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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

 Merry Christmas!  Bryan and I had a great time celebrating Christmas here in Bangalore.  We kept some of our standard Christmas traditions and changed other things up a bit.  We worked on Christmas Eve and then went got some appetizers and drinks for supper.  Back at the apartment we watched some TV and then got ready for midnight mass. 

I wanted to get to church for the Christmas Carols, so we left the apartment at 11 PM.  We got to church and were in our seats by 11:15, when the caroling started.  At 11:15 the church was already packed so we sat outside on the seating that was set up in the parking lot/church grounds. 
This is the outside of our church.  You can see two of the many screens projecting the caroling and mass to the large number of people outside.

We were sitting outside near the entrance to the church.  This was the view on the right (pic. above) and left (pic. below).  There were people all over the church grounds.

As we listened to the Christmas Carols we were in awe of the number of people anticipated to attend this service.  Our moderately sized church is usually full on Sundays, but there were chairs set up all over the church grounds with projectors and sound systems so everyone could hear and see.
As the caroling continued, people just kept coming!  Soon, all of the chairs were full and there was standing room only.  Bryan and I enjoyed hearing all of the songs, some familiar and some new to us. 
Still, people were coming to church, crowding in, and sharing in the excitement of Christmas Eve.  The mass started at 11:45.  Catholic masses are predictable and this mass followed that predictability.  The thing that was different was the sheer number of people and their curiosity and excitement.  The guy sitting next to Bryan spent the entire mass calling his friends and family to wish them a Merry Christmas.  He was not alone as many others were doing the same.  Still others were milling around the church grounds throughout the entire mass.  We were glad for the predictability because even though we couldn’t always see or hear, we knew what was going on!
Right before mass ended, they announced there would be cake for everyone to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  As it was 1:15 AM Bryan and I decided to dash out of there as quickly as we could so as to avoid as much of the milling crowd as possible.  I all but ran to the car where Suresh was waiting for us.  (I was struggling as during mass multiple children approached me asking for money.  They were so sad!  I knew there would be more of them as we exited the church grounds and my heart was breaking.)
Suresh managed the crowds of people and other vehicles and got us home safely around 1:30 AM.  We are so reliant on Suresh and appreciate him so much!
Once home we got to Skype with Bryan’s side of the family and that was a great way to kick off our Christmas Day!
On Christmas Day we opened our presents, did a bit of shopping at the stores around our apartment, sat by the pool, and watched some movies before going downstairs to have the Christmas Buffet.  We miss our family’s traditional holiday meals, but we filled up on great food and lots of falafel as well as caramelized bananas!
We also go to Skype with both of our families which was a nice way to end our Christmas Day. 
Here are some pictures of the apartment complex, all decorated for the holidays:
Right outside our apartment is this great terrace with restaurants on either side.  The center walk way gets decorated for all of the holidays. (Pic above and below).

Our apartment is connected to a swanky mall.  They always decorate it for the holidays and here are some pictures of it. (Picture above and below.)

We have a lot of excitement for the coming days as our friends are coming to visit and we are going to Goa!  I’m excited to tell you all about that when we return.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lasagna - well, kind of!

I’m happy to report that the food situation continues to improve!  While the food or availability of food has not changed, my ability to see different foods and think of ideas of things I can make with them has changed.  Furthermore, I’ve embraced more vegetables!
Most recently, I have been buying eggplant and cabbage.  I make my Mom’s stuffed cabbage rolls, but I don’t stuff them so it’s a cabbage casserole that is not picture-friendly for this blog.
What I can share is my recent eggplant adventures.  My one unfortunate encounter with eggplant involved frying it where something just wasn’t quite ‘right.’  I quickly wrote eggplant off the list of edible vegetables.    Here in Bangalore the eggplant looks really good.  And, you might recall that I was actually craving vegetables.  So the stars aligned on a brave vegetable day and I bought one!  (My Mom still cannot believe I tried one.  Yes, my vegetable aversion was that bad.  I’m working on it though!)  I fried it and Bryan and I enjoyed it as eggplant parmesan.  I wouldn’t go all crazy on you and tell you that I loved it, but it hit the spot and filled a void.  We decided we could eat eggplant again.
I bought more and fried them and Bryan and I ate them as our main dish.
Then, Bryan and I found ourselves in the best situation possible.  We had an excess of buffalo mozzarella so the only logical thing to do was to buy more eggplant to make eggplant lasagna with real cheese!  I haven’t had cheese in my lasagna/manicotti for more than three years. 
I haven’t found gluten-free lasagna noodles here so I sliced the eggplant, battered it, lightly fried it in a pan, and used the eggplants like I would lasagna noodles.  The lasagna was good, and the cheese was the best treat!  I won’t lie to you.  I could tell the noodles were missing and some vegetables had been added, but it tasted great and has continued to make good leftovers.  This is another meal I’ll add to the rotation!
Here is the recipe:
Slice the eggplant and lightly salt each side to let the bitterness and moisure seep out for at least 30 minutes if not longer.
Brown Ground Beef with chopped onions.  Add your favorite pasta sauce and let simmer.

