Tag Archives: cooking

Letter C #AtoZChallenge

Continuing my A to Z theme of a memoir encyclopedia, here are my Letter C entries.

Carebears

When I was a kid, I never had Barbies. I was much too tomboyish for that. But I did have a vast collection of Carebears. Once word spread that I was into the colorful plush bears with designs on their bellies, everyone gave me one for birthdays and Christmases. I had at least one of every Carebear, and even a few repeats. I had three of the pink ones with the rainbow on their belly…like anyone needs three of the same Carebear! What’s weird is that I don’t remember actually playing with them. I think I may have slept with them, but they mostly lived on my wooden shelf, lined up and on display. When I got too old to have stuffed animals all over my room, my mom put them all in a large trashbag and stored them in the garage. Somehow, in the process of cleaning out the garage, they were thrown out. I remember being so sad when I found that out. I wish I still had them so I could show my niece and nephew.

Central Baptist Church

I attended Central Baptist from birth through college. Since it used to be only a block away, we walked to church. I spent loads of time there, and not just on Sundays. I went to Wednesday night church, Vacation Bible School (VBS), Disciple Now, and many other church functions. I made some really close friends there, too. My favorite memories are when we got to come down to the front during the Sunday morning message, or “big church” as my parents called it) for children’s church. I also really loved the youth group. Our youth paster, Tim Skaggs, was a really cool guy who had a knack for engaging pre-teens and teens, his messages a perfect mix of humor and driving home the message. I attended many years of church summer camp, where I learned to spread my wings. Later, as a college student, I worked part time in the Mother’s Day Out program, which I really enjoyed. Central really meant a lot to me.

China (and Change)

China will always hold a special place in my heart. When I began my international teaching career in Shanghai in 2010, I thought I would be there for two years, fulfill my contract, and go back home with a few more stamps in my passport and some interesting stories to tell my friends. Little did I know that I would stay there for five years and become hooked on the international teacher expat life.

When I first moved to China, everything was a culture shock. Nothing felt familiar and I was forever comparing it to life back in Texas. I swear I must have been a broken record. “In my old school…” “This doesn’t taste/look/smell like it does in Texas.” Well, of course it doesn’t. I was in China. I was inundated with newness in everything. New foods. New ways of shopping (How do you bargain?). New smells (There’s nothing that compares to China smell.) New ways of getting around. New language (Now that part was tricky!). New ways of doing things.

That first year was rough. Unbeknownst to me, I was thought to be the one teacher who might pull ‘a runner.’ Lots of tears were shed, some from homesickness, but most from frustration. I learned a lot that year about China, but also about myself. I grew and began to morph into a slightly different version of myself, one that had a thicker skin, could laugh when I found myself in precarious situations, and one that was more of a risk-taker. My food repertoire exploded in China. Being in Shanghai, a international city with cuisine varieties from all over the world, I tried many different types of food for the first time. I’ve since become more adventurous with food and love to try new things.

Christmas

Christmas is my second favorite holiday. I love the traditions, family time, decorations, and food. Growing up, Andrew and I couldn’t wait to wake up and rush out to the living room to discover what Santa had left for us. Santa always left our presents unwrapped, a pile for each of us on either side of the tree. Our stockings were always filled with oranges and chocolates, and sometimes some socks. I secretly wished our stockings had been filled with all kinds of different small trinkets like Santa left my best friend Nicole. That’s probably why I now fill the stockings with things like that.

After seeing our loot from Santa, we’d bound into mom and dad’s room, jumping on their bed and waking them up, practically pulling them out of bed to come and see what Santa brought us. They were always as surprised as we were. The rest of the morning consisted of playing with our Santa gifts, mom starting on Christmas lunch, and me calling Nicole to ask what she got. We’d then make plans to hang out later that day. Smells of lunch made my tummy grumble, and just when I couldn’t take it anymore, mom would put breakfast on the table.

