I have enjoyed cooking and baking since I was a young girl, and because I enjoyed it I guess I always thought I was pretty good at it. There were certain things that I was good at - chocolate chip cookies, for instance, and from-scratch brownies. But in America, so many things are conveniently ready-made that we forget about all the things that we don't know how to cook. Suddenly I was dropped in a foreign country and needed to learn to make all kinds of foreign foods . . . and I realized, in the process, that there were a lot of familiar American foods that I actually didn't know how to make either!

So today's article is "what I wish I'd known" for those who are still in the preparation stage. If you are heading overseas in the next few weeks, disregard this post - and don't despair, you will learn as you go! But if you still have several months before you will be crossing the ocean, this article is for you! Here are a few things that I wish I'd learned to make from scratch in the comfort of my American kitchen, instead of experimenting and repeatedly failing with precious, expensive ingredients in Africa!

1) Yogurt. It's a great baby food, a good source of protein for all ages, a simple breakfast, a healthy snack, and a creamy cold treat on a hot day. If you haven't already made yogurt from scratch, you'll be thankful you learned how!

2) Tortillas. We're from the western US, so maybe this isn't applicable to everyone. But I've found Mexican food to be one of our favorite "special" treats overseas . . . which means I had to learn to make tortillas from scratch. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it!

3) Sauces. White sauce, cheese sauce, spaghetti sauce, enchilada sauce, alfredo sauce, BBQ sauce, tartar sauce, fresh salsa - you name it! I also include gravy in this catagory.

4) Yeast bread. We could buy decent white bread locally, but it sure is nice to have wheat bread occasionally. And to be able to make pizza crust, breadsticks, dinner rolls, hamburger buns, etc for special occasions. And a bread machine doesn't count, ladies, unless you're planning to have one in your new home! You have to be able to knead the dough by hand. :-)

5) Cake and frosting. Although I did a lot my of baking from scratch, for some reason I always used cake mixes and canned frosting. This became a problem when the first birthday rolled around overseas!!

6) Pudding. I'm still no good at making pudding from scratch, but I'm determined to learn someday!

7) Miscellaneous baked sweets. What are your favorites - cookies? Brownies? Pie? You (and your husband!) will be glad you learned how to make them from scratch!

8) Anything you normally make from a seasoning packet, a box, or a can. Think about the prepared foods you usually buy. Do you usually make guacamole from a seasoning packet? Have you ever made cornbread from scratch instead of from a Jiffy mix? When you make chili have you tried starting with dried beans and your spice rack instead of just popping open a few cans and dumping in a seasoning packet? What about making tomato soup from scratch instead of using Cambell's?

Those are a few things I wish I'd known before we moved overseas (although a couple of them I did know). Don't be overwhelmed at this list. Pick a few things that will be the most special to you and/or your family, and master those things first. You certainly don't have to be a gourmet chef before you cross the ocean! But it will help the transition process if you aren't learning to cook foreign food AND American food at the same time!!

Share your thoughts below, ladies! What did I miss? What do you wish you'd known how to make before you left the States? OR, what are you very thankful that you DID know when you moved overseas?

I would love to be an organized person. I dream about daily schedules that are kept consistently. I imagine closets full of shoeboxes and totes all organized and labeled. And I long to be able to sit down on a Sunday night and plan seven days of meals at a time so that I don't have to decide what's for supper every night of the week.

But it just doesn't work for me. I try. I really do. But over and over again I end up frustrated and discouraged, because there is a limit to how successfully you can organize a life that's as unpredictable as ours. Take meal planning, for instance. Many times I have written up a seven-day plan and posted it on the refridgerator to take some stress off my week. Then as we get into the week, I find out that on the day I had planned a special dinner, my hubby will be away from home. We get last-minute company on the night I was planning to heat up hot dogs. The vegetable seller doesn't show up on the day that I was planning to make stir-fry. (Or she comes, but is sold out of everything I need.) Or the supermarket hasn't restocked the ingredients I was counting on for one (or more!) of my meals. It just doesn't work!

For a long time, I blamed myself for this failure. I was such a bad housewife that I couldn't even make and stick to a meal plan! Why couldn't I get my act together and get organized enough to do something simple like plan a week of meals? Don't do this to yourself, ladies! In America we get pretty good at planning and controlling our lives, but it usually just doesn't work that way overseas. This does not mean that you're a failure!

I finally came to the point where I accepted the fact that traditional meal planning was not going to work in my situation. And that's when I was able to develop a system that did work for me. It's not exactly meal planning, but it's a system of flexible organization. :-) So what do I do?

**At the beginning of the week, I write down everything that needs used that week. Leftovers, vegetables, any meats or perishables in the fridge, anything in the freezer that is getting old. When my hubby brings a surprise home from market, I add it to the list. When the vegetable seller comes, I write down what I bought from her so it will get used while it's fresh.

**While I'm making this list, if any good meals come to mind using a combination of ingredients on hand, I jot them along the side. If there is anything obvious missing, (such as, no meat left in the freezer!) I start a grocery list.

