Reverse Culture Shock: The Four-Month Mark

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: A Series of Posts our Family's Repatriation ExperienceHere’s a post I jotted down in February 2015 during a particularly nauseating bout of reverse culture shock. I’ll be moving on to other topics next week, but the struggle I’m writing about today is an ongoing one for repats.

Culture shock – it hits you like a heatwave, a revolting smack in the face. What starts as a lovely dip in the sunshine (hooray for being back in the land of Target!) often ends in a full-scale meltdown… no toddler required (I can’t actually find a single thing on my list in Target).

In general, everything seems to be fine. That’s a loaded word, though, isn’t it? “It’s a fine day to fly a kite” is completely different from “I don’t need your help – I’m fine” or “Fine, have it your way.”

None of the children cry themselves to sleep or refuse to speak English or constantly blabber on about “the way things were in Germany.” (That’s just me.)

Eventually, driving ev.er.y.wh.er.e. seems normal again. I SO hate that. I’m sure I’ve told you before, but just to cover the bases… I hate that. I want my bike back.

And then, one fine day, you are bitten by “the bug.” This species often preys on repats and expats, but anyone is susceptible because this bug doesn’t discriminate (how P.C. of the devious little thing). The bite doesn’t seem severe, just a bit of a sting and no more serious than pricking your finger on a spindle.

You feel a bit of pain in your chest as the poison works its way to the center of your being. Before you know it, the full-fledged symptoms of this nasty sickness appear. You’ve now got oh-my-gosh-I-will-forever-live-in-the-land-of-the-free-but-oh-so-dull-and-never-travel-again-itis. Yep, that’s totally an official medical term.

The venom of envy courses through your veins, paralyzing your mind and wounding your heart. Your symptoms increase significantly when looking at Facebook posts featuring your friends and their holidays in Spain, Austria, and South Africa. Even browsing travel blogs leaves you in bitter agony.

America is so… boring. Going from one state to another isn’t nearly as exciting as hopping over to France or Belgium. Everything is SO far away here. And flying to another country is too expensive.You’ll never travel like you used to….

And on and on the deceit goes.

The problem in all of this is that this line of thinking is extremely, well, bratty.

I mean, how much of the total world population even has the ability to travel beyond where they can walk or ride affordable public transport? Are those who stay home and lead a “typical” existence, are they living worthless lives?

No, no, no.

But, the bitter taste of culture shock pollutes your point of view, and all of a sudden any possibility of remaining positive withers up and disappears as you mourn.

Discontent makes herself comfortable, and then you’re really in for it.

I’ll never travel out of this country again. I’ll never have that kind of vacation time. It’s so expensive to leave the US; how will we ever afford it again? I’m losing my second language. I know there are a zillion and one things to see in the US, but I just can’t get excited about any of them because America is so LAME.

Yikes.

These thoughts – shameful, repulsive, distressing, appalling, ugly, depressing – are nothing but lies.

Over the highs and lows of the last year, I’ve come to realize the antidote to this illness is thankfulness. I found I could fight the travel-homesickness like this…

Remember, self… you have an incredible husband and a strong marriage even after all you’ve been through in the past decade. Hello, you two even still LIKE each other, and that’s got to count for something. You have amazing children: handsome, smart, and healthy.

That last one should never be so easily discounted, and everything else probably pales in comparison. Travel can buy experience and perspective, and money can buy travel, but no amount of either one can cure illnesses of the chronic or terminal kind.

Today, you have each other. You have shelter, clothing, food, friends, love – and you have these in abundance. Give thanks over and over again, self, until that gratefulness defeats the ugly monsters of envy and desire.

With each outbreak of bitterness, longing, confusion, sadness – I will allow the surge of emotion to come. Fighting or denying is useless anyway.

I will remind myself these mourning waves are only temporary, even if it seems like they will never end. I will not always feel this way. I will remember emotion does not trump fact. Truth is truth, and no mere feeling can shake it.

And, I will pray. I will plead for contentment, for perspective. I will practice gratefulness and count my many, many blessings.

Have you pricked your finger on the spindle and fallen prey to homesickness? What’s your antidote for waves of irrational feelings or travel envy?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

 

Cheesy Fun at the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsHave you ever met an internet friend in person? 

Back in the iffy days (as in over ten years ago in the dark ages when Facebook didn’t exist and you couldn’t just look up about anyone on the planet), I took a chance and got to know two people online who turned into wonderful, real-life friends (hi, Jen! hi, Aaron!).

I’ve since met a handful more, none of whom have turned out to be criminally inclined.  It seems that what used to be weird with a hint of creepy, or a chance of freaky is now… well, normal.

Results (not?) typical.  Do (not?) try this at home.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers here at TTM and I started emailing back and forth, excited to discover a long list of things we had in common.  And then, she went out on a limb and invited our family to stay with hers, ya know, because it would thrifty and require travel.