Mamaw and Grandaddy always came over around noon for Christmas lunch, and the rule was that no one could open presents until we’d had lunch, which was absolute torture for us. We’d beg to no avail. The answer was always the same, “No, we open presents after lunch.” I’m not sure who started this tradition, but I sure didn’t like it as a kid. We still have the same tradition now, only waiting to open presents until after lunch doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m almost always the last to open gifts nowadays. I prefer to watch my niece and nephew open their gifts, their eyes lighting up with excitement. Christmas through a child’s eyes is magic.

Cookie Cake

My guilty pleasure is cookie cake. Great American Cookie Co. cookie cake to be exact. I detest the ones with the colored icing. My favorite is the chocolate chip cookie cake with chocolate icing, and maybe a little bit of white icing, but not too much. Whenever I’m home for the summer, I hint, not so subtlety, for my mom to get me a cookie cake for my birthday, which they missed celebrating with me since it’s in May. My mom doesn’t believe in belated birthday celebrations, so I don’t get the cookie cake. My contribution for the past few years at our Kesler family reunion has been a large cookie cake. I pretend it’s because the kids love cookie cake, which they do, but in reality, I get it for me. I feel guilty if I buy myself a birthday cake, but a reunion cake for everyone is no problem.

Cooking

One of my favorite pastimes is cooking. I love cooking for other people, but I cook for myself, too. I think what intrigues me is that I can put a lot of different ingredients together and end up with a new creation. Cooking brings people together. Nothing says love than getting a group of people together and sharing a meal. I am really looking forward to cooking this summer with my family and to my new place having a good kitchen. My current kitchen situation is pathetic. I have a tiny refrigerator, a sink, about 2 feet of counter space, and a hot plate, which makes it really difficult to do anything. I’m pretty tired of going out or ordering in at this point!

Cousins

It’s true what they say. Your cousins are your first friends, and for me, that was most true with my cousin Katy, who is three days older than me. Growing up the same age meant that we had loads in common, and while we didn’t live in the same town, our parents got together often enough and we spent time together at holidays, that we were each other’s best friends when we were younger. I wasn’t as close to Katy’s older siblings, Kevin and Kenna, growing up, the age gap a little too big (10 and 7 years older), but as we’ve become adults, I have really enjoyed getting to know them, and have spent time with them and their families.

My cousin Candice, seven years my junior, and I became really close when she was in high school and I was in college/out in the real world. I remember taking a trip with her to Chicago over Spring Break during my first year of teaching. It was both our first times to visit, and coming from Texas, we were not prepared for the snowy weather. I remember traipsing all over the city visiting museums and other sites with her. One of the memories from that trip that sticks out most was when we got lost in search of a comedy club where we were going to see an improv show. Even though I was the older (and presumably wiser) one, I was naive and would go up to shady strangers to ask for assistance. Candice scolded me on more than one occasion after I talked to unsavory men on the street. One of my tips eventually paid off and we made it to the club, where we laughed our heads off. I vaguely remember that one of us was called up on stage to be a part of the show, but for the life of me, I can’t remember if it was Candice or me.

Candice’s younger brother, Nathan, and I weren’t very close growing up, mainly due to the fact that I am 11 years older than him, but I have started to get to know him as an adult, and he’s a really cool guy. I love how goal-oriented and hard-working he is.

I have two younger cousins from my mom’s side, Laura and Matthew. Laura is a freshman at A&M and Matthew is still in high school. For most of their lives, they lived in Tennessee, so we didn’t see each other often. I’ve visited them a few times since they moved back to Texas, and I am proud of them. They are both very smart and talented. I’d love to spend more time getting to know them.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

35 Things that Make Me Happy!

As I approach my 35th birthday later this week, I am struck by the fact that I don’t have any real feelings toward it. I’m not worried or sad about getting older, nor am I overly excited about it. I’m excited about my kick ass birthday party this weekend, but I love planning parties, so that’s no surprise! I think I find it odd because 25 really bothered me. Something about no longer being able to say I was in my early 20’s rubbed me the wrong way. No other birthday before or after 25 has bothered me.

