Friday, February 13, 2015

Testing the Flour

I am no food blogger.  I like a good recipe.  I am happy to trust experts in all fields, and cooking is no exception.  Fabulous folks create and test fabulous recipes, and I take those recipes and make delicious food.  Good enough for me.

The problem:  those recipes keep failing in Jakarta.

Tried and true recipes, ones I've made for years, these recipes keep falling flat in Jakarta.  Simple things like lemon bars turn out caramelized - kind of delicious, really, but absolutely not presentable.  And more complex things like yeast coffee cake don't rise, and sit on the plate small, dense and full of butter.  Don't get me wrong - butter is delicious.  But Grammy's cardamom coffeecake is basically flour, yeast, butter and cinnamon sugar.  When the flour and yeast don't work, you're just eating densely packed butter and cinnamon sugar.

Chatting with baker friends have raised a few issues.  The butter here may be denser, with more butter fat than in the US.  The sugar here is thicker, less granulated.  And the flour here is somehow wrong.

So, we can add a bit less butter.  We can run the sugar through the food processor.  But what is the problem with the flour?  How do we adjust for flour being somehow wrong?  I'm not inclined to believe that it is low quality.  I've happily baked with store brand flour in the states and with King Arthur Flour - quite honestly, I never noticed a difference.

Today, we ran a test.

Dave received a food scale for Christmas - a toy for making different pizza crusts, a skill where Dave has begun to excel.  Today's brownies called for 1 1/2 cups of flour, and specified that would be 6.25 ounces.  I measured out the flour in Gold Medal from the US and in Segitiga Biru from Indonesia.  Here are the results:

Indonesian flour unsifted and sifted - 6.4 ounces
US flour unsifted - 7 ounces
US flour sifted - 6 ounces

So, this little project got us absolutely nowhere.  As it turns out, the Indonesian flour came the closest to the appropriate measures. We had theorized that Indonesian flour was somehow lighter than US flour, likely from the sifting process.  This does seem true - the US flour was notably different after we sifted it.  But the Indonesian flour also seems to measure true to recipes, and the US flour does not.  That being true, Indonesian flour ought to work more reliably than Gold Medal.

This is why I am not a food blogger.  I am no scientist, and my rambling results above leave me wanting to dust off my hands and then throw them up in the air.

But no!  Because I don't want to spend twice as much on imported flour, I will press on!  The next experiment - baking the same recipe side by side.  The brownies currently in the oven promise to be amazing.  And also include butter, sugar and flour in very prominent roles.  On my next free day, I'm making two batches of these amazing brownies, and comparing the results.

Anyone who drops by that afternoon will be forced to try two different brownies and analyze the results.  Should be a good day :)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Back to Work

A month after returning from holidays, and life has fallen comfortably back into our routines.  We are busier than ever.  Lilly's soccer practice keeps she and I at the school until suppertime once a week, swim lessons for all three take us right up to dinner on another weekday evening.  Lilly has piano lessons and Sophia has a violin tutor, both of whom come to our home after school.  They've each got an after school activity besides.  And then our weekends are full of musical rehearsals, soccer games and my music classes.  We've settled into a new church and so we're enjoying going to church every Sunday morning, and Dave and I try to attend small group every Wednesday night.  The routine doesn't leave much breathing room, but we're enjoying everything and so we just seem to keep rolling along.

The music classes every Saturday are my own.  I brought my music center from Caracas, renamed it, and recruited enough families to run my first session this term.  I'll admit - this has been much more difficult than I expected.  I arrived in Caracas with these music classes in my back pocket, and my neighbors asked me to teach.  With very little effort, I had two classes a week.  I assumed the same thing would happen in Jakarta.  And so, within a few weeks of our arrival, within a few days of moving into our house, I ran my first demonstration class and opened up registration for a September session.

Three families registered.

In a class where you sing and dance and generally make a fun fool of yourself, three families are not enough.  Classes need at least six kids to offer a good experience.  So, I gave those three families their money back and asked them to wait until January.  We enjoyed our empty weekends through October, and ran a bunch of new demonstration classes amid a big marketing push in November and December.  With interest all over town, but only one location and one Saturday morning available to me each week, I opened one class.  That class is nearly at capacity, which excites me to no end.  Even better, everyone seems to enjoy class.  I'm not making a profit yet, but I am enjoying every aspect of the work.  Even more exciting, I'm talking to a local non-profit about volunteering to teach my class at their local preschool.  The kids are very sweet and teaching them would be a joy - but they know precious little English, and I know precious little bahasa Indonesia.  An exciting challenge, no doubt.  But the closer I get to teaching there, the scarier it becomes.