Bingo!

And, so we found ourselves driving to Luxembourg to meet Rosie and her family (you can check out her blog here).  The kids had a blast together, and we felt as if our new friends were already old friends.

Despite it’s bad rap, the Internet really can bring people closer together.

Rosie suggested we spend part of the weekend visiting the Luxlait Vitarium, a milk museum about 30 minutes north of Luxembourg‘s capital.  I had wanted to make a stop here back in March, but we chose to continue on to the castle at Vianden instead.  A few phone calls later, we were all set to drag five kids along on a dairy tour.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

Now, we travel a lot more than most families, and I spend an enormous amount of time researching kid-friendly activities at our various destinations (time I could be spent doing things like, uh, sleeping).  I end up chucking most of the suggestions I come across –  museums, zoos, theme parks, blah, blah, blah.

Often these attractions are expensive and rather unextraordinary.  I mean, a zebra is a zebra whether the zoo is in New York or New Zealand.  But, a milk museum?  With interactive exhibits?  And taste testing?  Now, that’s something I haven’t heard of before.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsIn case you aren’t up on your national milk brands (I’m not), Luxlait is the official dairy product brand in Luxembourg.  The Vitarium is a visitor center of sorts (an interactive experience, really) that’s attached to a ginormous factory that turns a gazillion liters of raw milk every day into ready-to-sell dairy products.

The entrance fee to the Luxlait Vitarium is rather steep, so our two cheapskate families visited on the weekend when tickets are less expensive.  Also, we booked an English tour to make us feel like we were getting more for our money.  And, boy did we ever!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsAfter securing our jackets in the free lockers, a staff member instructed us to don on some rather spiffy 3D glasses and a stark white lab coat.  Fully costumed, we were then treated to a hokey but entertaining welcome video.  The two characters in the film served as guides for the next hour, contrasting new and old methods of manufacturing Luxembourgish milk products while leading us through the gigantic factory.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

The kids were fascinated by the robots and machines used to fill, package, and collect the dairy products.  The adults were amazed at the spankin’ new facilities, extensive areas we were permitted to peruse, and that the whole shindig held five kids’ interest for an entire hour.

That alone is worth the price of admission, right?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsWhen the tour ended, our (human) guide allowed each person to select a Luxlait product to sample.  We gorged ourselves on chocolate milk, eggnog, milkshakes, and Luxembourgish cooked cheese (slimy and spreadable yet somewhat solid.. very strange).

Of course, we needed to work off all those whole milk calories, so we moseyed on over to the interactive stations.  Racing, biking, stomping, jumping, balancing, listening, pulling, lifting, weighing… We were huffing and puffing long before we ran out of activities to try!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsAll of the forty-plus, hands-on exhibits emphasized healthy eating and exercise… and, of course, how dairy is at the heart of both of those things.

To be honest, the whole experience felt like one continuous commercial for Luxlait products.  But, it was FUN.  Plus, the products are of a high quality and really do taste great.  Well, except for the cooked cheese.

I think the marketing genius behind the Vitarium just received a raise…

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsIn short, if you’re looking for a uniquely Luxembourgish experience that you won’t find replicated in Sydney or San Jose, make a beeline for the Luxlait Vitarium the next time you find yourself in the Grand Duchy.

For Rosie’s take on our milk museum visit or to simply stop by and say hello, click here.

Practical tips for visiting the Luxlait Vitarium with your family:

  • You can get to the Vitarium by bus or car.  Bus schedule here.  Parking is plentiful and free.
  • Try to visit on the weekend when tickets are cheaper.  Kids under 6 are free.  Current ticket prices here.
  • Book a tour (included in the admission price) in your preferred language at least a few days in advance.  Make a reservation online here.
  • Take kids potty before joining the tour because it lasts one hour and you’ll need to walk a LONG way back to the loo.
  • We brought a pram with us for Big Foot, so I can personally certify the tour is stroller-friendly.
  • Pack a picnic lunch because the cafe and restaurant are expensive.

Signature-MarigoldMore Luxembourg with Kids!  Read about our frigid morning in the city of Luxembourg here and an afternoon spent at Vianden Castle here.

Apple Madness! A Recipe Round Up to Whittle Your Stash

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashOur boys so loved picking strawberries this past summer, that I determined we must go apple picking once fall arrived.  Well, fall is certainly here, and her glory is starting to show.  So, a few weeks ago, the boys and I headed out to a nearby farm with some friends to see how we fared at harvesting our own apples.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashI was a teensy bit worried that apple picking wouldn’t turn out to be a good activity for little boys who are even more vertically challenged than I am.  Luckily, the fruit was within their reach, and we picked about 13 kilos in less than an hour.

Um, yeah.  13 kilos…

All I can say is that it didn’t SEEM like a lot at the time.  But we were (and kinda still are) up to our eyeballs in fragrant fruit.

