Falafel from Scratch

Falafel mixture

When we were living in Hannover, I became a falafel addict. Might not sound typically German, but there’s a large Turkish population in Germany, and you can buy inexpensive, fresh, delicious falafel (as well as other yummy treats) at almost any corner. The guys at my imbiss (fast food joint) knew my falafel order by heart.

You can get excellent falafel in Charlotte (try Zeitouni), but I miss being able to walk across the street and get it, so I often make it at home. Box mixes are actually pretty good (Far East has a good one) but I’d always wanted to try making them from scratch.

So what’s in there? Dried, soaked (uncooked) chickpeas, onion, parsley, spices.

How hard was it? Well, if you’ve made from-the-box falafel before, it’s really not that hard, but it does require more planning and more cleanup. Big bonus if you have trouble with gluten is that making them from scratch requires no flour, which most mixes have. I find the difficult part is that I want to make all the fixin’s, too, which also take time—yogurt sauce, tahini sauce, chopped veggies.

Since I spent most of my energies on the falafel, I put my daughter to work on the yogurt sauce (she loves this) and dressed the veggies with just a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

This time I think my husband was right: I really DID use every dish in the house.

Results: delicious. Was it worth making from scratch? I have to say that, while I loved them would make them again, the box-mix kind are a close second.

Bittman’s recipe here.

Homemade Falafel

Next on my list: making harissa from scratch, and Egyptian falafel. They’re green!

For more of my posts on cooking and food, click here.

 

Digital Drawing on Photographs

Allium artwork

I have a little more to share about our trip to France, but for now, here’s a little artwork.

On a recent flight from Boston to Charlotte, I took a break from reading and started fiddling around with an app (Adobe Ideas), drawing on some of my photographs. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen some of these before, both pre and post-drawing.

Floral Arrangement

Fun, eh? Have a favorite?

Floral Artwork

Just finished watching the BBC adaptation of Dickens’ Bleak House. Really enjoyed it. Currently reading Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth (it’s the memoir upon which the show is based). Now watching Bletchley Circle. I seem to be in a BBC/ British kind of mood.

For more posts about  my artwork and others’, click here.

Cycling in Alsace

Poppy

Since we were already in Germany visiting friends in June, we decided we might as well stay a little longer and do some exploring. Yep, I know we are incredibly lucky to be able to do it, and I’m very grateful.

The theme to this side-trip was something like “Easy Biking and Eating in a Pretty Place within Driving Distance from Hannover.” I had this dream of one of those tours where they move your luggage from spot to spot, but none of those were really very kid-friendly. The Alsace region of France fit the bill for a DIY version. My French is completely rustig, so it was very nice to be able to speak German. (Sorry France, I do love French—I just need a refresher course!). Alsace is that part of France that was once part of Germany, then France, then Germany, now France.

IMG_1245

Since it had to be easy biking, I went for the flattest part of Alsace, which happens to be right next to the Rhine river, just at the border to Germany. I found a family apartment near Rhinau, and we could borrow adult bikes for free. Kid bikes we rented from the nearby tourist office. I have to say France does a great job with its tourist offices—-very handily placed and staffed.

IMG_1329

Oh, btw, in case you didn’t know, that is NOT the Rhine in the above picture. That would be a canal.

Not having a bike rack made for some logistical challenges, but still, we managed to get in a couple of days of nice long (for us) rides in between the eating and the castle-viewing. We stayed in the same spot each night and just turned around when we’d had enough.

We may also have been dragged to  taken a day to visit Europa Park, an amusement park everyone kept talking up to our kids, despite our gestures to keep mum (thanks a lot, folks!).

Picnicking on bike rides was a highlight, though we could rarely manage to get very far without eating everything up. The kids did great, though.

Another highlight: riding the ferry (free to all) back and forth over the Rhine.

Rhine Ferry Crossing

I’d love to do a longer (mile-wise) trip sometime and cover more ground. I like being able to ride from town to town—-something so cool about that. Speaking of which, there are plans in the works for a cross-town urban bike trail (including joining up some existing trails) in the Charlotte area, and I couldn’t be more excited.

In case you missed the bit about the first part of this trip, click here.

Currently reading: Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? She has such a fabulous voice.

What about you? What have you been up to? We were just visiting with family (in the U.S.) and are now home again.

Germany Reunion Tour

Columbine Flowers

We just got back from a trip to visit our friends in Hannover, Germany, where we lived from 2010 to 2012. Also added a few days in Alsace, France (more on that later).

It was a lovely if exhausting trip. I was a little afraid that going back to Hannover would feel sad. I was so sorry to leave it, and I know it can be hard to return to a place because everyone and everything seems to have moved on.

But our visit to Hannover was a happy one. We reconnected with many of our friends there and were glad to find that we hadn’t been forgotten. My German, which had gotten very rustig, came back. Most of our old haunts were still in action, too. Hannover friends, thanks for welcoming us back with open arms (and delicious food!).

It was funny to discover (besides our friends) what we really wanted to see: the zip-line playground, our corner Imbiss (falafel and kebab shop), our neighborhood tram stop, my favorite dime store, and of course, there were several visits to our favorite coffee shop.

When I got home I realized that nearly all my photos from Hannover were of friends and family, too personal for the blog, but how nice. That was what the visit was supposed to be about: friends.

This photo is from a friend’s garden. That’s one feature that really stuck out to me: the lush, layered gardens in Hannover—-one of the many things I miss about it.

But, I have to admit, I’m glad to be home in North Carolina. More on the tourist portions of the trip a bit later. Hope you’re well and enjoying the summer. Happy Canada Day and Happy Fourth of July!