And with this joyfully full schedule, an ideal job listing came across my lap.  I submitted my resume this morning for a part-time job with the embassy.  Perfect in so many ways, here are two.  First, the job would allow me to work from home - a priority we were not considering compromising at this post.  Second, I am honestly qualified for the job - a fact which both surprised and pleased me.  The more years between today and my last full-time employment, the less I've felt able to fulfill the qualifications on any posted job listings.  But I honestly meet each qualification for this one.  I pulled together a resume - initially daunting, but eventually satisfying - and feel I have a good chance of scoring an interview.

Once that happens, we can discuss where I'll fit an extra 20 hours of work into my week.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Our Daily Commute

I walk Annika to school every morning and home again every afternoon.  This walk frequently sets the tone for the rest of my morning, but it does so in an odd way.  The walk to school is a short, straight line on a crowded, busy street.

The street is so crowded that when it carries traffic in both directions, we have barely enough room to walk .

The funny thing is that the road does not actually carry too much traffic.  It is just too narrow of a road, and so things like a little girl walking on the side can snarl the cars all the way down the street.  But just as easily, the road can be empty.  Generally, the road is crowded when we have no sidewalk and magically opens up once we have places to walk safely.

But I've got to admit, this walks puts me in a bad frame of mind.  Far too often, drivers will not budge for a little girl walking on the side of the street.  Far too often, bajajs  cough smoke in my face or motorbikes go out of their way to turn in front of me.  Far too often this walk will leave me angry.

And when that happens, I always take the long way home.  These days, I've been taking the long way home as much as possible.  Because on one particularly angry morning, the long way struck me as gentle and quiet and lovely.

When I walk the long way home, I go through meandering roads no longer wide enough for two cars to pass.  These roads are no more than a lane and a half.  And these roads connect not so much by other roads; rather they most often connect by lanes and alleys for motorbikes

On the long way home, people have set up stalls on the side of the road, and they smile when I walk past.

The long way home is full of greenery.  It always strikes me how quickly this city returns to jungle.

On the long way home, I pass a small school that seems to be run as a charity; the parents all walk their kids to class.  I pass a larger school with an old playground in a nice yard; the parents here generally ride motorbikes for morning drop off.  School was closed this morning, though.

By halfway home, I've begun to notice the little beauties hiding everywhere in this city.  The colors of the tropical plants;

...the cats nesting in hidden nooks and crannies;

... and all of the people. 

This morning, I walked home particularly slowly because I carried my camera.  People stopped me to chat, or asked me to take their picture.  By the time I've gotten home, I always feel that Jakarta is full of hidden beauty and populated by so many lovely people.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Bowl 2015

First, let it be said.  Ours is not a football house.  I played football in the backyard with my dad as a kid, but that's about as much as I ever paid attention to the sport.  The girls watch the Super Bowl every year, but so far it always aired on Sunday night during movie night and provided an excuse to eat Pizza Rolls and drink Grammy's slush punch.

Now, Dave is a football fan.  In fact, Dave is a bit of a renaissance man when it comes to sports.  This is not to say that he excels at all sports.  But he will play and converse about any of them.

Me, I don't follow any.  I enjoy the last three minutes of a KU basketball game, but to me every sports interview ever sounds exactly the same.  We sportsed our best and scored points, but the other team was sportsing, too, and they scored even more points. 

Still, I get a kick out of the Super Bowl.  So when I learned that @america would host a free Super Bowl party from 6:00am this morning until the game ended at 10, I couldn't think of a good reason not to go.  When I learned they would have a free donut table at the party, I was sold.  The girls did not go to school this morning.  We still woke up at 5:45am.  But instead of boarding the school bus, we sat through an hour to traffic to watch the Super Bowl live on a big screen with 200 middle-aged Indonesian strangers.