So, if you find yourself fortunate enough to be wandering an apple orchard or unfortunately sitting on ten bushels of the suckers, here are some scrumptious ways to use those apples up.

By the way, Kim at Stuffed Suitcase has some excellent tips on going apple picking with kiddos in tow.  Check them out here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApplesauce.  Duh.  There are a zillion variations (sugar, honey, no sugar, spiced, crockpot, stovetop).  Just pick one, and go with it.  It’s okay if you don’t have any special equipment (I don’t).  We’ve whipped up four batches of silky puree; the kids love making and eating it.

Apple butter.  Contains no butter – apple butter is really just applesauce cooked down further, usually with a little sweetener and spices.  The crockpot method is the most fool-proof, but you can also make it on the stove.  Some recipes contain a LOT of sugar;  I’d recommend only adding a tiny bit of sweetener and then adjusting to taste.

Fruit leather.  You’re basically drying out your applesauce in the oven when you make fruit leather.  Try this easy peasy cinnamon variation.

Apple chips.  Another simple, healthy, kid-friendly snack.  Even the kitchen-challenged can make apple chips.  I like the simplicity of this no-sugar-added recipe.

Dried apple bits.  Make these at the same time as the apple chips, and use the bits in oatmeal or yogurt.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApple S’mores.  This was one of those happy accidents, born out of the desire to make a quick and easy apple dessert that went along with what I was already making for dinner on the grill (these juicy fajitas).  You don’t really need a recipe, but here’s what to do:

Wash your apples, core them, and slice into 1/2″ thick rounds.  If you don’t have an apple corer, use a knife to carefully cut out the core after slicing the apple.  Grill about 5 minutes.  Then flip, and grill the other side.  When the apple slices are done, cool slightly while you roast the marshmallows.  Carefully slide a gooey marshmallow onto an apple slice, and finish with a dollop of apple butter.  Devour while warm.

Baked apples.  I’ve made these in the crockpot and the oven.  My kids loved the Skinnytaste version.  For an extra special treat, serve a la mode.

Apple nachos.  These are on my recipe list for the weekend.  Apples?  Peanut Butter?  Nutella?  Yes, please!

Apple crumble pizza.  An indulgent-yet-healthy dessert.  I served this at brunch with chai tea.  Wowzers.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple Stash

Apple butter donuts.  Alas, I do not have a donut pan, so I made these as muffins.  And instead of the glaze (though I’m sure it’s scrumptious), I filled the muffin cups with half of the batter, then added a tablespoon of apple butter before topping with the remaining batter.

Apple walnut lentil salad.  Crisp, sour apples make excellent salad toppings, especially when paired with spinach.  Add toasted walnuts, cooked brown lentils, and Parmesan cheese.  We ate ours drizzled with a balsamic honey mustard dressing which is really just a hybrid of two of my all-time favorites.

BBQ chicken apple pizza.  Everyone in the family LOVED this pizza variation.  I used an ABin5 dough, slathered it with a thin layer of BBQ sauce, and added finely sliced apples followed by a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.  I topped it off with BBQ rotisserie chicken and sliced onions.  A new family favorite!

Apple pie grilled cheese.  Change up your lunch routine with this funky sandwich.  Doesn’t it look scrumptious?  I can’t wait to try it!

Apple cheese cookies.  I’ve made these several times now, and they make perfect road trip snacks.  I’ve got a whole post on these babies coming soon!

Scrumptious apple pie.  And last, but certainly not least, if you need a showstopping dessert for any occasion, I can highly recommend this recipe from Pioneer Woman.  You’ll never go back to regular ol’ apple pie again!  (p.s. – it’s pretty easy to make your own caramel sauce!)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashIf you’ve been paying attention, I’ve made all of the recipes above (except the nachos and grilled cheese which will be making an appearance at my table very soon)… and I still have more apples! 

So, instead of going bonkers for a few hours on Pinterest, I’d love to hear your favorite apple recipes.  Leave a link in the comments, and I’ll gladly take a peek.

If apples aren’t your thing, don’t worry – pumpkins are next!Signature-Marigold

Happy 1st Birthday, Baby!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Happy birthday, baby!I’m sure I’m not the only mama out there that breathes a HUGE sigh of relief at the arrival of baby’s first birthday.  I always feel like it’s such a miracle to make it to one.

This special moment is a milestone of the best kind, one that can’t be criticized, analyzed, or compartmentalized.  No matter what your baby is doing – eating, sleeping, crawling, walking, somersaulting, bungee jumping – the first birthday is a day for the whole family to celebrate.

Big Foot’s arrival was a bumpy one; but, I thank God every day that through it all, we made it through with a healthy baby.  I know we are so blessed, so lucky, to have the biggest complaint lie in almost 8 months of sleepless nights.

