Hannah Drake

Life

The Expat Diaries, Vol. 15

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In my last edition of The Expat Diaries, I talked about how quickly the last two months had gone by, but this time, it feels like it’s been quite a slow two months.

The biggest change in my life abroad since early January has been that we finally got our first foster kitten. When I lived in Colorado, I fostered over 60 kittens and 2 puppies from 2009. After I moved, I tried to find a charity that would allow me to do the same type of volunteer work, but I never found anything until last autumn when our friend mentioned he was going to start fostering with a cat charity in town. I applied and got approved at the end of November, but we didn’t want any kittens before the holidays and we’ve been waiting ever so impatiently since the new year to get the call that there was one available.

In mid-January, they asked if we could take two kittens who were a bit older than what we wanted, but we wanted to get our foot in the door so we said yes. Almost immediately, they said they no longer needed them placed. In February, we got another offer to take in one kitten who was even older still, at seven months. Again, we were eager to get any four legged friend, so we said yes. I was a bit worried about his temperament because they said he was brought to the charity because the family who also had his sister didn’t want him any more because of his personality. They said he was timid and skittish and wanted us to socialise him the best we could and help them with a recommendation for what type of home he should be placed in when he gets adopted.

We picked him up on the 16th of February and we could immediately see that he was in fact scared and shy. We decided to keep him in the living room, where he could have plenty of space, a big window, and where we spend most of our time. It would give him the opportunity to get used to our usual traffic through the living room but also spend time with us on his own terms. Within a few hours of him getting to our house, we could see what a cuddly sweetheart he is. He curled up between us on the couch as we watched Game of Thrones and by the end of the night, he was purring loudly. He made strides quickly to get more comfortable with us and the space, but if he has the opportunity to hide under the bed or behind the couch (which we tried to prevent, but sometimes he was quicker than us or knocked down the barriers we put up), he takes it. Even now. Basically we spend our time with him trying to convince him that being with us was a lot more enjoyable and less stressful than hiding. He did great when we had people over this last weekend and he seemed comfortable enough to be around them in our front room, even though we don’t normally hang out in there and aren’t normally that loud. He also likes eating people food, especially if it’s salty. But he also has an affinity for pumpkin apparently. Luke was not happy to find that he had eaten his pumpkin muffin off his bedside table the other night, especially because it was the last one. After that, he was going crazy trying to get into the bin for the wrapper off mine that I had thrown away earlier!

Over the last week, he has started sleeping on our bed throughout the entire night. It started with him curled up between our feet, but now he gets up after a little while to curl up between our bodies. Luke said he even caught him under the covers first thing in the morning on Sunday! A couple of times, I’ve woken up on my back in the middle of the night to find him asleep on my chest with his little head nearly on my pillow. It’s my actual kitten dream come true!

In a lot of ways, February 2019 was one of the hardest months I’ve spent abroad. Within a week, we lost my great-grandmother, my stepmom’s grandmother, and my dad celebrated his 70th birthday. GG was the first person to pass away in my family since I moved and it was strange not being there with the family or not being at the memorial. Then my dad had this milestone birthday that I wasn’t able to take part in, like I did for his 60th birthday. It certainly made me homesick and probably more than I care to admit. I’ve missed a family wedding and I know I’ll miss more this year, but this month was a clear realisation that things are different and I’m not able to be there for family stuff I used to be able to take part in, the good and the bad.

To not end on a total down note, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the weather, one of the Brits favourite topics! We had quite a warm final week in February. Like people out in the parks or in their back garden enjoying the sunshine kind of warm! In fact, if it had been light out later, we probably would have even had dinner in the back garden a few times last week! It’s since become a bit more stereotypical for England with gloomy skies and lots of rain, but I just have to show these two photos taken almost exactly a year apart on walks around the park near our house.

The Best of February 2019

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I’m back with some of my favourite things from the last month! This is such a fun post to put together because I’m able to reflect back on the last four weeks in regards to what I’m blogging, what I’m buying, what I’m reading, what I’m listening to, and more.

Cupid's Sparkling Gin Cocktail

The most popular post on the blog from this month was my first instalment of my new monthly series, Cocktail of the Month. I started with a Valentine’s Day inspired cocktail with gin and sparkling rosé, two of my favourites! It’s delicious and refreshing and perfect for any time of year or any occasion, not just Valentine’s Day!

