Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!!

2:50 AM JST

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! My brother Jun and his wife Akemi just left with their sleepy dog Hina dressed in a hat and sweater for the 2 minute drive home from my mother’s house. 

Mama, Papa and I went to the local shrine together just after 12:00 AM to say our prayers.  It was not too cold but there were intermittent gusts of strong wind as we waited in the queue from the street and up the stone steps carved into the side of the mountain up to the shrine.  The shrine is a 2 minute walk from my mother’s front door so we were pretty much there and back home within a half hour.
I love going to the shrine on New Year’s – there was a beautiful full moon shining over us with a few dark rolling clouds and a sprinkling of stars.  Crisp, cold and really just the perfect setting for the New Year to begin.  After climbing the steps and getting to our turn in line, we offer a 100 yen coin in the coin box and then ring the bell before bowing and clapping our hands twice to say our prayers with bowed head. 

After that we move on to get either (or both) cold, clear, oaky daru (cask) sake and sweet, hot amazake as well as a sweet miso glazed skewer of konnyaku.  Across from the food and drink there is a raging bonfire that crackles and sends out beautiful fiery sparks dancing up through the air.  The small plaza is bustling with the local citizens, talking, laughing, drinking, eating and wishing each other blessings for the New Year as the  children play – and yes, text each other incessantly – while the adults socialize.

Mama and I chose to have the hot amazake and papa the daru sake.  Papa decided to go in sweatpants, a light jacket and no hat against Mama’s protests and as the one who is always catching a cold; he was already sniffling by the time we got home – the Gods clearly chiding his pride. 
Jun and Akemi decided not to go – Jun was fast asleep as much from our four hour eating and drinking binge as his hectic work schedule of the past week.  Kawaisou – poor devil just doesn’t get enough sleep!!  Akemi is Buddhist and generally only goes to the Oteara to say her prayers.  Mama’s family has always been Shinto and heavily involved in the religion so going to the shrines has always been paramount.
I love being in Japan for New Years and this is the first time Mama has had Jun and I together with her to share New Years Eve and New Years ever in her life so she is just delirious and beaming with happiness.
I love to see her smiling and happy – a priceless and indescribable feeling to put into words. 
We usually eat toshi-koshi soba or Year Ending noodles after returning from the shrine but everyone is so full tonight that we decided to have them in the morning at our leisure.
It is almost 2:00 AM JST so I am off to bed and am looking forward to writing out my nengajou – New Year’s cards – out over some hot green tea and undoubtedly another round of New Year food and sweets…

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 1 in Japan

Japan 5:15 PM JST

I have been in Japan for about 24 hours and it is always amazing to me how no matter how much time passes between visits; that nothing seems to change in terms of how I feel when I am here.  It always feels as if I have always lived here and my life in the US is but a dream…and when I am in New Jersey, the reverse seems true.
In any case, I am happy to be home and with no work or homework to do – I am truly ‘anshin shiteimasu’ - which means at peace…
The trip here was fine and while I was worried about the heightened security imposed just the day before due to the crazy guy in Detroit, I really wasn’t affected by it in the US or in Japan.  I had to arrive at the airport an hour earlier – 3 hours instead of the usual 2 – but with my iPhone kindle app loaded up with 6 books; the time passed quickly as I sipped my Starbucks green tea latte and read through “His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi Novik.  I started the second book in the series at the end of my flight so I think I will get through the other two in the series during my time here and on the flight back.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 11:10 AM EST and all was going smoothly until we were just ready to take off.  Suddenly the captain informed us that there was a person who “decided that that they wanted off the plane”, and so we had to wait about 20 minutes for their luggage to be removed from the plane. 
We then were ready to take off again when the captain got back on the intercom and asked the entire plane for a doctor, nurse or EMT. When none identified themselves as such, the paramedics were called and so we waited some more.
We were then cleared a third time after the sick passenger was taken off the plane and the third time was the charm so we were off.
The flight was uneventful, very smooth and though I was pretty much stuck in my seat for the entire 13.5 hour flight, save for one trip to the bathroom; it was fine.  My seat mates were Chinese and very quiet but they ended up sleeping for the majority of the flight, rousing only to eat and then going back into hibernation.  I may switch to an aisle seat for the return flight...
The airplane seat backs were all fitted with a touch screen entertainment system with movies, television shows, music and flight status.  There was a huge selection of global international entertainment so I was able to watch “Departures” (okuribito in Japanese) a Japanese movie that won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.  It was a beautiful movie and yes, I bawled my eyes out in parts LOL.
I then watched the Bollywood film “Fashion” by Madhur Bhandarkar and starring Priyanka Chopra who is just stunningly gorgeous.
The flight landed about 40 minutes late and then I pretty much zipped through debarkation – once I had my luggage, I just showed the customs official my passport and told him I was visiting my mother and family and he just waved me through immediately without checking a single bag.  John gave me a Cuban cigar for Papa and I wasn’t sure if it would be an issue (Cuban cigars aren’t illegal in Japan) and luckily it wasn’t.
Mama and Papa were waiting for me at the gate and I had been texting my brother (at work) on his cell as soon as I landed – the iPhone is indeed global and found the local carrier DoCoMo & SoftBank as soon as I switched off the airplane mode after we landed. The fact that I can text in both Japanese and English at will is awesome – I love, love,love the iPhone!

