Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Baking Fiesta

So, some holidays are quite hard to get in the mood for here. Like Thanksgiving. We get the day off from work, but there are no decorations or mentions of it like other holidays (Christmas). This is why it's great I brought one dry baking mix with me, and received more in the mail from mom. The Chacarilla-ites are having Thanksgiving lunch/dinner at Steph's house, and I volunteered to prepare the dessert and sweet potato dish. The plan was to bake pumpkin pie bars, leaf shaped cookies and pumpkin cake. I made modifications to the last two instead of following the directions of the boxes. This is how three hours of my day went today....

All three things baked at 350 degrees, so that was nice. I started with the cookies. I had bought butter in the store, but it didn't have the tblsp markers like the packs in the States. This meant I had to sort of eye ball the amount of butter I added. It worked pretty well. My welcome kit actually included a rolling pin, so I used wax paper and flour to roll out the dough and cut the leaf shapes. It made 14 sugar cookies. I popped those in the oven, and  then started on the cake mix.

So, this recipe was actually for cupcakes, but those aren't very easy to share and it only made 6. Well, I have a bunt pan in my welcome kit (why they have that in there and not a normal baking sheet is beyond me), so I decided I would just make a cake. Well, it worked (sort of) and I am sure it tastes good. It's just a rather short bunt cake. More like a bunt wreath, really. The pack also came with a mix for cream cheese frosting. I tried mixing it, and it tasted awful. All I added was milk and sugar, so whatever they put in the mix, someone was doing wrong. So, I set that aside and figured I could buy some frosting tomorrow.

Next I made the pumpkin pie bars. They had a grahamcracker crust I baked first with the cake for a few minutes, then I added the filling. They turned out yummy.

Next to cookies part two- they came with meltable things of chocolate and orange colored vanilla. The idea was to melt some of each to dip the cookies, and then melt the rest and put in piping bags (plastic bags) to  decorate the cookies with. Well, um.... I don't have serious enough skills for that. I tried melting the chocolate, and of course that just takes forever and some practice. It worked reasonably well, so I dipped the cookies half in chocolate, then I put the rest of the chocolate in the piping bag. Basically my leaves just have chocolate dots and what not all over them instead of cute lines to make them look like leaves. At this point I did not have any patience left to melt the vanilla ones and pipe them onto the cookies too. Instead, I melted them enough to be spreadable, and used them for frosting on the pumpkin cake, and topped it with orange sprinkles. Voila!

So, now I have 3 tasty, if not quite what the inventors intended, types of dessert to share tomorrow.

Also, I have to make the sweet potatoes, but that shouldn't be difficult- they will go in the oven, then I am mashing them with cumin, chili powder, ginger and maple syrup for a sweet/spicy sort of thing. Yum!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Return of Jessie the Archaeologist

So, anyone who knew me in elementary school knows about my obsession with anything Anasazi, Mesa Verde, etc, etc.... Well, this weekend I got to indulge that part of myself with a trip to Caral, Peru.  This is a relatively new archaeological site (started excavation 12 years ago), but it is actually the oldest city in the Americas.  The civilization that lived in the area of the Supe valley were there for 800 years. Caral is the capital city, although there are a few other sites nearby.

The city was 20 km inland from the sea, and produced crops like cotton that it would trade with the people living on the coast. For this reason, their diet consisted mainly of fish. They were a complex society with very simple technology. They had no pottery, so would carry their water in gourds or baskets. They had no complex tools, fashioning pyramids from polished rocks they used as hammers.  They had no tall trees, so the rooms of their houses were small so they could use short trees for roofs.  They were always developing new architectural techniques for their pyramids.  Whenever they wanted to expand one, they simply build another pyramid on top of the older one. This means some have 20 layers of pyramids in one.

These pyramids were used for religious purposes, and often oriented towards the valley, or according to constellations. At one point, a central figure, who probably united the city into one religion, had all the pyramids re-oriented so that they all faced a large flat area in the middle. This also coincided with the building of the one pyramid used for human sacrifices.

They also had a concert area where they played flutes and horns.  Eventually the climate got the better of the civilization though.  A change in temperature caused a big rain storm, which led to mud slides. As the temperature reverted to normal, this mud turned into sand, creating large sand storms that destroyed the crops. It is thought that the remaining people of Caral integrated into a society in the north, which had developed art, weapons and city defenses.

You can see the whole album of pictures from my trip in my Picasa web album: