December 143Nuts yo.

Summer in Paraguay is no joke. It is hot and humid and inhumane. There was a period in December when I didn’t sleep for a week, and it got to the point where I was hopping in and out of the shower every hour just to make it through the night. Thankfully, I had some wonderful benefactors who allowed me to seek refuge in their air conditioned guest bedroom and I survived the month by the skin of my (burning hot) teeth.

On one particularly scorching day, I was gathering up ingredients for my last cooking class of the year. I had planned several fun recipes to close out 2012 with a bang, and chocolate-covered frozen bananas were one of the items on the docket. Anticipating the lack of a microwave and equipment to facilitate a makeshift double-boiler at church, I set out to melt the dipping chocolate in advance.

I quickly chopped up my baking bar taking caution to handle the confection with my hands as little as possible, and tossed it all in a bowl. I was sweating my brains out when the thought occurred to me to test how intense the heat outside. So on a whim, intending it more as a joke, I took the bowl out to my backyard and plopped it down in direct sunlight.

Then I thought about critters and such, which come in no short supply here, and changed my mind about the experiment. As I walked out to retrieve the bowl not even two minutes later, I was amazed to discover that the chocolate had completed melted, blowing the truth of my hypothesis out of the water.

It also took my festive jello the ENTIRE day to barely solidify inside my fridge.

Ridiculous.

December 145Sweet little face.

December 147Blending up some frozen hot chocolate.

December 152A precious moment.

December 150Dipping the bananas in naturally melted chocolate.

December 159Sprinkles are the magic of life.

December 154My Christmas jello slices (made in oranges!).

December 158One whole year of Lo’s Kitchen.

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“You could make cookies with this recipe, right?” one lady inquired.

“Uh, what?” I hesitated thinking my Spanish listening skills were muddling up my comprehension, but then the woman repeated her question verbatim.

I explained that cookies (the tasty kind anyway) generally require flour, significantly less liquid, and another type of bakeware. So while my procedural list for apple cinnamon bread pudding would produce something delicious, it could never result in children of the small round disc family without drastic alteration. Frankly, it would be a completely different recipe, so no, you couldn’t make cookies with this method.

“Oh yeah, it would probably be too sweet,” she responded. I was terribly confused.

Fortunately baking up a double batch of the bread pudding rich in aroma was much more straightforward and the recipe facilitated a perfect cooking workshop. It was simple and engaging as each individual in attendance had the opportunity to peel and core apples or chop bread or learn the art of measuring cups (muahaha, minions! I mean…).

Not to mention, I got to pull one of those TV cooking show moments when I opened my oven and magically pulled out a nicely browned finished product. Rachael Ray, everybody.

In all seriousness, our Taller Navideno de Damas was a festive afternoon of community, Christmas crafts, and spicy cinnamon. Check out the pictures below for peeks of the other stations available.

December 089December 099December 111December 118December 125December 128December 139December 133

Weird.

January 15, 2013

I glanced at my tablescape in horror. It was terribly mismatched and shamefully tacky–reminiscent of a Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry spontaneous combustion on my dining tabletop. I was mortified but nothing could be done. When you reside as a bachelorette in a somewhat temporary living situation on a missionary’s salary, you make do.

In this case, it meant a festive red Christmas tablecloth adorned with an assortment of neon-colored plastic bowls, cups, wooden-handled utensils, and glass Coca Cola plates. I shudder just recalling that nightmare of a setting.

While the interns were in Paraguay, my weekly tutoring student MJ instead spent her time practicing English and correcting Spanish grammar with the girls. I hadn’t seen her in awhile and wanted to invite her to dinner in my “new” house before we all left for our separate Christmas travels.

I don’t get to host very many dinner parties here in Asuncion and there is just something about them that make you feel a little more grown up (that is until you see your hideous table arrangements shouting at you in obnoxious shades of fluorescent green, pink, and orange). I took my job as hostess seriously, and crafted a carefully thought out menu to serve my guest.

In spite of the oppressive heat, I spent the afternoon sweating and perfecting a batch of Drunken Spaghetti accompanied by a cumin-infused cucumber tomato salad and some Spanish pan tomaquet. It may have been slightly sacrilegiously multicultural, but personally, I thought it was delicious (if I may say so myself).

I think I counted at least five times throughout dinner that MJ declared some variation of, “[Lo], you always serve me such weird food!” with especially forceful, awkward emphasis on “weird.” She choked her way through the pasta and bread. Later when I went to take her home, I noticed that she had not touched one bite of her salad. She didn’t even bother to move it around.

Paraguay’s a very humbling place to be, you know?