21 Psychological Conversation Hacks Buzzfeed

I can’t stop thinking about an article I read on Buzzfeed this month called 21 Psychological Conversation Hacks That I'm Honestly Disappointed In Myself For Not Knowing Sooner. It includes tips from the Buzzfeed community about how to avoid getting called on, how to deescalate a dire situation, how to answer tough questions, how to thank people, how to avoid repeating yourself, and 16 other tips. It’s so fascinating.

Thortful Cards

Last month I found the online card shop Thortful. It’s completely changed my card game and made it a lot easier for me to buy and send cards to my friends and family in the States. I’m able to chose a card from the hundreds they have online, add a personalised message, and send it directly to the recipient. The feature that’s made me a complete convert, though, is the fact that I can schedule the cards so they arrive on the occasion (or come with a sticker that says don’t open until this date). And did I mention that it’s actually cheaper than buying a card at a shop and mailing it myself?

Carruth - The Charlotte Observer

If you’re interested in true crime and/or football, you have to check out this podcast. I know a little about the story because Rae Carruth played football for CU in the 90’s and my dad told me about it. This podcast does a deep-dive of the life of the people at the centre of this crime, hosted by sports columnist Scott Fowler who has followed Carruth since his tenure with the Carolina Panthers. Fowler has since forged a friendship with Chancellor Lee, the child Carruth intended to have killed and Saundra Adams, Chancellor’s grandmother.

Pandemic Legacy Season 2

In 2017, we played Pandemic Legacy Season 1 with our friends Tom and Jenna. (Well, I joined in a few games in after I moved.) I had never played a legacy game before but it’s such a fun experience. The board, the objectives, and the game itself evolve as you play. You destroy cards and have new elements introduced as you go. We started season 2 in the autumn and played for the second time last month, though we didn’t do so well. It’s different from the first version and you just can’t replicate the excitement of getting to open new boxes and add things to the ever-expanding game.

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox

Our friends introduced us to Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and I’m obsessed. They do old timey covers of current songs and it’s absolutely amazing. Just imagine what Outkast or Beyonce or Britney Spears would sound like at a Gatsby party. It’s going to change the way you play music at a dinner party, I promise.

5 Sustainable Swaps Worth Making - The Home Handcrafted

As you know, I’m trying to be more eco-friendly in 2019 and beyond. One person who has been an inspiration for me has been my friend Anne, who has been committed to making green changes for quite a while now. For one of her new Friday Favorites series posts, she shared 5 products you should consider swapping out with greener options. Check it out!

Fat Face Sussex Jacket

One of the ways I’m trying to be more environmentally conscious this year is to shop sustainable fashion and one of my favourite brands for that is Fat Face, a UK based brand committed to sustainability. It’s easily my favourite store in England and this month I made yet another purchase I love: the Sussex Jacket in Chocolate. It’s basically the women’s version of the jacket I got for Luke for his birthday, so we’ll definitely be matching. But it feels very long walks in the British countryside, don’t you think?

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How We Meal Plan + 2 Weeks of Dinner Recipes

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This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve talked about meal planning here, but it’s an ever changing process for us that we tweak as we see fit in order to best serve our needs.

I personally love meal planning because it gets me excited for the week ahead and it’s a great opportunity to talk about any upcoming plans we may have. I find that I crave the meals we have plan and it definitely helps curb cravings for ordering out or eating junk. (Don’t worry, we’re not perfect and sometimes we’ll scrap plans and order take out curry, or Chinese, or pizza or something.) We usually try at least one new recipe a week in order to expand the arsenal from which we choose and that’s been a really fun aspect of it too. Luke doesn’t enjoy meal planning as much as I do, but he’s still game for it every week.

Every Sunday morning, we sit on the couch and meal plan for the week ahead. We began following a template for the week in early 2018 so we could more easily see how often we’re eating things like rice, pasta, bread, etc. and try to eat fewer carb-heavy meals each week. This year, we’re trying to eat less meat, so we’re alternating vegetarian salads on Tuesdays and vegetarian soups on Wednesdays. We’re not great at it, but a goal of two meatless dinners a week is pretty good for us.