This is a season of wonder for us.  This cranky baby who took 7 months to decide that life outside the womb was okay, even good, now shrieks with laughter and joy.  We are amazed at his determination to walk as early as possible and to perfect his balance in order to chase after the big boys.  As the big 1 approaches, we are so thankful for this bright-eyed boy built of solid muscle and trimmed in pinchable pudge.

In his first year of life, our wee traveler-in-training has visited 8 countries and 4 US states, crossed the Atlantic four times, traveled by train/bus/car/and plane, made his mark at 8 castles, and sneezed at one of the highest mountain peaks in Europe.  That’s a busy 12 months for such a little guy!

We love you, Big Foot, and we look forward to the many adventures to come over the years.  Happy birthday, baby!

P.s. – In case you are wondering about the photo… For all the emotions this kid has in him, he barely blinked at the sugar high served to him on a plastic orange platter.  No glee – no tears.  I guess this is preparing me to expect the unexpected from this little man!Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Homemade Salad Dressing, 3 Ways

Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 WaysSpring is officially here!  I sure hope it looks more like spring from your window than it does outside mine.  At least there is no snow.. today.

With the promise of sunnier days and warmer weather, it’s high time to start thinking about adding hearty dinner salads to your meal planning rotation.  We eat salad a LOT in our house, perhaps more than Doc Sci would like, because I really do have a soft spot in my heart for the green stuff.

When we first moved to Germany, the only prepared dressing I could find at the neighborhood grocery store was white, thick, and creamy.  I must admit, I’m not really a ranch dressing kind of girl, but this stuff couldn’t even be compared to Hidden Valley.

It took me a while to figure out that the only way I was going to have a vinaigrette dressing up my hearts of romaine was to make it myself.  Sure, the discounters sell packets of salad dressing seasoning destined to be mixed by the consumer with oil, water, and vinegar, but they taste terrible.   Regular ol’ oil and vinegar was better than that.

And, so I started simply, with olive oil and balsamic which are both good and cheap here in Germany thanks to our close proximity to Italy.  I worked my way through a dozen or so variations, and I have four favorite salad dressing recipes.  I’m giving you three below; you can find the fourth here.Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 WaysBalsamic vinaigrette is the most versatile.  It’s extremely simple to make, and it goes with almost any salad.  I can’t think of any salad it doesn’t go with, but I’m willing to concede the remote possibility.

When I was pregnant last summer with Big Foot, I got the idea of making a Costco-sized bottle of the stuff to last us through the newborn days.  Pure genius, I tell ya.  I haven’t gone back to making a small batch since.

A few things you may notice about these recipes…

First, all of my salad dressings are heavy on the vinegar.  If you’d rather hold the sour stuff, just change the ratio of oil and vinegar to 2:1 or 3:1.

Second, all three incorporate strong flavors of raw onion or raw garlic.  Don’t be shy about adding them to salad dressing!

The key to mellowing out the bite is to age the dressing.  Toss together the ingredients in a screw-top bottle or jar, and leave them a week or more in the refrigerator, shaking at least once daily, before using them on your salad.Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 Ways

Blast of Balsamic Vinaigrette
adapted from The Food Network

12 cloves garlic
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 c balsamic vinegar
1 c extra virgin olive oil

Finely mince the cloves of garlic with a knife or garlic press.  Put the minced garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bottle (I use an empty 750mL olive oil bottle with the spout removed).  Carefully pour in the vinegar and oil.  If you prefer a 2:1 oil to vinegar ratio, pour in the vinegar first and eyeball it.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator, and age at least one week before serving.

Goes best with: anything, but especially mixed greens, spinach, and salads containing hard cheeses such as Parmesan or soft cheeses such as blue cheese or feta.

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
adapted from Once Upon a Chef

3 Tbl honey
2 Tbl Dijon mustard
4 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 1/2 T finely minced shallots
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbl olive oil (or sunflower oil)

Add all ingredients to a screw-top jar.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator and age at least three days before serving.

Goes best with: heartier leaves such as romaine and bitter greens such as radicchio.  Excellent as a topping for a dinner salad with chicken or a chef’s salad with ham and hard boiled egg.

Creamy Italian Salad Dressing
adapted from Marie’s RecipeZaar Collection

1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
3 Tbl sour cream or low-fat yogurt
3 Tbl grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Add all ingredients to a screw-top jar.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator and age at least one week before serving.

Goes best with: heartier leaves such as romaine or spinach.  Excellent as an accompaniment to salads with pasta or pasta salads.

So, which one’s your favorite?

Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Homemade Wheat Thins

Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat Thins &Roasted Red Pepper HummusDoc Sci and both love Wheat Thins!  Our boys also love Wheat Thins; they just don’t know it yet.  When we have an occasional box stashed from a trip to the US or a care package from back home, we (ahem) don’t share.  Before I hear from the haters, just know that the boys eat all most of the cheddar Goldfish.