 As the beef is cooking, dry off the eggplant with a paper towel and prepare your dredging station.
I cracked 1 egg and used about 1/2 c. gluten-free flour seasoned with pepper and italian seasoning.

Dredge eggplant slices in egg and then in flour.  Add to a lightly oiled fry pan and fry on either side until nice and brown like below:

Spread a bit of the tomato sauce and beef mixture in the bottom of the pan.  Place a layer of eggplant followed by a layer of sauce and then a layer of cheese.  Repeat 2-3 times or until your eggplant is used or your pan is full.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until the cheese is melted and warmed through.

What is next on the list of things to make?  A Mexican Casserole, Christmas cookies Bryan has been requesting, and roasted red pepper and goat cheese appetizers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Roasted Figs

As promised, I have some cooking to blog about!  I made some Eggplant Parmesan that actually turned out, but I failed to take some pictures.  Now that I know what I am doing I'll get some pictures, or snaps as they are called here and blog about that soon (as there is more of that in our near future)!

Today I had lunch with two friends.  It was wonderful to chat and learn about their go-to places in Bangalore.  After lunch I went with one friend to a store that gets their produce in today.  There was a good selection so I stocked up on some more veggies.  We also went to another grocery store to look for the coveted lettuce (which can be hard to find here).  They didn't have any; but I did find some figs!

My Mom talks about figs and how she would eat them when she went to visit her Grandma and Grandpa in Louisiana.  There have been quite a few figs available at breakfast so I knew they must be in season.  Also, one of the blogs I follow posted something about all of the things one could do with figs and I remember them roasting the figs with honey and serving them with goat cheese and crackers.

My mouth has been salivating since I got that idea so I didn't think twice and bought some!

This dish was rather simple to prepare.  After washing them, I cut the tops off, quartered them, and placed them in a baking dish with the skin side down.

Then, I squeezed some honey over the top and finished it off with some fresh cracked black pepper. I remember the recipe said to use 1/4 to 1/3 cup.  I didn't use that much, and after tasting them warm out of the oven I wish I would have used what the recipe recommended.

So, when I eat these I plan to put them on a cracker with some cheese and squeeze a bit of honey on top.

Tonight for supper I made a casserole that is complete with large amounts of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and carrots.

Veggies: Check!
Fruit: Check!

Here's to hoping there are more balanced meals in our future!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas season for the Muilenburgs in Bangalore

It is officially Christmas season at the Muilenburg house.  This year after Thanksgiving we decorated a small Christmas tree.  It is a bit of a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, but it brings a bit of Christmas cheer to our apartment all the same.  We purchased a package of ornaments that came with the balls, gifts (that we placed under the tree) and drums that we placed on our TV.  It's quite the little Christmas shrine!

We bought the silver angel tree toper for our tree at home.  Since it's officially taller than our tree this year, we just sat the topper beside the tree.

To give you some perspective of how small the tree is, here are both of us next to it.  I think Bryan's head may be as big as the tree!!

Bryan is now treating me to Christmas music and Christmas uTube videos so we're starting to get into the holiday season!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving and some other randomness

As it’s my Thursday (Thanksgiving day in the United States) I’ve been thinking about the things that I’m thankful for and this year my list is very simple: clean water that I can drink, regularly scheduled and reliable trash pickup, that I have a job and can feed and provide shelter for myself, and the sense of community that we are slowly building here in Bangalore.  Of course there are others, but living here has made me realize how lucky we are to have even the most basic of our needs met and it has also surprised me how much we miss our sense of community back home.

