Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Best. Meal. Ever.

I'm coming out of overwhelmed-with-life-induced hiding to share the following recipes. You're welcome.

Want to knock your lover's socks off? (Also, want to die from a saturated fat induced coma?) This steak recipe is seriously the BEST. I have made it with clearance Rib-eyes and NY Strips and those $5 steaks taste better than some I've spent $30+ on in a restaurant!

I've told a lot of you about this recipe before, so when I finally sat down to find it in a digital format, I thought it would behoove me to share it with y'all.

(While I'm at it, can I give a plug to Cooks Illustrated "Best Recipes" and "New Best Recipes" cookbooks? Even for a hack like me, every single thing I have made from these has turned out excellent. Their detail/description is exactly what I need to make me feel a teensy bit confident in my decisions. Buy these books and make this Steak ASAP!)

Anyways, enough of that. Here are the recipes (just copied and pasted from the website)! Serve it with killer mashed potatoes, green beans and THE BREAD (omg have you tried it?!?) and I'm telling you, you will die (literally. because if you added up how much butter I just told you to injest, you just might).

Cooks Illustrated Pan-seared steaks:

Why this recipe works:

For a pan-seared steak recipe with a full-bodied, complex steak sauce, we cooked the steaks in a high-quality, heavy pan, reducing the heat to prevent burning and moving the steaks only once. By adding a few extra ingredients to the traditional trio of wine or brandy, stock, and butter, we transformed canned stock into a luxurious, refined sauce for our meat.

To cook two steaks instead of four, use a 10-inch skillet and halve the sauce ingredient quantities. Pan sauces cook quickly, so prepare the ingredients before you begin cooking the steaks. Use a heavy skillet with a nonreactive cooking surface.


  • 4 boneless 8-ounce rib-eye steaks or top loin steaks, 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick, thoroughly dried with paper towels
  • Salt and ground black pepper


  1. 1. Heat heavy-bottomed, 12-inch skillet over high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, season both sides of steaks with salt and pepper.

  2. 2. Lay steaks in pan, leaving 1/4-inch of space between each; reduce heat to medium-high, and cook without moving until well browned, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, flip steaks; cook 4 minutes more for rare, 5 minutes more for medium-rare, and 6 minutes more for medium. Transfer steaks to large plate and tent with foil to keep warm while preparing one of the related sauce recipes.

Shallot Butter Sauce
( I often sub out the shallots for onions, because they are easier to keep on hand, and I usually forget the Parsley because I don't keep it around the house).


  • 2 small shallots , minced (about 1/3 cup )
  • 4tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 4 pieces
  • 1teaspoon fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • 1teaspoon minced fresh parsley leaves


  1. Follow recipe for Pan-Seared Steaks, transferring plate with steaks to 200-degree oven to keep warm. To same skillet used to cook steaks (do not clean skillet or discard accumulated fat), add shallots and cook over low heat until softened, about 1 minute. Turn heat to medium-low; stir in butter, scraping up browned bits on pan bottom with wooden spoon. When butter is just melted, stir in lemon juice and parsley; season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over steaks and serve immediately.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Highs and Lows

At dinner each night at Rising Star, we review our "highs and lows" from that day. Some of mine from the two weeks...(kicking myself for not writing them down each day)

High: Watching Mandy and Kim kick butt at construction
Low: The stereotypes Indian men have about female capabilities

High: spending time in the colony and watching the patients serve one another
Low: having so much going on in my personal life that I'm having a hard time staying "in the moment"

High: figuring out that shouting "left, left, left, right, left" is insanely helpful when carrying huge concrete rings
Low: watching the Indians laugh at us while we paraded down the streets of the colony shouting "left, left, left, right, left"

High: watching my student finally start to get the hang of multiplication tables
Low: being exhausted from not sleeping on our Delhi trip and almost falling asleep during tutoring

Other things I've been super grateful for during this trip:
- air conditioning
- canned chicken
- ice water
- diet coke
-wheat thins
- wifi (and Skype!)
-Amanda and lex, the India pros
-zit cream (somewhat prevented a repeat SA forehead disaster)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Week 2 at Rising Star

We spent our second week at Rising Star in the same rotation as week one. Education on Monday and Friday, Construction on Tuesday and Thursday, and Medical on Wednesday.

Education was better this week than last week; the kids and I got into a rhythm and I made an effort to have more patience, but it was still really hard. I have such respect for parents and teachers, especially after this!! We spent a few periods reading with students, and a few periods working on math. It's important not to distract the kids any more than they already are, so we don't take many pictures during education.

Construction continues to be crazy hard but oh so rewarding. It's funny, Amanda says that each session seems to have a focus and ours is definitely construction. We spent last week carrying the roofs for outhouses but this week we were building septic tanks. And by building septic tanks, I mean carrying 6-8 200lb cement rings over to the holes that were dug by each hut, lowering them into the holes and then filling the spaces between with dirt. We did this about 6 times total. The cherry on top was the last day when we were informed that we would be carrying the concrete rings all the way from one end of the village to another. Because we were physically carrying the rings, it takes about 6 people per ring to lift and we had to take several breaks along the way. By the last few rings though, we had devised a system of carrying them by sticks that we had wrapped around with rope, while shouting "left, left, left, right left" to keep in synch. Don't be surprised that I was the one leading the shout.

We had some issues with the local men - like them insisting we carry the rings in the most complicated, inefficient way possible and trying to force the girls in the groups into "woman work" of digging in the dirt rather than hauling concrete slabs (we stubborn americans are not accepting of the limiting stereotypes in other countries) and so we put up a fight and proved them wrong. While I wasn't the strongest gal there (by far, Mandy and Kim were crazy tough) it was still so rewarding to look back and see all that we had accomplished in a week of busting our butts. I'm sure every group was impressive, but I'd like to think my group was especially so.

Because of our group's schedule, we only made it out to the leprosy colonies once this week, but what an experience it was. When we had gone before, it was either just Amanda, Patrick and me or a teeny colony so it was awesome to see our group rally together to provide such loving service to those in need. An especially sweet moment was watching a grandfather parade his grand-baby around to all the volunteers to admire.

I also loved observing the selflessness that exists, even in a community where almost everyone is suffering. One man, for example was the first one at the clinic, and yet he spent the time assisting all the others before finally, at the end, unwrapping his bandages and allowing us to help him. I see so many examples of impatience in India that it's especially touching when you have moments like this.

Play time is fun, but SO hot. I usually don't make it the full two hours because I'm a wimp.

Each night, after play time and dinner, we spend time with our assigned "family".

The littlest girls, getting ready for bed.

My family, Saraswathi's family, is by far the cutest group of girls you've ever seen in your life.

I'm especially partial to one girl, Mariambee

who shares my love for reading. We've spent the past week reading The BFG to one another (each reading one page and then swapping). We didn't quite finish before inlet, but hopefully she will finish on her own and continue reading with other volunteers. It is incredible to see how good she is at reading in English, especially compared to her classmates.

There are so many amazing girls in our house; like Monica, with her gorgeous eyes and fabulous cropped hair (I want to copy her!)

Vandamala with her kooky sense of humor

Nadia with her shy smile

and Prianka with her loving devotion to the family

I'm so lucky to have met these girls, who have shown me how to love unconditionally, quickly and fiercely. They don't guard their hearts here; they throw their love at you so strongly, it's almost shocking, until you realize you've done the same to them.

Saraswati, the house mother, is so so sweet.

She and Amanda became close in the two months Amanda was there, and it's easy to see why. I loved watching her interact with the girls, who live so far away from their families, they really treat her as a mother and love her like one. She's leaving to be married soon, and you can tell that she is so heartbroken to be leaving her little family.

I don't have as much to gush about Patricks fam, but the grin on his face pretty much sums up his feelings about this place.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Misc india photos

Where we eat dinner each night

(You better believe amanda and I spent a full day in Chennai tracking down one of these tents to bring home as a souvenir)

Serving up dinner on banana leaf plates

The cold water dispenser. (especially appreciated after play time!)

Where the kids eat their meals (no silverware, just hands!)

Squatters and bucket showers

Rising Star lawn mower

The Elephant house (where we stayed)

Dance class!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Delhi and Agra

While at Rising Star, we spent a weekend on a group trip to Delhi and Agra. It was a bit of a whirlwind adventure but so so fun. Although, for the record, I'm not sure I can handle a trip with 30 other people ever again.

We left Rising Star at about 3 in the morning (Amanda and I were supposed to wake up at 2 but somehow neither of us actually SET the alarms and we woke up in a panic about 20 mins before we were supposed to leave) and arrived in Delhi around 10am after a quick flight out of Chennai

Our first reminder of why we don't travel in groups came when someone in the group realized he had left his passport on the plane and had to go searching for it while the rest of us waited an hour. Awesome. Thank goodness he found it!