Why are whole grain crackers like Wheat Thins so awesome?  I think it has to do with their versatility.  Don’t get me wrong, they are secure enough in their taste to stand alone.  But hook these babies up with cheese, fruit & veg, homemade peanut butter, salsa, cinnamon vanilla almond butter, or hummus and you’ve got dibs on the best snack in town.

And, speaking of hummus, if you missed my recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Hummus from earlier this week, you can find it here.

I’ve made crackers before (these cheese ones are pretty awesome) with varying results.  Many times the crackers are just thin bread – no crunch.  And, even if they come out of the oven all crisped up, they don’t stay that way when stored more than 30 seconds.

These little whole wheat gems, however, were snappy from the get go – AND they stayed that way for five days.  I can’t really advise past that point because, well, I couldn’t possibly be asked to muster enough self control to keep these crackers around longer than that.

How do these homemade Wheat Thins stack up to the real deal?  Doc Sci thought they weren’t as salty, and I thought they were a little more buttery than the originals.  But, I did not have a sample on hand to compare, and I often buy the reduced fat variety, so don’t let my opinion sway you from giving these yummy, preservative-free, homemade snacks a try.

Homemade Wheat Thins
as seen on Smitten Kitchen

1 1/4 cups whole wheat or whole spelt flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsPreheat the oven to 400F/200C.  Mix the flour, sugar, salt, and paprika together in a mixing bowl.  Thank God for paprika; coming up with ways to make white flour, white sugar, and white salt in a white bowl look interesting is exhausting.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsCut the butter into small pieces, and drop into the flour mixture.  Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsUsing a pastry blender, a whisk that’s masquerading as a pastry blender, or two knives, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Or, if you’re in a hurry, just make sure there are no large pieces of butter remaining.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsAdd the cold water and vanilla.  Use a spatula or spoon to work the water into the flour as much as possible, and then knead several times in the bowl with your hands until a ball comes together.  It’s pretty dense, but still short of hockey puck-grade.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsSplit the dough in three equal parts.  Taking one of the thirds, roll it out on a well floured piece of parchment paper.  Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough as thin as humanly possible.  Remember, thin = crispy; and thick = chewy.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsThe edge of the dough will look like an old map, crinkly and tattered.  You can cut these edges off or leave them.  A little secret… they look the worst but taste the best!Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsUsing a pizza cutter or a knife, cut the dough into cracker-sized squares.  Poke holes in the squares using a small fork.  A toothpick or the end of a meat thermometer also work but will take much more time.

If you want to be all authentic about it, the real Wheat Thins have 9 holes per cracker.  I promise that no one will care if you make 12.  After all, it’s also a multiple of 3.  But go all 11 on me, and, well, someone might guess that these are not actually Wheat Thins…Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsThe holes do not need to be perfect or pretty, but do not skip this step.  Crackers with no holes puff up and have little to no crunch.  I made one third of my dough this way, just for you to know what not to do.  Yeah, you’re welcome.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsSlide the parchment paper onto a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with extra salt, if desired.  Bake for 5-7 minutes or until crisp.  The funky crackers on the outside will be more crisp than the ones on the inside.

Keep an eye on these babies, and do not walk away!  Burned Wheat Thins are worse than no Wheat Thins.

Repeat the rolling, cutting, poking, and baking for the remaining two thirds of the cracker dough.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsLet the baked Wheat Thins cool completely, and then store in an airtight container for 5 days (or more, if they last that long!).Signature-Marigold

Simple Pleasures: Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Thrifty Travel Mama Roasted Red Pepper HummusOne of the things I miss the most about living in America is the snack food.  The options here in Germany are highly unimaginative and (mostly) unappealing.  There are only so many bags of paprika potato chips and cans of peanuts that one can eat, and that’s about as good as it gets outside the bread-and-sausage box.

I’ve only found a few types of crackers, and the only place I’ve seen (plain) hummus is real,-.  Want some pita chips with that hummus?  Forget about it.  One can’t even find pitas but once in a blue moon (and they’re rather gross – thick and reeking of preservatives).

So, what’s an expat girl to do?  Why, make her own dang snack foods of course… and then share the recipes with you.

Thrifty Travel Mama Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Red pepper, garlic, and lemon – the beginnings of delicious hummus.

My absolute favorite hummus in the whole entire big wide world is Sabra Roasted Red Pepper.  It’s divine – completely creamy, sinfully smooth – and don’t even get me started on that well of flavorful peppers nestled in the center.  The recipe I’ve come up with below doesn’t match exactly (how could it?), but it’s a very good alternative given the ingredients and equipment at hand.

If you are used to chowing down on plain hummus, be prepared for a massive flavor party in your mouth.  And please-oh-please-oh-please don’t let all that garlic scare you.  Roasting the cloves takes the bite out and leaves a mild, pleasant taste that really complements the red peppers.  No after snack mints required.

