Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rambo Toast!

Honor and I went to a new, to us, store yesterday and while wandering through the bakery section, we saw this:


Yep, that is truly a wonderful pastel-y swirly magical bread creation.


In Arabic-English, this reads Mini Toast Rambo (RMBW), but I am fairly certain that they meant Rainbow (RNBW …??). Actual Rambo bread would likely be crusty and tough, colored through with various shades of khaki, olive drab, loam and shreds of camo nets. It would likely be armed and contain bits of glass to make whoever eats it tough as nails. No, this was definitely Rainbow bread. It was soft, sweet smelling and as cute as unicorn smiles. You know we had to try it. We got a mini loaf, as we really weren’t sure if we’d like it.


What do you do with Rainbow toast? It turns out that it really is just a white bread with color, so we made it into Fairy Bread. Obviously.

Bread, butter, and sprinkles (100s&1000s). It tastes like cupcakes for some strange reason. btw… these are tiny slices of bread, maybe 2”x3”, and not gigantic sprinkles. This picture could have used something to show actual size. I am not sure we’ll get this bread on a regular basis. I think it would make cute party treats though.

Yea… this bread is so totally NOT Rambo. But it is tasty and cute.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Potty Training

Not the kids. They’re long past that! I’m talking about toilet training the cats. Yes. I am serious.

Our cats share a litter box because they are siblings and prefer it that way. Even when I had two boxes, they shared one. This is good and bad. Handy to only have one, but that one has got to be changed very regularly!! It is often difficult here to get litter that clumps well and controls odors too. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect a litter box to smell nice. I HATE perfumed litter too, so, we can expect only so much ‘help’ from the box itself. Also, we feed our cats healthy kibble which helps to cut down on the litter stink. I try to avoid all cat foods with artificial flavor and color. I avoid buying cat food that has a grain (rice or corn) as the first/primary ingredient. They get a lot of fresh water and a can of wet food every 2-3 days too (one can to share between 3 cats). Healthy tummies result in a less toxic litter box and healthier kitties. It’s worth the slightly higher expense – but – litter boxes still stink. It’s poo, and poo stinks.

We have smart cats, so I looked for a kit. I’ve heard of toilet training kits before, and have not been impressed. They usually seem flimsy and impractical. By chance, I came across the Litter Kwitter system. It is more expensive than others, but it is made of very sturdy and washable plastic – a ring that fits the bowl plus a number of inserts. It fits into the toilet seat very well, so is very solid and sturdy (doesn’t wobble and scare the cats). Unlike other systems, it’s reusable. Meaning, if I push too far too fast, we can back up a stage, unlike other systems where, if you punch out a section of the insert too early, you can’t put it back. Here’s a photo from their website: 

I’d suggest heading over to their site and checking out all their info and testimonials and videos. We are not yet a ‘success story’ so I haven’t any photos or anything yet. I suppose I could post a photo of what we have, but it’s basically the white ring with the first stage tray – the red one with no hole – set into it, with litter.

We placed this in the cats’ bathroom (a bathroom we do not use except for the cat box) and I did not watch the DVD and did not exactly follow instructions. I did not start this on the floor and work up. I skipped ahead and simply installed it on the toilet a couple weeks ago. Within days, the cats were using it as an alternative litter box. Usually just urine, and they usually aim right for the center too – the spot which will be removed when we switch to the orange insert. Sometimes they get on the edge, and once, one of them even tried to pee in the gap between the back of the white insert and the back of the bowl! With three cats, I cannot actually tell if all of them are using it, if one of them is using it a lot, or a couple are using it whenever, but it has been used regularly, every day, all week.

I sacrificed a cheap spoon to scoop the used litter as a regular litter scoop won’t work. For now, I am using normal litter, as it doesn’t go in the bowl at all, but I have some flushable stuff for when I start them on the other inserts. I check the tray often and scoop it whenever they use it. I also call them in and show them the litter tray on the toilet… I do NOT put them in it, but encourage them to check it out on their own, and all three have done so. Daily I remove the whole insert and clean the whole thing. I have only been scooping their box once a day, so it’s been a bit more smelly, hopefully to encourage their using the tray.