Driving through the city was pretty crazy. Vendors everywhere, every vehicle imaginable all on the roads together, people running out in the middle of traffic to ask for money. Nuts.

As we headed into Delhi, our first order of business was a Rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on Steroids.

The streets were so narrow, our Rickshaws barely fit through. It was definitely nerve wracking to look up above us, see the bundles of exposed wires, and then look back and see a scooter coming at you, full speed ahead.

As we swerved through the tiny streets, past shops and vendors and often straight into other vehicles, I counted at least 5 times that I thought to myself, "ok, this is it, you are about to die", and yet, here I am blogging, so clearly we survived.

We also spent time in the Spice Market and Chili Markets which were straight out of a movie. We rushed down dark alleys, the ground covered in slippery, slimy muck, while stealing glances at the mysterious men conversing in the shadows. Seriously.

We LOVED it. Often when we visit a country, I don't get a "holy crap this is authentic" vibe in the tourist areas, but I sure did in Delhi.

The spice markets were so beautiful. Stacks and stacks of nuts and spices everywhere you turned. I bought some Saffron and Indian Vanilla that I am so excited to use when we get home!

The Chili market was pungent. My nostrils literally burned from the smell of the dried pods.

And to get to it, we had to climb up a dark, steep, slimy staircase. Once we were at the top, a whole new view of Delhi unfolded before us.

We headed off to an Incredible lunch where we gorged ourselves on the best Indian food I have ever had.

(thanks for smiling, Patrick)

Butter chicken, garlic naan, basmati rice and raita. Mmmm I am drooling just thinking about it.

While waiting for our food, I ventured outside to visit the local snake charmer.

Imagine my surprise when, as I sat down next to him, he opened up his basket and pulled out a Cobra (which he proceeded to hand to me)! A rat snake is one (harmless) thing, a Cobra is another! But I think Patrick was even more terrified than I was. He kept saying, keep calm Sarah, keep calm. Haha.

We spent the rest of the day driving the 6 hours to Agra so that we could wake up to a sunrise over the Taj Mahal. (oh yes and a stop at McDonald's for ice cream cones and air hockey)

Talk about an incredible place!

It is 10000 times cooler in person than pictures. I had no idea it was so huge! And so so intricate? There is inlayed marble everywhere. And the entire compound is perfectly symmetrical - including the useless building to the right, built solely to balance out the Mosque on the Taj's left hand side.

When we first arrived, there was a heavy layer of fog (helllooo monsoon season!) but luckily it cleared up by the time we left so we got a zillion pics in it's full glory.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I'm a novelty item in India. Lots of pics like this...

And this...

To be fair, we took lots of pics like this...

and this...

So I'm sure it evens out.

We headed back to the hotel for breakfast and naps before meeting up again to go to the Red Fort and shopping.

Somehow we missed taking a picture of the outside, but trust me when I say this thing was very huge and very red.

A totally different style than the Taj, but still soo detailed and beautiful. Amanda and I have a fabulous idea to create a vegetable garden inspired by the gardens here.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in a Rug factory

marble factory

and crappy street markets. We were all extremely disappointed by the shopping opportunities on this trip. Yet another reason it's better to travel solo. At least there were lots of commissions given to our tour guide though! :)

That night we ate at Pizza Hut. it wasn't exactly what I would have chosen, but if you insist in me eating pizza after a week of Indian food, I'm not going to put up a big fight.

We left the next morning to drive back to Delhi, in time for a very quick tour of the Baha'i temple before more crappy shopping and our flight back. It's aptly named the Lotus Temple and it was really cool. Sparse on the inside, but the outside was amazing.

And the grounds were beautiful as well. Which was refreshing since India is not exactly tidy.

Afro trees!

Oh yes! And how could I forget, a pit stop/ elephant and camel ride!!!

The outskirts of Delhi were the biggest shock for me. That's where I started to really see the abject poverty the people here live in. I can't even fathom living that way and yet there they are. Wading through the garbage, swatting swarms of flies and squatting in dirt clods outside their tent village slums. It was really hard for me to stare out the window of our bus for the 6hrs it took to get back to the city, but it was also really important for me to see and acknowledge. My life would be a whole lot easier if I'd never gone to Delhi. I selfishly wish I could just pull a curtain over that part of my brain and keep moving on because I'm overwhelmed by the amount of need in this country and the inability to do anything about it.

And yet, I'm still quick to rush back to my fancy air-conditioned hotel room. I keeping feeling like this country is in a constant state of contradiction, but then again, so am I.