Lucky for you and me, making hummus is totally easy.  If you’re short on time, you could make plain hummus, omitting the red peppers and garlic.  But adding these two ingredients really makes the snack special; and, honestly, it really doesn’t take that much longer.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

1 whole head of garlic
1 red bell pepper, washed and patted dry
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 lemon, washed and cut into wedges
2-4 Tbl olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

Lop the whole top right off.

Lop the whole top right off.

Preheat oven to 400F/200C.  Cut the very top off the head of garlic.  Place it in a square of foil, bring the edges of the foil together, and twist together like a piece of candy.  Place it in the oven to roast while prepping the red pepper.

Into the foil you go little flavor bomb.

Into the foil you go little flavor bomb.

Line a baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with oil (sunflower or vegetable, but not olive oil).  Remove the stem, seeds, and ribs of the red pepper.  Cut into four large strips and break the curved ends to allow the pieces to lay flat.  Put the pepper pieces on the baking sheet, and place it in the oven next to the garlic (or put the garlic on the baking sheet with the peppers if your oven is small like mine).

Snip and smack down.

Snip and smack down.

Juice the lemon in a small bowl, and remove any seeds.

Tart but totally necessary.

Tart but totally necessary.

When the skins of the red peppers are blistered and black, take them out of the oven, but leave the garlic to roast a little longer.  Place the roasted peppers in a zip top bag or plastic container with a lid.  Leave them to sit for 5-10 minutes to soften the skins.  Remove as much of the skin and burnt bits as possible.

If you've never roasted garlic before, the end result should look like this.

If you’ve never roasted garlic before, the end result should look like this.

Check the garlic, and remove it from the oven when soft and fragrant.  Allow to rest until cool enough to handle.

Ready to take a whirl.

Ready to go for a spin.

Place chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor.  Squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of their skins and into the bowl along with the red peppers.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice and olive oil to taste as well as the salt.

It's about to get allllllll mixed up.

It’s about to get allllllll mixed up.

Puree until smooth.  If your hummus is dry, add a bit more oil or a tablespoon or two of water.

One perfect bite!

One perfect bite!

Keep the hummus in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days.  Hummus can also be frozen for up to 3 months.

Enjoy with pita chips or these homemade Wheat Thins!

Signature-Marigold

Simple Pleasures: Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Butter

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterWhen I was growing up, health food was not hip.

If Pinterest had been around then, you can bet your bottom dollar no one would be pinning quinoa this or kale that.  The cool kids ate Lunchables and PB&J on Wonder Bread.

And then there was me, shoving my almond-butter-on-sprouted-grain in as fast as it would go before the other kids would go, EWWWW what is that?

If only I had been a kid in this decade.  I’m sure Lunchables are still around, but peanut butter is a no-no in many schools, and whole wheat is making a come back.  The “with it” moms are definitely jumping on the almond butter wagon, determined not to miss this decade’s hottest sandwich trend.. or at least not to violate the school’s peanut-free zone rules.

Popular or not, almond butter is really healthy.  If you’re a peanut lover, spreading another nut butter can take some getting used to.  Luckily, this cinnamon vanilla almond butter is sure to shorten the learning curve.

This decadent condiment is delicious enough to enjoy straight from the jar.  Oh, and did I mention it’s easy to make?

Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Butter

1 1/2 cups raw almonds
Sunflower or melted coconut oil for thinning
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (make your own!)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbl pure maple syrup (optional)

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterArrange the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast at 325F/160C for 10 minutes.  Let cool completely.  (You can skip this step if you’d rather use raw almonds; I prefer the taste of dry roasted.)

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterGrind almonds in the bowl of a small food processor, alternating pulsing and scraping until a “butter” forms.  For more detailed instructions, see my post on making your own peanut butter.

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterDrizzle a few swirls of oil over the ground almonds to thin out the butter and make it more spreadable.Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterOnce the almond butter is to the consistency of your liking, remove it from the food processor into a bowl.  Add cinnamon, vanilla, and salt.  Stir to combine.

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterIf desired, add maple syrup.  The maple really brings out the cinnamon and vanilla flavors while only adding a hint of sweetness.  Alternatively, if you want to use raisins instead of maple syrup, try this Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Store your homemade almond butter in a jar in the fridge.  It should keep for several weeks.

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterNot sure how to eat it?  I recommend a spoon, but fingers are also acceptable.. provided you’re not sharing your jar with anyone else.

I think a positively swell use of this cinnamon vanilla almond butter would be white chocolate almond butter cups (based on these homemade peanut butter cups).  Simple, yet decadent.