Today, I removed their litter box. It was a matter of some concern! They haven’t been pooping in the tray regularly, so I may be pushing them a bit. We did have one accident, and I may end up needing to reverse course and give them more time, but I thought it worth a try. They are smart.

This is a work in progress, so I have no final results, yet, but here is the summary.

Pros -
The system is sturdy. Hard plastic does not sag, wobble, wiggle or move when our cats leap onto it. Does not scare them, or spill litter.
The insert can be removed from the ring for cleaning.
Litter doesn’t get in the bowl when using the red ring.
I was worried that the cats would dig and make a mess. That really doesn’t happen, but then again, they don’t scatter litter madly from their box either.
Peeing in the center (where the hole in the second insert will be) seems to be easy and natural.
They are using it!

Cons –
None really. I anticipated having some confusion over which cat was actually using it, with our having three cats, so no surprise there. They are using it as an alternative box and they did so easily and on their own after being shown. No tricks or dumping them in the tray! I didn’t think about what to scoop with in advance. I’d anticipated just dumping the whole insert and renewing the litter, but that would have been so wasteful! Much of the litter is untouched!! They often aim right for that center bit and that’s all I have to scoop. This will really matter once we get to using the flushable litter as this has to be obtained by mail. Fortunately, I had a cheap, strong-enough, spoon to do this job – one I don’t mind throwing out later.

Wish us luck, and I’ll try to remember to give more reviews and tips on our (hopefully positive) experience!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pie, Pirates, and Food Related Culture Shock

Our silly kids came home asking for brownies today. I have no idea why. I hardly ever have surprise after-school brownies made. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had surprise after-school brownies made?! And usually, even if we have leftover dessert items, I make them wait for it until after dinner. Usually. Today though, I think they were talking about potential brownies on the bus, because as I stared past their eager begging faces, at the front door.. not even across the threshold… I looked across the patio and saw two school friends peeking in the gate, just in case surprise after-school brownies were to be had by all! Nope. No brownies. Sorry kiddos.


Dessert had been requested and as dinner was already done, I gave it some thought. I didn’t want super sweet or too chocolately. I didn’t have bananas or other fruit for a sweet bread. I didn’t feel like making ice cream. I walked into the pantry and stared at stuff. There was a can of pumpkin. Perfect. We could have pie, and I could validate it as a need for beta-carotene. Something like that.

I needed a pie crust though, and looked in my stash for a cookbook that I thought might have a simple crust recipe. I laid my hands on this: 

The Gasparilla Cookbook is a product of the Junior League of Tampa and was originally published in 1961. My copy is from 1987 and was given to my mom by some friends when my parents moved away from Florida. Their website describes it as: “This is a traditional cook's book, featuring gourmet regional cuisine and prized heirloom recipes spotlighting the area's blend of Spanish, Greek, Cuban, Italian and Southern heritages.” It’s also for sale at where they note that “The Gasparilla Cookbook is a winner of the Southern Living Hall of Fame Award and the Walter S. McIlhenny Hall of Fame Award given to community cookbooks with sales over 100,000 copies.”

btw… I hear you asking, what the heck IS Gasparilla anyway?? For that I suggest you visit the Wiki page on the Gasparilla Pirate Festival or Google “Gasparilla 2013” for images. Yes, my cookbook may be ancient, and this festival is older still, but Jose Gaspar and his Krewe have been invading Tampa annually since (approximately) 1904 and are still at it to this day. Imagine Mardi Gras… with an invasion fleet, and pirates, in Florida.

pirateswalk pirateship
I don’t have my own photos. I borrowed these off of the ‘net. It’s been so long since I’ve been in Tampa for the holiday! I was very envious of friends who were there and participated this year, and I very much enjoyed their fun photos shared on Facebook! It was their sharing that led me to grab this cookbook today instead of my usual ‘go-to’ binder of recipes, and I’m glad that I did. It brought back excellent food memories of my home city!