We grabbed a bite at a Soba Noodle shop on the 4th floor at Narita Airport and I had delicious tsukimi soba (moon viewing soba) noodles served cold and warm hijiki seaweed rice with hot mugs of mugi-cha (barley tea).  Truly delicious!

 (Tsukimi soba - Moon viewing soba)
There was a African-American Navy guy who came in after us and sat next to us with his wife (or girlfriend) who had just arrived for a visit – her first to Japan, and she didn’t seem too happy about it.
She ordered blindly and was served soba noodles with a dipping sauce and a mug of soup broth to sip – my mother ended up showing her how to eat the noodles since she had no idea what to do with the fresh knob of wasabi next to her noodles nor the dipping sauce or sipping soup.  She seemed happier to be eating the noodles once they had some flavor.
After dinner, I changed my currency over to yen and we were off to the house.  I slept the entire way and when I woke up we were home.
Ake-chan (my brother’s wife) and her mother (who I call Ake-Mama) stopped for a visit about an hour after my arrival and I was able to give them the gifts I brought which seemed to go over very well. 
My brother called after they left and apologized for not stopping but he had just gotten home from work and it was about 11:00 PM JST so I told him I would see him whenever he was able to stop by – he has such a difficult schedule, I really feel for him and would rather he got a good night’s sleep.  He is off for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day so we will have plenty of time to catch up and spend time together.  Besides – he and Ake-chan are taking me to Kyoto for three days next week.
I slept well and spent today just being home and going for a couple short walks.  Mama made a great breakfast as usual – hot rice, hot clear broth with seaweed and sesame, ginger chicken, mentaiko (cod roe), sautéed lotus root, mapo tofu with pork, spicy sautéed perilla leaves, umeboshi and her delicious nukazuke pickles of fresh turnip and cucumber. 
Ake-chan and Ake-Mama stopped by for coffee shortly after breakfast and during their visit I showed them Skype – we called Ed and also Ed’s mother, Mom H.; which my mother was over the moon about.  She and Papa were so, so happy to see and talk to Mom H. that their faces were just beaming.  They both adore Mom H. and the feeling is certainly returned in kind.  Mom often says they lived closer together and I have no doubt that if they lived close, that the moms would be fast friends – they seem to share so many similar thoughts about life and family.  I am truly very blessed and happy to have both wonderful women in my life.
After we called Mom H., Ake and Ake-Mama left and then we called Darline and Peet in Anguilla.  Danny and Aubry were there as well so Mama was able to see and talk to her oldest grandson and then meet his girlfriend Aubry for the first time.  She was (and still is) beaming with happiness.  It is so good to see her laughing and smiling all day.  Skype is as magical a thing to her as the iPhone.


I remembered this area with no problems and went to the book store where I bought two great cookbooks on wagashi or Japanese sweets. I stopped by the liquor store and bought my brother a nice bottle of Kageshima Imo Shochu (similar to potato vodka), then the tea shop where I picked up some roasted mugi-cha (barley tea) and then finally went to my favorite wagashi-ya or Japanese Sweet store called Sakakura-ya and bought some yummy daifuku mame and kuri yokan.

(daifuku mame)

My brother is stopping by in a couple of hours so I will get to see him today – for now, KBS is broadcasting a Korean Epic movie set in the same timeframe as Japan’s Samurai feudal era.
Papa  and Mama both love these movies – as do I – so off to watch the show!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Qurban (Lebanese Holy Bread)

Merry Christmas!

This entry in my blog is by Mercedes a fellow eblogger from Washington DC who has a passion for cooking/baking and a love of the Middle East.  Her Blog is called Desert Candy. (

Mercedes' recipe for "Qurban" from Damascus' Old Orthodox Christian quarter of the city called 'Bab Touma':

Several afternoons a week I rush out of work, heading across town for my Arabic tutoring session, which is really just an excuse for Wael and me to gab about the ongoing saga of his engagement and other such gossip. I tap my fingers on the window of the service, the van stuck in the smog-filled traffic of Damascus' rush hour. Finally reaching Bab Touma, I leap out and hustle into the winding alleys of the old city. Bab Touma is the Christian quarter of the old city and right at the entrance, between the chicken vendor and the kunafe maker, is a small bakery selling small twisted cookie rings and puffy round breads and sesame breadsticks. When my stomach grumbles I stop quickly, paying a few coins for one of those soft breads, pressing it to my nose to inhale its orange water scent before hurrying on my way.