For more everyday uses, try spreading the almond butter on sandwiches, rolls, pancakes, waffles, apples, etc.  Add it to your morning oatmeal.  Stir a scoop in your yogurt.  It’s yummy, healthy, and totally trendy.Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Spiced Whole Grain Donut Holes

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut holesHappy Donut Dress Up Day, also known in Germany as Fastnacht!  Okay, no one calls it Donut Dress Up Day, but really that’s what it is.

Children and adults run around in costumes and stuff their faces with fried food.  There’s a parade and a whole lotta crazy, freaky masks.  We went the first year, and that was enough for me.

I also must admit I’m not much of a donut lover.  The greasy sponge of choice here is the Berliner, a jelly-filled type dusted with powdered sugar.  I just can’t bring myself to indulge.  Squishy fillings completely creep me out.

But donut holes?  Covered in spiced up sugar?  And whole grain?  Well, I am ALL over that.  And since Germany isn’t really into the whole grain donut thing, I’ll have to whip some up myself.

Given my laughably miniscule amount of free time, I prefer to use the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day doughs whenever possible.  The recipes are simple, and there’s no kneading or other complicated professional baker type stuff.

I own both books, but my copy of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day is resting comfortably in a friend’s kitchen on the wrong side of the Atlantic.  Thankfully, I had a few notes scribbled on a random piece of paper as to how to make these delightful dough balls.

If you don’t have the book, you can find the recipe and directions for mixing up Whole Wheat Brioche dough here.

Just a heads up for those with will power issues… The recipe makes a LOT of dough.  One quarter of the recipe should yield about sixteen donut holes.  I had my two best eating machines around to make sure that none went to waste (or to my waist).  If you decide to make the whole batch of dough – consider yourself warned!

Because my boys are home from school for a few days this week, I had my kitchen-crazy five year-old help me make the donuts.  Just a little heads up if you do the same.. he did an awesome job fishing the finished donuts out of the pot.  Plopping the dough circles into the hot-enough-to-send-you-to-the-ER-if-you-get-splashed-the-wrong-way vat of oil?  Eh, not so much.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesStart with your dry ingredients; I used whole spelt flour instead of white whole wheat.  Salt, yeast, and vital wheat gluten round out the mix.  (Vital wheat gluten can be found at health food stores or in nice care packages from your brother.)

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesYou’re also going to need some honey, melted butter (or oil), and eggs.  Whisk the wet, and mix into the dry.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesThe result is a wet and shaggy dough that needs some alone time.  Two hours at room temperature, and then at least two hours in the fridge.  Sheesh.  What I wouldn’t give for four hours to myself!

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesMeanwhile, get some good old-fashioned white sugar out and spice it up.  The recipe in the book calls for one half cup of sugar plus 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cardamom, and 1/4 tsp cloves.  I subbed nutmeg for the cardamom and upped the cinnamon ’cause I seem to be completely unable to follow a recipe from start to finish without changing a single thing.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesWhen your moody dough is ready, turn it out on a flour-covered surface.  Flatten it using your hands or a rolling pin until it’s about 1/4″ thick.  Any thicker and the donuts will not cook all the way through.  Using a small circular biscuit cutter, cut out your donut holes.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesPour a mad amount of oil in a deep stock pot.  It should be at least 3″ deep and creep about halfway up the side.  Heat it up until it reaches 360/370F.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesCarefully drop two or three dough blobs in the hot oil.  Cook for 1-2 minutes and then flip over using a spider.  Fry for an additional minute or two, and then remove (again with the arachnid on a handle) to a paper towel-covered plate.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesWhen cool enough to handle, roll the donut holes around in the spiced up sugar.  Pile ’em high and serve ’em hot.

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut HolesHave leftover dough?  Make this super cute Valentine’s Day bread with the rest of your brioche.  Enjoy!

Thrifty Travel Mama Spiced Whole Grain Donut Holes

Simple Pleasures: Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola

How could you resist?  Good and good for you!

How could you resist? Good and good for you!

Though I am a pancake fan, my true breakfast love is cereal.  I could eat cereal for several of my six small meals a day and be totally content.  But I’d have to be in America, because Germany doesn’t have any of my favorites.

Sure, we have cereal here, but it’s of the Frosted Flakes variety (eh).  Germans usually go for muesli, and most stores stock something called Knusper (crispy) Muesli which Americans know as granola.

Mmmmmm, granola!  The best granola in all the world (according to yours truly) is Cascadian Farm Organic Oats & Honey.  It’s crunchy with the right amount of sweetness, neither overpowering nor bland.  I couldn’t possibly hope to replicate it, though it’s not for lack of trying.

I’ve made at least a half a dozen granola recipes (even this one in the crockpot!), but none of them came out crunchy.  They all either started out soggy or ended up there within a few days.  No good.  In my book, granola MUST have a good, tooth-endangering bite to it.

I’m stoked to report that the following recipe provides all the crunch you could want… and without any oil!  Now, how’s that for helping you pick up where you left off on those New Year’s resolutions?