Currently reading: The Divorce Papers and The Devil in the White City.

P.S. Loved watching the World Cup with German friends. Disappointed the US is done, but still pulling for Germany!

 

Weeds into Toys

Arrowhead Weed toy

Hi again folks. What have you been up to? I hope it’s getting warm and green wherever you are.

Here in Charlotte it’s very warm now, too warm, but it’s been exciting to see all the flowers make an appearance, and inevitably, there are lots of weeds popping up, too. Lately I’ve been thinking about the things my friends and I used to do with various weeds when we were kids.

  • There was the weeds-into-pop-guns trick, pictured above (arrowhead weeds, I just learned they’re called).
  • Clover chains
  • Trying to make a grass blade whistle (okay, not weeds, but still counts)
  • Of course making a wish on dandelion heads

Know any others?

I’ve been so focused on my writing goals that I haven’t been doing a lot of crafts and (interesting) cooking, though I do have a few things l’d like to share in the coming weeks. Our last day of school is today, which means my schedule will be quite a bit different from here until the end of August.

I’ll try to be here as much as I can, but you may find me more frequently on Twitter and Instagram, since those are easy for quick snippets. My Twitter handle is @emilysmithpearc and I’m on Instagram as Emily Smith Pearce.

Good news! I reached the goals I set for myself with both my nonfiction and YA novel manuscripts. This is big. So much writing done this year, though it’s easy to wish I had gotten even more done.

Currently reading: The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger and The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson (both purchased at Park Road Books). Currently watching: Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black.

 

Horse Pinata

Horse Pinata

My daughter wanted a horse piñata* for her party, and I decided I wasn’t spending $25 for a tiny unfilled horse-shaped one from Party City. I thought I was making things simple by making a balloon-shaped pinata with a horse on it, but of course it all ended up taking a lot more effort than I realized.

Still, though, I loved the thing while it lasted. I started with the instructions here, but somewhere along the way I went off script and in the end, the mechanics didn’t really work. It was too heavy, and there was no way to hang it, so I wedged it into the v-shaped crux of our neighbor’s tree trunk. It worked, what can I say?

Drawing the horse on the balloon shape turned out to be the hardest part since I couldn’t see the whole animal at once and had to keep rolling it back and forth to look at the different parts. I followed the drawing guidelines in Sachiko Umoto’s Let’s Draw Cute Animals. Such a fun drawing book, btw, for kids or adults.

Speaking of drawing and painting, my new neighbor came over for the party with all her polish paraphernalia and painted nails for any of the girls who wanted it. Wow! There was also a round of Pass-the-Parcel and Tap-the-Pot. Lots o’ prizes.

My boy (6) has recently gotten turned on to reading via sister’s recommendation of early reader versions of The Boxcar Children. Mind you, not fabulous literature, but boy is it fun to see those “I love this book!” sparks fly. I always loved the Boxcar children myself.

Proud moment: he read while walking home from school. No injuries—I was right there with him and it was really just a moment until he finished the book he’d already started. I just ordered him several used Boxcar easy readers as an end-of-the-school-year present. And I’ll figure out some version of a similar gift for my daughter. We go to the public library a lot in the summer, but it’s always handy to have a large stash of used paperbacks for travels. Goodwill and the used bookstore are great for that. Anything to keep them feeling excited about reading, really. The school is doing a book exchange, too, so I’m hoping especially Little Miss will trade out some of her old fairy books or whatnot for some new-to-her stuff.

I’m still enjoying Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure and just bought a copy of The Divorce Papers, which I’ve been told is in the vein of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (which I love love loved). What’s on your summer reading list?

*Sorry, folks, neither WordPress nor my keyboard will let me type a proper ñ in my title text box.

 

 

 

Why May Is Like December

Tree Costume

Well hello again! I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. It’s been a very busy month with not much promise of getting less busy anytime soon. Is it the same for you? I’m betting yes.

I’ve decided that the end of April through May is really just December all over again, with better weather. All the end-of-year events, school testing, gift-buying obligations opportunities, etc. etc. etc. General nuttiness. With that in mind, I’m trying to give myself permission to buy some ready-to-eat meals, to not bargain-shop every last little thing, to split infinitives, and to volunteer at the school only sometimes and not for every single event.

That said, I do love the weather, the flowers coming up, the outdoor meals, and time with extended family. Our daughter also (10) had her theatrical debut in a full-length play at our church, which was so, so fun to see. My most recent sewing project was tree costumes for the play. In the rush I forgot to take a photo of the finished costumes, but the photo above gives you an idea of the look.

Meanwhile, I’ve been very serious about moving forward my nonfiction book and my YA novel. Nose still to grindstone! Both are going well, but I’ve got a few more goals to reach before school lets out. Wish me luck.

Currently reading Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart. Such an interesting and funny read with a quirky, wry voice that I love. It’s a memoir detailing the author’s move from the Soviet Union to the U.S. in 1978, when he was a child. Thanks, Christina, for the loan!

Also, listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour podcasts and now All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts.

If you’re a kidlit person, maybe you followed the uproar over the lack of diversity at BookCon and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that followed on Twitter and Tumblr. One of the coolest things to come out of it was a lot of buzz for a forthcoming book by Varian Johnson, The Great Greene Heist. Billed as Ocean’s Eleven meets middle grade, it sounds like such a fun read and *bonus* has a diverse cast of characters. So excited for Varian, who is a fellow Florence, SC native (though we’ve never met in person, only virtually). I’ve read one of his previous books (My Life as a Rhombus) and was very impressed. If you want to diversify your shelves, join the #greatgreenechallenge and pre-order Varian’s book from your local bookstore.

Hope to see you here again soon before long.