For today’s slice, I thought I’d take a page from fellow blogger Michelle’s book and write a list of 35 things that make me happy. Here goes! (in no particular order)

  1. Goat cheese! (I had some with dinner tonight…yum!)
  2. Traveling! OMG I live for my next trip! (Coincidentally my next trip is Amsterdam in 9 days!)
  3. Slow mornings
  4. Organizing and planning
  5. My family (I get to see them in less than 2 months! EEEK!)
  6. Making lists…hehe
  7. Decorating my home
  8. Cooking
  9. A new journal
  10. Lip syncing! I equally love doing it and watching it.
  11. Soft pajamas
  12. English Breakfast Tea, Twinings to be exact
  13. Chai Tea Lattes…especially from Starbucks
  14. Teaching
  15. Sharing a story…in a book or from my life, it doesn’t matter to me
  16. Smiles
  17. Videos…inspirational, funny, informative
  18. My friends
  19. Blogging…so far I haven’t missed a Tuesday since the SOL Challenge ended!
  20. Biking around the city
  21. Making new friends
  22. Coming home to a clean apartment
  23. Spending time on the beach
  24. Glasses!
  25. Living abroad…it has shaped who I am today
  26. Theme parties
  27. Queso!!!
  28. Artwork that speaks to me
  29. Finding a new book
  30. Listening to music
  31. Sharing my joy with others…whatever it is that day!
  32. A good pen…I’m totally like my dad about this one.
  33. Massages
  34. Brunch
  35. Firsts…love trying something new! Here’s to more firsts this year! 🙂
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Michelle, Linner, and me on my birthday last year…man I miss these gals!

Year 6, Day 1 #sol16 1 of 31

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I began participating in the Slice of Life Challenge back in 2011. Here it is 6 years later, and we’re at the beginning of yet another challenge. I look forward to the challenge each year, and this year is no different. Well, that’s not entirely true. I am looking forward to participating in the challenge, that’s for sure, but this year is different. While I definitely blog more heavily in March, I tend to blog throughout the year, writing slices of life, stories about living abroad and my travels across this globe, and musings about education. This year, for reasons I have yet to figure out, my writing life has been stagnant. I love writing, but the words haven’t come as easily as they have in the past. My energy for writing has waned.

But…I intend to use this challenge to reignite my passion for writing, to work out that muscle that has been dormant for so long. I am unprepared for the challenge in the traditional sense. Typically I have a list of topic ideas already scratched out in my writer’s notebook by day one. I hem and haw over which one to explore first. Nope, not this year. This year I’m winging it. I’m going to tackle each day as it comes. Maybe that’s just what I need–to add some spontaneity back into my writing!

For those of you who don’t know me, here’s a little bit of who I am.

I’m not afraid to speak in front of a large crowd of adults (or kids for that matter). It goes with the territory.

Traveling is my life. If I’m not on a trip, I’m planning the next one. I’ll have been to 12 countries (8 new) this school year by the time July rolls around.

I have a love affair with goat cheese. Like, for real. I can’t get enough of it.

I’m currently living on continent number four. Hopefully I can try my hand at Africa and South America someday.

My family is very important to me, despite living so far away. I love spending time with them when I go home for Christmases and summers.

I love hosting parties, cooking for others, and spending time laughing with and getting to know friends.

I invest in people, but I have a hard time balancing my time and energy between those who are near me and those far away. I have a tendency to devote more time to those who are near, but this doesn’t mean I love the ones far away any less. I love that my friends understand this about me.

I spend an inordinate amount of money on books, journals and writing utensils, and good food.

My five-year “veggie-versary” just happened last month. It’s hard to believe that the last time I ate a hamburger was over 5 years ago. Don’t miss it at all though!

My favorite thing to do when I visit a new place is to wander the streets, getting a feel for the local lifestyle, taking in the sounds and sights, and sampling the foods. Sure, I’ll hit up the touristy things, but what I remember most about my travels were the unplanned experiences that happened when I just walked around.