Though this recipe is titled Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola, please give yourself permission to break the rules.  I would much prefer my granola to have pecans, but they’re scarce around these parts.  Don’t like nutmeg or can’t stomach wheat germ?  Leave it out.  Have a hankering for coconut, raisins, pumpkin seeds, or all three?  Toss ’em in!

The main thing to remember is that the more liquid you have, the more clumps you’ll end up with.  So if you go crazy adding extra ingredients, you might need to increase the liquid or decide you can live with less chunks.

Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola

5 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup oat bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 Tbl ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup raw or brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 275F.  Whisk together oats, walnuts, flax, oat bran, wheat germ, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Combine water and brown sugar, microwaving at 30 second – 1 minute intervals and stirring until dissolved.  Add maple syrup, vanilla, and salt to the sugar syrup.  Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients.  Stir to combine, making sure to coat the oat mixture as thoroughly as possible.  Pour onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Using a spatula, press granola down until flat.  Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, flipping carefully every 15 minutes.  Cool completely.  Store in an airtight container or zip top bag.  Granola should keep for one week at room temperature.

First, start with your oats.  Get the big'ns, none of that short quick oat stuff.

First, start with your oats. Get the big’ns, none of that short quick oat stuff.

Scoop some nuts.  Get a little sassy and don't measure exactly.

Scoop some nuts. Get a little sassy and don’t measure exactly.

Chop the suckers up as fine or as course as suits your fancy.

Chop the suckers up as fine or as course as suits your fancy.

Be kind to your insides - pile on the ground flax, oat bran, and wheat germ.

Be kind to your insides – pile on the ground flax, oat bran, and wheat germ.

Spice things up with a heaping scoop of cinnamon and a few shakes of nutmeg.

Spice things up with a heaping scoop of cinnamon and a few shakes of nutmeg.

It's time to bust out the sugar.  One cup may seem like a lot, but remember it's going to be watered down.

It’s time to bust out the sugar. One cup may seem like a lot, but remember it’s going to be watered down.  Pour the sugar and the water in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl, the bigger the better.

Microwave the sugar water at one minute intervals.  Do not walk away!  These two get a little feisty, bubbling and foaming all over the place.  Remove from microwave, stir, and repeat until all the sugar is dissolved.

Microwave the sugar water at one minute intervals. Do not walk away! These two get a little feisty, bubbling and foaming all over the place. Remove from microwave, stir, and repeat until all the sugar is dissolved.

You will then find yourself in the presence of this drippy deliciousness.

You will then find yourself in the presence of this drippy deliciousness.

But we can't leave our mixture mediocre - no, we need to take it to a whole new level with the addition of pure maple syrup and...

But we can’t leave our mixture mediocre – no, we need to take it to a whole new level with the addition of pure maple syrup and…

pure vanilla extract.  Remember this?  Yep, still going strong one year later!

pure vanilla extract. Remember this? Yep, still going strong one year later!

After adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract to the brown sugar syrup, toss in some salt.  You can leave this out, but unlike most baked goods, I can taste this when I eat the granola, and the salty/sweet combo is a (delightful) kick in the pants each morning.

After adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract to the brown sugar syrup, toss in some salt. You can leave this out, but unlike most baked goods, I can actually taste the salt when I eat the granola, and the salty/sweet combo is a (delightful) kick in the pants each morning.

Give the liquid mixture a good stir, and the dry ingredients a quick whisk.  Then it's time to pour the sweetness alllllll over the oaty-nuttiness.

Give the liquid mixture a good stir, and the dry ingredients a quick whisk. Then it’s time to pour the sweetness alllllll over the oaty-nuttiness.

Mix it up, leaving no oat uncoated.

Mix it up, leaving no oat uncoated.

Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or, in my case, broiler pan).

Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or, in my case, broiler pan).

Smash it down, pressing it as if you were making granola bars.  This encourages clumping, a definite "yes" in my book.

Smash it down, pressing it as if you were making granola bars. This encourages clumping, a definite “yes” in my book.

Bake at 275F for 45 minutes - 1 hour.  I usually bake for 30 minutes, flip carefully as to not break up established clumps, and then return to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Occasionally, the granola needs another flip and a few more minutes.  Watch carefully, and don't let the oats and nuts burn.

Bake at 275F for 45 minutes – 1 hour. I usually bake for 30 minutes, flip carefully as to not break up established clumps, and then return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Occasionally, the granola needs another flip and a few more minutes. Watch carefully, and don’t let the oats and nuts burn.

For a super awesome snack or dessert, make a parfait!  Layer non-fat plain yogurt, homemade chocolate syrup, and your freshly baked brown sugar walnut granola.

For a super awesome snack or dessert, make a parfait! Layer non-fat plain yogurt, homemade chocolate syrup, and your freshly baked brown sugar walnut granola.