After we’ve planned our meals, we’ll go grocery shopping for most or all of the ingredients. (Because the UK doesn’t have as many preservatives and other stuff in the foods, produce doesn’t last quite as long as it does in the US, so we might do a smaller trip later in the week for the rest of the vegetables.) The only downside is that we organise our shopping list by recipe instead of by location in the grocery store. I need to create a template for a shopping list that groups things by location.

Our two week rotation looks like this:

WEEK ONE
Monday: fish & vegetables
Tuesday: salad
Wednesday: vegetarian soup or sandwiches
Thursday: vegetarian
Friday: Italian
Saturday: grain bowl
Sunday: Luke’s choice

WEEK TWO
Monday: meat & vegetables
Tuesday: vegetarian salad
Wednesday: soup or sandwiches
Thursday: vegetarian
Friday: courgetti (zoodles)
Saturday: Asian
Sunday: Hannah’s choice

Last summer, we decided to expand our options for Wednesday because who wants to be eating hot soup on a warm summer evening? We also included courgettie (or zoodles, for us Americans) because we found we were eating it about every other week anyway.

So what kind of foods do we cook? (And yes, I do mean we. We split the cooking about 50/50. It might even be 60/40 with the scales tipped to Luke if I’m being honest.) Here’s what a typical two-week menu looks like for us.

WEEK ONE

Salmon & Asparagus

SALMON, ASPARAGUS, & BROCCOLINI

We probably have this meal more often than anything else. The grocery store near our house as a great deal for packs of 2 salmon filets (3 for £10). It’s just too easy and too refreshing to resist. We cook the salmon at 200°C for about 20 minutes with lemon, salt, pepper, and sometimes dill. We do the vegetables on the stovetop with oil or butter, lemon, salt, and pepper. It’s great all year, but it’s also the perfect al fresco dinner in the summertime.

Chinese Spiced Duck Salad - Simply Cook

CHINESE SPICE DUCK SALAD

I’ve mentioned the meal subscription Simply Cook before. It’s different from Hello Fresh and Blue Apron in that it only sends you the flavour pots (sauces, spice mixes, etc.). It sounds lame, but we actually remake more of these recipes than what we’ve tried from Hello Fresh because the flavours are just out of this world! We always make the salad on spinach and always include the avocado. The recipe calls for “Szechuan Five Spice” and “Chinese Marinade”, but we’ve only found Chinese Five Spice and Szechuan marinade at our grocery store. It works well!

Thai Pumpkin Soup - Ayla Rianne

THAI PUMPKIN SOUP

We first tried this in the autumn and were seriously impressed. It’s so easy to make and we almost have all of the ingredients on hand. It would be really nice with some bread, but again, we’re trying to cut back on how much bread we have throughout the week.

BBQ Chickpea & Cauliflower Tacos - She Likes Food

BBQ CHICKPEA & CAULIFLOWER TACOS

This is easily one of our favourite options for vegetarian nights. We follow the recipe closely, but switch the jalapenos for avocado. Using a head of cauliflower and a tin of chickpeas makes a ton of food for us, so after 2 tacos each (they’re so filling), we have plenty for leftovers. Also, this is the slaw recipe I always use now.

Cacio e pepe

CACIO E PEPE

We were first introduced to cacio e pepe from Chrissy Tiegen in her Cravings cookbook. Her lemony arugula (rocket) version is heavenly. But when we took our cooking class in Rome, it totally changed the game. We learned that fettuccine alfredo is not a thing in Italy. Cacio e pepe (meaning cheese and pepper) is the real deal and a typical Roman dish. It’s so simple to make. All you need is noodles, butter or oil, pecorino cheese, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper. Cook your noodles as usual, saving some of the pasta water. Heat butter or oil in a pan. Add a ladle of the pasta water, add the cooked noodles, add the cheese and black pepper. Cook sauce down until it’s creamy. (It should only take a couple of minutes.) I haven’t made Chrissy’s version since we learned how to make it in Rome, but I would love to combine the two so her version is a bit cheesier.