I’ve been talking to one of the trainers at the gym while I work out and we were talking about all things food.  Some big food news in India is that Starbucks is coming to India.   The current India equivalent to Starbucks is called Café Coffee Day.  There are multiple of them in the city and they can be found along the major highways too.  I will be interested to see how Starbucks does here because at Café Coffee Day you can get coffee and a pastry for about 150 INR or $2.50.  The same is true for lunch if you want a light lunch.  So, I’m interested to see if Starbucks is able to charge the same prices they charge in the United States here in India.  What I found even more interesting is that he said he can go out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner here in India for about 150 INR and if he makes his meals himself it is much cheaper than that!

We are hopeful to get to Skype with both of our families as they celebrate Thanksgiving.  I’m going to try to make fried chicken, potatoes, and green beans for our supper so it will be somewhat similar to the feasts our families are preparing at home.  We even have chocolate cake to eat with our supper!

I haven’t blogged as much about the food I make here because all things food have been much more difficult than I imagined.  Our kitchen is lightly stocked with cooking gadgets and my attempt at Indian food fails miserably every time.  I recognize that we could go buy more gadgets but there is a certain degree of adventure and challenge in cooking with the things we have.  I’ve adapted well and baked a chocolate cake in the big soup stockpot just the other day.  I’ve also been making pizzas in sauce pans.  Oh, and one of the cleaning guys showed me how to open a can of beans with a knife!  (I’ll be buying canned goods with the pop-top from now on as the can opener we have is an ancient artifact that belongs in a museum!  I don’t recommend opening canned goods with a knife.  He managed not to cut himself but I am not so sure the result would be as positive every time!)

I’ll try to do a better job blogging about the things we make here.  I hope you’ll find it interesting! 

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!  It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving here with the warm weather, sun, and other festivals we’ve gotten to participate in.  I do miss winter squash, sweet potatoes, and green beans so fill up on those for me. J

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hampi Pictures

I've let too much time go by without posting more pictures from our trip to Hampi.

I'll spare you the history lesson and let you look at the pictures.  To give you a very high-level overview, the area is thought to be created from volcanoes that eruped under the ocean millions (or maybe even billions) of years ago.  The volcanoes created granite, so pretty much everything you see is granite.

It's amazing that thousands of years ago without the equipment we use today, people built these civilizations that are still standing today.  They think it took 30 or more years to build some of these things.  Can you imagine if we wanted to buid something today and they told us it would take 30 years?  We would say no thank you!

 Ganesh is inside this structure.  Notice the detail on the top.  Also, on the right there is a lady bent over cleaning the grounds.  It gives you a perspective of just how big all of these things were!

Check out this two-story structure. 
 A piece of the mountain broke off and fell on this structure, but it was still standing.  Just this one corner was not 'square' but the rest of the structure looked to be in good shape.
 That temple is probably 13 stories tall, but from this vantage point it doesn't look like it!  It was mostly overcast while we were in Hampi.  That was a good thing because it could have been very hot!

 Check out the crazy eyes on this guy!
 This detail of carving was all over the place!  Here is an example of their hunting techniques.  I found it interesting that in that day many women hunted too.
 This was a water reservoir of sorts.  It's pretty deep - and there were 7 of these on this one site alone!
 The leaders used to go underground into this space to talk about private concerns.  (It had a top and was ultra-secure.)  Our guide told us about it and then asked if we wanted to go down the steep stairs to be inside it.  I emphatically said yes!  Bryan immediately said really? 
We climbed down the stairs and then had to turn into this extremely dark hallway that was really wet to get into the part you can see here.  About half way in I realized that that location is probably a perfect location for the highly poisonous snakes of the area and froze!  At that point it was clear why Bryan was so surprised I wanted to go down there!  Suzanne coaxed me into the open space below.  I'm glad that we went down there, and glad that we got out of there without any unwanted critters!
 We did a lot of climbing these small mountains on Day #2.  We stoped here for a break.  You can see by the red on our foreheads that we visited the temple earlier that day.
 This carriage was not build to move, but rather designed to be a piece of art.  It was really impressive!  We heard it is one of the most popular spots in Hampi.
 This was the entrance.  You can barely see the intricate carvings at the top.
Many Hindu people travel here if they are unable to have a baby or if they are in need of a home.  They tie little bundles to the tree and hope they can have a baby or build little homes at the base of the tree if the yare in need of a home.  If they do have a baby or get a home, then the couple brings their family and friends here for a huge feast.  This picture doesn't really do it justice - there was SO MUCH stuff tied to the tree and on the ground.