**Each evening while I'm making supper, I consult the list and plan the meals for the following day. It helps if you also sit down sometime and make a master list of all the meals that you make regularly. This will help your fuzzy brain on the days when all you can think of is chicken noodles and spagetti! I actually made four "master lists" - 1) Local foods that I make for my family, 2) "American" foods that I make for my family, 3) Local foods that make good company meals for visitors, 4) Special meals that are easy but good for visitors. This works well for me because we have a LOT of visitors and I need the extra reminders.

So that's what works for me! How do you ladies handle meal planning? Are your lives more predictable than mine? Please share in the comments below!

As a mommy of littles, mornings are a challenge. Gone are the days of sipping hot tea as I have a leisurely devotion time, while the smell of a baking breakfast casserole (prepared the night before) fills the house. Now there are diapers to change, trips to the potty, wet pajamas and bedsheets to deal with, children fussing for drinks, and a hundred other things to do before breakfast hits the table. If that isn't enough, early morning (as in 6-8am) is also the time we get all the door-to-door vendors selling the days' supply of fruits, vegetables, bread, etc. So it's not unusual to get 3 or 4 knocks on the door in the midst of getting children out of bed and breakfast on the table. And preparing something the night before? If I'm still standing by the time both boys are asleep, it's a miracle!

Where we live, breakfast cereal is non-existent or VERY expensive. So just throwing Cheerios on the table isn't an option. The most common breakfast eaten by our local friends is a watery corn or millet porridge which really doesn't do much for hungry tummies in my opinion. So what are my options? Eggs are fast, and we eat them with toast most days. But I get tired of serving the same thing over and over . . . and without cheese, bacon, sausage, and other "normal" breakfast foods, I feel at a loss to know how to put variety in our diet.

So this post is asking you for help, rather than giving you a lot of ideas. What are your favorite breakfast menus? How do you handle the morning rush and still put decent food on the table for your family? Please share ideas, suggestions and recipes!

We all have our favorite cooking tricks, right? A recipe that is fast and easy but tastes great. A short-cut that saves time and energy on those days you just need an easy meal.  Well, today I'm going to share mine.

It's biscuits.

Are you disappointed? What's so special about biscuts? Well, they became my friend when we were living in a small village house with only a gas burner and no oven. They were the only bread that I was able to cook in a skillet on the stovetop. I found a recipe that takes oil (instead of shortening, which is not available in my country) and I usually don't roll them out so they're super-quick to make. Here are a few of our favorite things to do with biscuts . . .

1) Biscuts and gravy, which happens to be one of my huband's favorite meals. You can make any kind of gravy - my favorite is to pop a leg of chicken into a pot, boil it for 45 minutes, pick the meat off the bones and return it to the broth, add a little flour, salt and pepper and viola! you have delicious chicken gravy. I also frequently serve a cream gravy with sausage, bacon or hard-boiled eggs in it. I've even done a brown gravy - and if you have slices of beef you could call this a hot beef sandwhich. :-)

2) Wrap hot dogs with biscut dough to make pigs-in-blankets. Quick supper and fun for the kids!

3) Use as a crust for a pot pie. I have even done this with leftover chicken-veggie soup. Thicken the broth a little if you need to, then pour into a casserole dish and top with biscut dough!

4) Use part cornmeal in the biscut dough, and then make a "pot pie" using chili beans. Especially good if you have some cheese to sprinkle between the chili and the biscuit crust.

5) Add spices to the dough - onion powder, garlic powder, italian seasoning, rosemary, etc - for a savory biscut to go with soup or a meat dish.

6) Add cheese for a really special treat (since we can't get cheese easily). I like to add garlic powder and parsley with the shredded cheese. You can also add bacon bits for a breakfast treat!

7) Use to make egg sandwhiches - or just serve with jelly or syrup (or honey if you're lucky enough to have it!) for breakfast.

8) To make quick cinnamon rolls  - Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/3" thick, spread with softened butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar. Roll along the long side and cut the log into rounds. You can add 2 Tbsp sugar when making the dough and these will be even better.

Are you convinced yet? I make this recipe at least two or three times a week for different meals - I seriously couldn't live without it! So, here's the recipe:

Baking Powder Biscuits

2 c. flour, 1 Tbsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt

1/3 c. vegetable oil, 2/3 c. milk

Combine dry ingredients in medium-sized mixing bowl. Combine oil and milk in measuring cup. Pour into dry ingredients and mix with a fork just until blended. I just use my hands to shape the dough into flattened balls, but you can roll and cut with a biscuit cutter if you prefer. Bake at 425 (or as close as your oven will get!) for about 10 minutes. Makes 8. Best served hot!

For stovetop biscuits: Heat a large skillet with a lid over low heat while making dough. Place biscuits in hot skillet and cook on very lowest heat for about 12 minutes without removing lid. Flip biscuits with a pancake-turner, and cook on other side about 10 more minutes without removing lid. These will look a little odd, but they taste pretty good!


So now it's your turn, ladies! Do you have a go-to recipe that you couldn't live without? Is there anything else you do with biscuits that I haven't thought of yet? Please share in the comments below!