Buddha Bowls

BUDDHA BOWLS

We used to have Buddha bowls a lot more frequently, but the truth is they can kind of be a big undertaking. However, the beauty is they can be whatever you want! We typically do it with quinoa or couscous, roasted chickpeas (love the crunch!), roasted veggies, spinach, avocado, and a poached egg. We’ve never added sauce because of the egg but I’m definitely curious about tahini dressing.

Creamy Chicken & Buttermilk Dumplings - How Sweet Eats

CREAMY CHICKEN & BUTTERMILK DUMPLINGS

Maybe this would be more of a treat on a Wednesday where the other days are a little lighter on the carbs and dairy, but as I’m writing this post, I’m craving this soup something fierce! I promise you it will be the best chicken and dumplings you’v ever had. (Sorry, Mom!)

WEEK TWO

Masala Lamb Chops - Simply Cook

MASALA LAMB CHOPS

It was another hit from Simply Cook and has become one of our go-to recipes when we host people for dinner. It’s easy to make and it always impresses our guests. We do the salad on spinach and always include the coriander. We haven’t been able to find the spice blend that came in the box, so we just go without it. It’s still delicious and flavourful.

Loaded Greek Salad - Halfbaked Harvest

LOADED GREEK SALAD

Halfbaked Harvest has quickly become one of my favourite food bloggers. All of the recipes I’ve tried, I’ve loved and this salad is no different. We first tried it in January while we were on a cleanse diet of sorts, so we decided not to add quinoa. It’s a lot of work to prep all the veggies, but it’s worth it. It’s actually become one of our go-to work lunches too because the recipe definitely makes six servings. Believe me. Don’t try to do four. It’s too much salad.

Hot Sausage & Pepper Soup - Ruled

SAUSAGE AND PEPPER SOUP

The original recipe is called “hot”, but we’ve adjusted it to not be so spicy. We don’t use the jalapenos or as much chili powder. There’s still a bit of a kick though. Or at least enough of a kick for me. It’s pretty easy to just toss in the slow cooker and will warm you right up on a chilly evening.

Veggie Burgers

VEGGIE BURGERS

We love Linda McCartney’s veggie burgers. They’re seriously delish. When we’re trying to be good, we’ll cook some portobello mushrooms to use as buns too. It’s insanely messy, but insanely good. We might have it with slaw, corn on the cob, or a salad depending on the season.

Pesto Courgetti

PESTO COURGETTI

Or zoodles for us Americans. Like I mentioned above, we found that we were eating courgetti about every other week anyway, so we decided to add it to balance out our pasta nights on the opposite weeks. We usually keep it simple with pesto and sausage, but we recently started making our own pesto. It’s easy. Blend 50g basil, 50g pine nuts, and 1 garlic clove in a food processor for two servings.

Motomaki Roll

MOTOMAKI BOWLS

Motomaki is one of my favourite restaurants in Boulder, but there’s nothing like it around here. It’s essentially Chipotle, but for sushi. You can get big rolls (wrapped in seaweed, not tortillas, don’t worry) or bowls. I always get the shrimp tempura and add sushi salmon and we’ve tried to recreate it a couple of times. We can get frozen shrimp tempura at the grocery store and now our store has a sushi bar that has salmon & tuna sashimi. You need rice, tempura asparagus (we make our own), slaw mix, cucumber, and mashed avocado. Add the shrimp tempura, diced salmon, and finely chopped tuna. Top with sriracha aioli and soy sauce.

Roast Chicken & Root Vegetables for 2 - Chef Cory Vitiello

ROAST CHICKEN & ROOT VEGETABLES

We tried this for the first time in January and it was easily one of the top five dinners we’ve ever made. Allegedly this is the dinner Meghan Markle cooked the night Prince Harry proposed, but the recipe is actually from her ex-boyfriend who is a chef in Canada. Who knows. What I know is that this is hands down the best chicken I’ve ever had. The first time we made it, we didn’t allow for enough time for the chicken to brine all 12 hours; we only did about 4. For the vegetables, we included a parsnip, a couple more potatoes than it calls for, and used a shallot instead of pearl onions because we couldn’t find any. We had left over veggies, so I probably wouldn’t use that many potatoes again.

Photos from the source recipes or of similar meals found via Google.