 These were Elephant stables for the Elephants.  It seemed to be a very nice place for them.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Veggies, ah veggies

If you know me very well you know that I don't love vegetables.  I will eat them because I know they are good for me but I never think to myself, "Gee, I'd really like some (insert vegetable here)."  My thinking is more along the lines of "Pizza, yeah, that has tomatoes on it.  I don't think we need a vegetable to go with pizza!"

Fruit?  Now fruit is a different story.  I have no problem consuming inappropriately large amounts of fruit!

After finding out that I couldn't have gluten or dairy, I decided I should really try to eat more vegetables.  Ok, maybe I didn't decide that I needed more vegetables, but it was something I could eat so instead of limiting myself even further I thought I should try to consume more vegetables.  Oh, and by consuming them it also meant consuming large amounts of hummus and salad dressing to wash them down.  Whatever it takes, right?

Now that we are in Bangalore I've fallen into my old habits and have not eaten many vegetables.  And, for the past week I've been actually craving them.  (My Mom is never going to believe that I was actually hungry for vegetables!)

On Friday I went out for lunch and ordered a salad.  It was a bit smaller than I would have liked but it was delicious!  It even came with red peppers, tomatoes, and onions on it.  Oh, and it was real lettuce, not just iceberg lettuce. 

About an hour after lunch I became sick.  Really sick.  Laying on the bathroom floor sick.  Hardly getting out of bed sick. 

I've been taking Cipro for more than 24 hours and am hoping that it's going to kick in soon.  In more than 24 hours my main sustenance has been Sprite. 

What I know is that I likely won't be craving vegetables, especially salad, anytime soon! 

See, I knew vegetables were bad for me!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Visiting Hampi

This weekend we traveled about 6 hours north of Bangalore to Hampi.  Hampi is in the same state that Bangalore is in, Kanartaka, but felt like an entirely different place.  It was a much smaller city that bustling Bangalore, but the terrain was different as well.  While Bangalore is flat, Hampi is filled with small mountains of granite. 

Hampi is actually an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is the former captial of the Vijayanagara Empire and is located within the ruins of Vijayanagara.  Hampi is an important religious center as it is home to the Virupaksha temple as well as several other monuments. 

We took more than 500 pictures during the two days were were sight seeing so I (quickly) reviewed a few and posted them here.  As I have more time to sort through the pictures and identify them I will update some more.

We went to Hampi with our friend Suzanne who is also living here in Bangalore so you'll see her in some of these pictures.  It was fun to have a travel buddy and share some laughs and memories!

This was a structure built out of granite.  Granite is not easy to carve or shape, but thousands of years ago without the equipment we have now, they cut and lifted the granite to make the amazing structures we saw this weekend.  They created tongue-and-groove joints to ensure that their buildings would be sturdy.  You can see in the picture above just how sturdy those joints are!  A huge bolder broke off and hit the monument but it is still standing.  You can see it is crooked though!

We visited many temples including the one behind me.  I think that one is more than 10 stories high.  I've grown since you saw me last!  Actually, in the background you can see the other large hills/small mountains and I'm standing on top of one for this picture.
You can see the same temple behind Bryan, Suzanne and I.  This time it's a bit closer to scale but not quite right.  You can see the tongue-and-groove joints in this structure though.

 Here are some more pictures to tempt you until I can get captions and label them.

(See - look at all that granite!)

Monday, October 15, 2012

The beauty of India

Bangalore is a huge city, but it doesn't really feel that big (maybe because I don't have to drive myself anywhere and can't really get around without Suresh or walking a short distance from our apartment).  To me, Bangalore feels a lot like Washington D.C.  Bangalore is also called India's Garden City and has the most beautiful flowers and plants. When I stayed in Washington D.C. I thought they did such a good job keeping a lot of plants as the city grew, and the same can be said for Bangalore.

Here are some pictures of flowers and plants we've taken since being here.  Many of these were from our time in Coorg too.
These trees flower with the most beautiful flowers.  They are right next to the pool at the apartment and I love them.  They do drop their flowers somewhat often though, so I'm sure that the pool boys don't love them as much as I do!

Yikes!  Look at the thorns on that plant!  These were at the elephant training camp where there were all sorts of animals wandering around as well as humans.  I can't imagine what it feels like to step on one of those!

These bell flowers were in Coorg and we loved them!

Suresh does a great job of pointing different things out to us, so we are getting quite the stash of agricultural pictures too!  Sometime I'll share the rice paddies, sugarcane, ginger, and more that we've seen!