Drunken Spaghetti (I swear it really is tasty…)
Adapted from Italian Cooking Forever

1 package of spaghetti
1 bottle of red wine (anything but Port will work fine)
Extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 cup of chopped pancetta (I had to use bacon)
3 small tomatoes, chopped
A handful of fresh basil
A wedge of lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes

Bring a pot of well salted water to the boil and cook your spaghetti for about five minutes. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring the wine to a slow boil. Drain the pasta, add to the wine, and cook until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat some olive oil in a pan and saute the bacon and garlic until brown. Drain the cooked pasta of any leftover wine, return to pot, and mix in the bacon, garlic, and more olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and lots of red pepper flakes.

Serve with fresh tomatoes, chopped basil, and a squeeze of lemon for a delicious tang of acid.

So not weird.

December 086

December 087Scary.

La Ruta: The Gift of 2012.

January 15, 2013

2012 was a difficult year for youth ministry at Mi Esperanza. For me personally, it was frustrating to see a promising group of mildly excited (which seems to be the optimistic norm—Bieber fever aside) teenagers dwindle down to a bare bones lackadaisical attendance. Towards the latter months of the year, a dismal average of just two or three were showing up on Saturdays. This drop mirrored the unfortunate regressive pattern of leaders as well.

It was not simply about the numbers either. Kids, many of whom were displaying rapid growth, started falling out of our contact and defaulting instead to apathy or worse, destructive behaviors, despite my best efforts to keep in touch.

Youth group was such the foreign concept to these kids to begin with, I was aware it would be an uphill battle. But pouring blood, sweat, and sometimes tears week in and week out, and seeing little fruit if not big steps taken backwards can be disheartening in spite of that predetermined knowledge. Not to mention, adolescent ministry is in no way a natural strength of mine, so this year was certainly a stretch and a glimpse of learning to love those who can be difficult to love.

To be honest, by year end, I went in each week expecting the worst, if anything at all. Every time I made any plans or dared to envision something better for the week’s objectives, leadership and ministry hiccups and cultural norms would disrupt everything and leave me entirely disheartened.

For one, I set out this year to revamp or create, really, the role of Game Master. I took it upon myself to come up with innovative and engaging games that would involve the teenagers and show them activities that could actually be enjoyable. For months, the kids hated me and that treacherous half an hour of “fun.” Why the F (to use inappropriate young people lingo) was this crazy American girl forcing the group to engage in ice breakers requiring critical thinking or even worse, orders to pass a grapefruit chin to chin without hands? But though it frustrated me that so many would refuse to participate in even the most innocuous of games, I kept at it, concocting relays and activities ever more embarrassing than the last.

Slowly, they started warming up to the concept of organized group games, and each week, another individual would dare join in. On one particular instance, I noticed the entire group enthusiastically competing in the impromptu Around the World basketball game I’d taught them and set up with a rubber ball and a wicker basket. We played it every week for two months, which they initiated! Occasionally, even a too-cool-for-school dude would assent to shovel cereal down his throat while blindfolded or scream like a little girl in the name of winning, and dare I say, enjoy themselves while doing so. Talk about internal happy dances.

It was a yearlong journey of ups and downs with a predominant predilection for less than positive results. When it came time to plan our big year-end bash before adjourning for summer break, I was excited about what I had on tap but expected nothing.

And then I got the surprise of my life. Everything went according to plan with participation success far surpassing even my wildest dreams.

I began the afternoon with a holiday-themed activity and challenged the kids to create a nativity scene using two rolls of bread. Much to my delight, the most unruly, non-participatory teenage rascal not only willing jumped in, he got so involved with his project (that may have included interpretive elements like magic carpets and headless turtles), he ended up taking home the prize! Never did I think I’d live to see the day as he proudly paraded his chocolate bar of a trophy. A crackly race of unraveling tape balls filled with treats followed as teens competitively tore at the sticky tape and good-natured trash talk wound about the table. Silly string attacks and sugar cookie decorating brought on ever more laughter and camaraderie.

And then came 2012’s crown glory: the first ever La Ruta White Elephant gift exchange. I had explained the rules the previous week and strongly suggested everyone bring a small wrapped item. Again, I expected this endeavor to complete fall through, but as alluded to previously, everyone was mysteriously in top form and each little individual showed up with a package to contribute to the pile. I have never been more proud or more astonished.

I think in the end, I was left with a pencil pouch and a packet of dried out markers, hardly a brag-worthy stash of loot. Oh, but the joy and experience of seeing an entire group of my Paraguayan teenagers happily, actively involved and having fun…easily one of 2012’s best gifts.

Thank you, Jesus.