Nana Puddin’- SOL

Yesterday I introduced China to my Mamaw’s Nana Puddin’ (AKA banana pudding). In my after school cooking class, we made cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches and Nana Puddin’, and while they loved both of the dishes, the pudding was by far their favorite! “Ms. Jennifer, this pudding is THIS GOOD!” they’d shout while giving me a two thumbs up. “Ms. Jennifer, you’re the best cooker in the world,” they’d say while looking up at me with those cute little faces. I love them! 🙂 While we were making the pudding, I shared this story about when my Mamaw and I would make Nana Puddin’ together…

Going to Mamaw’s house was my favorite thing to do growing up. Between the rides out to woods in the beat up old Dodge pick-up, picking dewberries from the vines that grew around the barbed wire fence, evenings spent listening to her tell us stories from her childhood, and shelling peas on the front porch swing, we always cooked. I remember so many meals we cooked together, but the one that stands out the most is Nana Puddin’.

Before I was tall enough to reach the kitchen counters, Mamaw would hoist me up on the black leather barstool that swiveled with even the slightest movement. I’d sit on my knees while Mamaw taught me how to make homemade vanilla pudding. One thing you need to know about my Mamaw is that she was the best cook in the whole wide world! She made everything from scratch– no box mixes for her. My job, according to Mamaw, was “official taste tester.” Once she had made the pudding just right, she’d spoon a little bit into my mouth, and anxiously await my verdict. “Well, how is it? Does it taste right?” she’d ask. “Hmmm…I think I need another taste to be sure, but I think it’s right,” I’d say grinning. Even though she was onto my tricks, she’d give me another taste. “Yep, just right!” I’d say.

Next came the part where I did most of the work. I’d slice the bananas at just the right thickness, usually all by myself. Next, I’d place a layer of Nilla Wafers in the bottom of the 9×13 glass pan, followed by a layer of sliced bananas. With Mamaw’s help, I’d pour half of the warm pudding on top of the bananas, and repeat the process– Nilla Wafers, bananas, and pudding. The last step, my personal favorite, was making the meringue. She and I would whip the egg whites, sugar, and vanilla until the perfect peaks began to form. After adding the meringue to the top of the pudding, we’d pop it into the oven, where I’d sit and watch until the top was a golden brown. “It’s ready, Mamaw!” I’d call, and she’d pull it out of the oven, placing it on the stovetop to cool. After a few minutes, my brother and Grandaddy, after smelling the pudding cooling on the stove, would gather in the kitchen and we’d all share in the first tastes of the warm, gooey Nana Puddin’…it was pure bliss!

I’m thankful for these memories, and I can’t wait to share them with my kids one day. I have and will always love you, Mamaw! I miss you! 

Cooking with PK & K- SOL

After last week’s trial-by-fire in my Pre-K & Kinder Cooking class, I felt a little defeated. As I walked around school this week, I was uplifted by the smiling faces and waves I received all week from my new little buddies. Several teachers even commented on how much the students loved cooking class! One little girl said, “I wish everyday was Tuesday so I could go to cooking class!” I was mentally ready and willing to give it another go, however, I needed to rethink my strategy. Instead of “cooking” which means I’m doing a lot of the work (they are too little to cook with heat- not safe!), we needed more of “assembly” type recipes. With this new game plan, I was prepared and the results were happy, engaged students and a non-stressed teacher. I’d say today was a most pleasant day!

Today’s menu included spiders, mini fruit kebabs, and trail mix. They loved it!!! I couldn’t believe how attentive and careful they were. They were super cute when they were “cooking” and they loved the tasty treats they made. Here are two of our recipes:

“Spiders”

Ingredients: crackers, cream cheese, pretzels, and raisins

Directions: Spread cream cheese on one side of 2 crackers. Place 8 pretzel “legs” into the cream cheese on one cracker. Place the other cracker (cream cheese side down) on top of the first cracker. Put a small bit of cream cheese on the top cracker. Place 2 raisin “eyes” on the cream cheese. Enjoy!

