it.  If you ever need me to help you out on a project, just know I work cheap.  I would gladly put in 8 hours of hard labor for a bag of the above mentioned candies.

So what about you… what gets your sweet tooth crying for more?


Categories: Family, Food / Drink Tags: , ,

Garden Lessons Learned

August 14th, 2009 1 comment

As August rolls on, more and more rows in our summer garden come to their end.  Just yesterday the last of our sweet corn was harvested and the stalks cut down.  While the okra is still going strong, the tomatoes are reaching the end of their production, the zucchini is winding down (never really produced too well — too wet), the basil needs to be cut, and the only peppers left are the jalapenos.  The asparagus is growing up and hopefully will be ready to harvest next spring.  So far we have been able to track our gardening season along with Mikayla’s life — we planted most of the crops 2 days before she was born.  It seems like just yesterday the crops were first coming in and Mikayla was  beginning to sleep through the night.  We have come a long way.


Now that our third year of gardening is wrapping up, it is a good chance to look back on this year (and the others) and make note of the lessons learned.  Here is what I have learned from our mistakes, and accidental successes:

  • Each year we have started in a new location.  Every other year we have struggled with weeds, but this year we beat them early on.  We tilled in early April, then covered it with black plastic for two weeks to kill the grass.  When we pulled the plastic we tilled again and never had a major week problem.
  • It takes at least 4 dry days before you can till a garden.  Be on the look out starting in mid-march because there are only a few good opportunities.
  • When it comes to planting, while the average last freeze is April 20th around here, there is nothing wrong with planting into mid-May.
  • Get your transplants at the school greenhouses or the farmer’s market — they are exponentially cheaper.
  • Plant less squash and zucchini than you think you need, but more broccoli.
  • Don’t forget how freakin’ tall okra gets.
  • If you want a steady stream of corn, plant it in stages separated by about 2 weeks.  You can plant as late as June if you are willing to water.
  • If working with stage-planted corn, or small batches, you really need to pollinate by hand.  Cut a tassel or two off every other day or so and rub it on the silks.
  • It is better to harvest corn too early than too late
  • After the corn reaches 2′ you can stop weeding, but make sure you weed the first few weeks or it will affect the production.
  • Planting two tomato plants per cage doesn’t produce any more.
  • Bucket tomatoes (hung upside down) do in fact produce, but not nearly as much (25% or less) of a regular planting.
  • Don’t underestimate the weight of a tomato plant — use a cage and a tobacco stick or rebar to support it.
  • Broccoli gets bitter after the first cutting or two.
  • Okra can grow off the main stalk, so be sure to look carefully.
  • It is easier to weed every other day or so than to let things go for a week or more and try to catch up.
  • Asparagus takes a year to produce
  • You have to plant garlic the autumn before, so plan ahead — we have missed our opportunity each year.
  • It is a great experience to do community gardens, but it is less stressful to be able to walk out into your backyard to harvest or weed.

So what about you, what have you learned in your time gardening?

10 Foods

July 16th, 2009 No comments

As Beth and I list out our top 10 lists of 10, we come to the discussion of food with day 3.  Here is a list of my favorite dishes.  Beyond #1, there is no particular order.

  1. Mom’s Vegetable Soup – Far and away my favorite dish.  When I got married, I made sure my wife added this delectable delight to her stable of regular meals.  Thick and healthy, this slightly spicy soup heats up well and can be eaten for 5-10 meals straight with no complaints!!
  2. Lettuce Wraps – Perhaps the famous dish from the classy Chinese chain P.F. Chang’s.  I could eat these alone and be very happy.  We have tried to copy the recipe at home.  Our dish is good, but not the same.
  3. Thai Food – I know that is a broad category, but I love the mix of sweetness and spiciness with lots of noodles/rice and fresh vegetables.  Thai food can be bold, light and filling all at the same time.  Two favorites are Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Noodles) and a Green Curry / Coconut milk soup served over rice from our local Thai Restaurant.
  4. Sushi – I would consider myself a moderate sushi eater.  I don’t shy away from the raw fish dishes, but at the same time I prefer the rolls with tempura.  My favorite is the Special Roll from Ichiban which is fried shrimp, cream cheese, avocado served with spicy crab on top and special sauces below.
  5. Chicken Fajita Gyros – Available at a small shotgun style restaurant just off the square of Bowling Green.  Great mix of flavors on delicious pita bread.  You must have it along with the pita and hummus appetizer.
  6. Stuffed Jalapenos – Beth has a recipe that she makes that uses fresh jalapenos (straight from our garden), cuts them in half, and bakes them with a cream cheese and sausage filling.
  7. Pizza – But not just any Pizza.  I am talking about a hand tossed masterpiece with thin(ner) crust in the middle and a nice soft crust on the outside edge.  Not too much cheese or sauce, and topped with ham, banana peppers, garlic and onions.  Throw some peppery spices on there and you are good to go.  Honorable mention goes to a good chicken white sauce pizza with lots of garlic.
  8. Stew – I love a good thick stew, especially on a cold day.  Lots of bay leaves for flavor along with crushed black peppers, big chunks of potatoes and an abundance of meat makes for a great dish.
  9. Mongolian BBQ – I was first introduced to this at a restaurant in Missoula, MT.  Usually it consists of thin slices of meat, noodles, veggies, and your choice of sauces.  You mix it up and then hand it off to have it cooked in front of you.  To make it even better, it usually is all you can eat.
  10. Candy – Come on… if you know me, you know my favorite food of all time is candy.  I will eat it all, but I love chewy sweet and sour stuff.  Give me some chewy sweet-tarts, or sour patch kids, or sour watermelon slices and I am golden.  But… don’t leave it laying around if you ever expect to save some for yourself.