I get a real kick out of @america, this multi-media center in a fancy mall in Jakarta meant to promote American culture.  What a better place to watch the Super Bowl!  I'll admit, I didn't stop to think about who else would be there.  And when I walked into the room with my three little girls and saw the four of us as some of the only females in the entire room, I began to regret my choice and my children clung to me like they had suction cups for fingers.  Now a small mass of myself and little girls, I found a seat on the front row and began to wonder why I had done this.  My girls never watch football.  I don't think any of them even know the basic rules.  They never played football in the backyard with my dad.  And they're more likely to swim or go for bike rides with their own dad.  Why was I bringing them into a crowd of dedicated sports fans to watch something they don't understand?

Providentially, we arrived just in time for Katy Perry's halftime show.  Katy Perry is a superstar in our home, and all three girls sat transfixed through her performance.  When it finished, I gave them the choice.  Do you want to watch the rest of this game?  We could leave right now, and go back to school.  They were all in agreement.  If I get to miss math and bahasa class, I will absolutely watch the rest of this football game.

And watch they did!  Lilly paid close attention, never asking one question.  Annika made friends with the person next to her, who gave her popcorn.  Sophia sat on my lap while I provided a play-by-play for her, helping her to keep her eyes on the ball as it traveled back and forth across the screen.  My narration helped me to focus on the game, too.  So that when it became truly exciting in the last quarter, I was already paying attention.

We didn't leave until we ate a total of 8 donuts and the clock had run down.  And although it may not have been a typical setting, I'm pretty pleased with how we watched the game.

Postscript:  After I got home, I learned that I was not at all alone.  A sizable number of friends and neighbors took the day off from work to watch the game this morning.  And mine were not the only kids missing math class today, either.  Maybe while abroad, the US ought to make the Super Bowl a national holiday.  A national expatriate holiday!

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef

After Sydney, we hopped a plane for Cairns.  Cairns is a small tropical city on the northeastern shores of Australia.  It serves as little more than a jumping off spot for Daintree National Forest and the Great Barrier Reef.  This fit us perfectly.

 We only scheduled two days for Cairns, as there are really only the two things to do.  On day one, we rented a little car and drove up the coast to Daintree Rainforest, the oldest tropical rainforest in the world.  Appropriate for our visit to the rainforest, we had a cloudy and wet day.  We wore our rain boots but managed to stay fairly dry - much of the rain falling in a rain forest stays up in the canopy.  We began our exploration on the aerial walkways through the Daintree Discovery Centre and finished off with a beachside restaurant and a boardwalk hike through a mangrove swamp.  Everything was gorgeous, and surprisingly prehistoric.  We did see a cassowary - the modern world's closest approximation of a dinosaur.  It didn't stand still long enough for a photograph, so we posed with a life size statue instead.  Breathtakingly large or delicately small, I had so much fun take photographs in Daintree, and began wishing for a macro lens.

I loved so many things about our holiday in Australia.  But my favorite part must be how well everyone got along the entire time.  By the end of our three weeks together, the girls were close friends, playing intricate games and caring for each other in truly lovely ways.  

The next day was less rainy, but still pretty miserable.  We boarded a boat set for the reef at 7:30 in the morning, and spent the next 2 hours slicing through waves until we dropped anchor in the choppy and murky section of the Great Barrier Reef.

We all felt pretty woozy, but we all powered through and jumped into the water with our snorkels on.  Lilly, Sophia and Annika were out again in less than a minute.  The waves pushed them against the boat and scared them.  I lasted closer to ten minutes, but the murky views did not beat out my nausea from the lying on top of the choppy water.   Dave powered through, and came back onto the boat feeling disappointed in our choice.  This boat ride was pricey, and he was the only one to snorkel for more than 10 minutes.  And even he saw precious little.

While I spent most of the rest of the day with my head between my knees and my face in a bag, Dave and the girls rallied a bit over lunch.  The boat moved to a clearer section and the water became smooth.  Lilly and Sophia joined Dave for another try at snorkeling in the afternoon, and were amazed.  They saw sharks and brightly colored coral and spent well over an hour staring at the reef beneath their floating bodies.  They loved it.

The day on the boat was our last day of vacation.  The next day we flew to Darwin for an extended layover.  We went ahead and explored what is a very small and sleepy city, the highlight of which was a family of flying foxes napping in a nearby tree.

The flying foxes closed out our holiday.  After three weeks away from home and routines, we were all happy to board our flight back to Jakarta and spend the next few days opening Christmas presents, reading books and sleeping a lot more than normal.