Trail Mix

Ingredients: Cheerios, Trix cereal, pretzels, chocolate chips, raisins, and sunflower seeds

Directions: Add desired amount of each ingredient to a bowl or plastic bag. Mix with a spoon. Enjoy!

Cooking with Little Ones- SOL

Yesterday was week one of a ten week cooking course where I teach 4 and 5 year olds how to cook. Normally this would freak me out since my experience is mainly with upper elementary, but this is my third semester to teach cooking class after school. I’ve had many freak out moments in the past couple of semesters…here’s hoping those moments are all in the past!

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of knowledge these little ones possessed about kitchen safety and cooking utensils. I introduced many kitchen tools yesterday to see if they were familiar with their names and functions. When I got to the can opener, no one knew what it was or what it did, but their guesses were pretty cute! Just a few of the responses…nut cracker, onion slicer, thing used to take stuff out of the oven. Next, a little kindergartener raised her hand and said, “I don’t know what it does, but I see that it has simple machines on it. I see gears and a lever.” I was so excited for her to make that connection because the kindergarten classes just wrapped up a Unit of Inquiry focusing on simple machines. It’s so neat when you see students making real world connections to their learning!

A little later, we were shaking up a Ziploc baggie with breadcrumbs, an egg mixture, and broccoli to make our “Slam Dunk Veggie Dippers.” If you’ve ever cooked with kids, you know that shaking stuff up is one of the most interesting and fun activities you can do! When it came time for Eudora, a shy 4 year old, to shake the bag, she just stared at it. I prompted her to shake the bag…nothing. Kimberly, the 5 year old sitting next to her, said, “Look, do it like this” while demonstrating. Again, nothing. Iris, another 5 year old, cheered her on, saying, “You can do it! Just give it a try!” As you may have guessed, no response again. And then, the sweetest thing happened. Instead of saying something about her not shaking the bag, Kimberly and Iris said with a smile, “It’s OK, you can try it next time!” I just love their helpful, caring attitude toward others! I can tell it’s going to be a great semester!

I’d like to close with my favorite Pre-K quote of the week. As they were helping one another, I overheard one student say, “We’re using our teamwork!” I smiled to myself, pleased that they were working together so positively. Immediately after that, I hear a very headstrong little lady reply, “I do my teamwork by myself!” Giggling, I reply, “It’s not teamwork if you do it by yourself.” Thinking it over, she turned and said, “I still do it by myself.” Gotta love the independence of 4 year olds! We’ll keep working on her understanding of teamwork. 🙂 

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?!?- SOL

Has this ever happened to you? You plan for something to turn out one way, but it turns out completely different than you had planned. Well, I have!

I teach upper elementary for a reason. I love their independence, the ability they possess to follow directions, their common sense…the list goes on and on. Why then did I volunteer to teach a cooking class to Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten children? I’m not entirely sure.

Yesterday was my very first cooking class. We made scrambled eggs and French toast. With the class scheduled for an hour and a half, I wondered what I was going to do with ALL that time…boy was I wrong…we barely finished by the time they had to be picked up! Some of the highlights of my afternoon included LOTS of questions, raw eggs splattered in their hair, pureed bananas instead of sliced ones because it  was so much fun to chop, one little girl who cried the whole time because she wanted her mommy, LOTS of hugs, oh, and the best one…When my back was turned, a 4 year old boy decided it would be a great idea to crush the egg shells and dump them into the egg mixture that we were using to dip our bread into for the French toast! Seriously! I asked him why he did that, but he just smiled and said, “I don’t know!” Of course you don’t. All in all it was an adventure, but I am definitely rethinking next week’s game plan!

Don’t get me wrong, they are seriously adorable kids, but I’m pretty sure my patience would run out if I taught that age group all the time. Kudos to any teacher who teaches first grade and younger!