One favorite recipe is deviled crabs. Not crab cakes…. I’m talking authentic Tampa street food - blue crab stuffing, rolled into a bread crumb jacket (which you know had real cuban bread crumbs in it), and then deep fried in hot oil. Yum! Here’s a great article about them, and photos of how they are made, from a restaurant my dad really liked. Seabreeze (which is now closed).

“I can't think of a more appropriate place to start, than the devil crab, one of Tampa's original culinary creations. The snack first appeared around 1920 as street food in Tampa, concocted when blue crab was plentiful. Heat from red pepper flakes gave the rolls their infernal name.”


This cookbook has a recipe for deviled crabs! Of course, without the cuban bread or blue crab, I doubt I could recreate this treat, but it’s nice to reminisce about them!

Next, I’ll direct your attention back to the photo, above, of the cookbook. See that impossible and outrageous salad on the pirate’s platter? Lettuce, tomato cucumber, kalamata olives feta cheese, avacado, beets, shrimp (sometimes anchovies), bell pepper, onions, etc. and believe it or not, underneath the whole concoction is a base of simple potato salad. I am not kidding. This is what I grew up calling a “Greek Salad”.  Now, I’ll pause for a moment for those who are not familiar with Tampa and who only know of Greek salad from, say, Greece, to giggle for awhile. See, Tampa has a huge Greek-American population. Probably the largest in the nation. Tarpon Springs was settled by Greek sponge divers long, long ago, and they are a thriving community to this day. Among other things, the area is famous for their annual dive for a cross for Greek Orthodox Epiphany.


This year was the 107th celebration, therefore, one can assume that the Greek culture has been an integral part of Tampa for, literally, decades, so, can I please be forgiven for assuming that I should know just what the heck a Greek salad is? Imagine my surprise when I actually went to Greece and the Greek salad they gave me there, was a mere tiny bowl of tomato, onions, cucumber, olives and a few chunks of feta. Don’t get me wrong. I like this sort of salad too, but I was expecting this:

greeksalad and was given this:

greek-salad2Not a single shrimp or carved radish?!? What the…?? I was so sad. Fortunately, this cookbook has the recipe to make Greek salad the Tampa way.  

Speaking about the Tampa way. Not so long ago, NPR had a contest. A debate about which city, Tampa (where the sandwich orignated) or Miami, could claim they had the best Cuban Sandwiches. Read about it here for a fun bit of food related history:

Of course, Tampa won!  And yes, The Gasparilla Cookbook has the correct recipe for this delicious sandwich… include the Italian salami. Yes. It is an authentic part of the meal. Ybor city of Tampa, famous for cigars, was settled by thousands of Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants in the late 1800’s and that was the birthplace of the sandwich. So obviously, Tampa has the best sandwich!

O yea… and The Gasparilla Cookbook also has a pie crust recipe. Our pumpkin pie was delicious.

Giving His Life For Our Nation

So often overlooked by our national and international media, are the local professionals who guard our embassies abroad. Not just our embassies, but all nations’ embassies, even in the US… go to DC, go look… you will see these humble men and women in uniform, in all conditions and weather, in all manner of political unrest, 24/7/365, standing in front of the embassies of our nations, doing their individual jobs of protecting the people and assets within the gates, and upholding the responsibilities of a host nation toward their guest diplomats. It’s a tough, but vital job, and yet so often they will have the first smile we receive in the morning, always have a friendly wave, advice about the area we live in, a joke to share, or a hug for a child. Unfortunately, too often, they make the ultimate sacrifice during their service, as it what happened with Mr. Mustafa Akarsu in the recent bombing in Turkey.

I have looked through a number of news resources and have yet to find a photo of this brave man, so please visit Life After Jerusalem to read a short memorial. 

Please also visit Nomads By Nature whose family is posted to Ankara right now and read her account of events after receiving the text “I am ok just stand by you phones” from her husband at work… that line, “I’m ok, but… “  instantly gives you grey hairs… and please read her heartfelt thought of Mr. Akarsu. We should all reflect and be grateful for his service and sacrifice.

Diplopundit also shares comments from our Ambassador in Ankara.