The bread is called qurban, which means sacrifice, and it is the bread used during communion for the Orthodox Christian churches of Syria and Lebanon. But don't worry, my afternoon snack isn't sacrilegious, qurban are often for sale for public consumption. You can literally smell this bread baking from blocks away, the scent of orange flower water and yeast hooking your nose like a ring though a cow's nostril. They are best when your nose draws you to them, fresh out of the oven, the sweet rounds marked in the center with a stamp in Aramaic, soft and lightly sweet.

I had forgotten about qurban until I picked up a copy of Annisa Helou's Savory Baking from the Mediterranean (I am a Ms. Helou groupy and all her books are fabulous, including this latest one). Ms. Helou, who is Lebanese Christian, describes rediscovering qurban years later as her "madeleine moment," and I can understand why. Since the first time I made them at home they've been in high demand, and I have no objection because I love the way it makes the house smell. Plus, I've had plenty of practice to tweak and streamline the recipe to be more in line with my memory. These are perfect breakfast breads, toasted and spread with sweet butter, or they make a great sweet-savory sandwich with some salty halloumi cheese. And you need not be religious nor observant to enjoy them, though if you have a cup of wine alongside you could pretend you were.

Qurban (Lebanese Holy Bread)

These wonderfully scented breads are best served warm from the oven or lightly toasted with sweet butter.

1 package (2 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp mahlep, if available
2 tbl unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbl orange blossom water
for brushing: 2 tbl butter melted with 1 tsp orange blossom water

1. Place the yeast in a small with 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Add 1/3 of a cup of warm water and set aside for 5-10 minutes, until bubbly.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the flour, remaining sugar, salt, and mahlep. Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your finger tips until well distributed. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the yeast mixture and add 1/2 cup warm water. Knead until you have a rough ball of dough.

3. Knead the dough in the bowl for 3-5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rub the inside of the bow with oil to coat, place the dough bal inside. Cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Let rest 10 minutes. On a lightly floured surafce, roll each dough ball out into a circe about 6 inches in diameter. Place on a greased or lined baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise one hour. Preheat oven to 400 F.

5. Press each dough round with the tines of a fork to make a square in the center. Make sure to press deeply as this will prevent the dough from puffing too much in the oven. Place in the oven and bake 15-17 minutes, until golden. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. When the bread comes out of the oven brush generously with the butter-flower water mixture. Let cool slightly before serving. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ecuador's Día de los Difuntos or Day of the Dead, Guaguas de Pan and Colada Morada

A vendor selling guaguas de pan or 'bread babies', traditional food for el dia de los difuntos (Day of the Dead)

"guagua" (pronounced wa-wa) is indigenous Quechuan word, not to be confused with Cuban guagua which is onomatopoetic word derived from the sound of old Havana busses

Día de los Difuntos (also known as Finados), or Day of the Dead, is without a doubt one of the most important and highly respected days in the Ecuadorian highlands, taking place on November 2nd.

This is the day when families celebrate the spirits of their ancestors through elaborate gestures such as the sharing of food, drink, and good conversation with the deceased.

Celebrated throughout Latin America as a result of the combination between indigenous beliefs and Catholic religion, the Day of the Dead takes place on November 2 around the continent.

In Ecuador the holiday is interpreted as a day to “catch up” with the ones who are no longer with us but have a life in a different world. People pack lunches of traditional food, flowers and offerings and head for the cemeteries where they spend the day as a family talking, eating and performing routine maintenance on the grave site.

The staple food of the season is the famous colada morada, a thick purple drink, and guaguas de pan, sweet bread in shape of dolls.

Traditional guagua de pan and colada morada

Weeks before the holiday supermarkets and bakeries begin selling the ingredients and store-made versions of the drink and breads. Colada morada is made out of black corn flour, blueberries, blackberries, cinnamon, and pineapple, among other ingredients that are cooked together and served hot or cold with the sweet bread.

To some people the purple/red drink symbolizes blood, which in turn symbolizes life of the ones how have moved on from this existence.

There are as many versions of colada morada and guaguas de pan recipes as there are households, because whether a family visits their long-time gone relatives at cemeteries or not, the great majority of Ecuadorians will taste their version of the traditional food.

The tradition of spending the day at cemeteries has declined in urban areas of Ecuador, however once you leave the city behind it is easy to find entire communities mingling at the local cemetery for the occasion.

My neighbor is from Ecuador and he is always eager to share his culinary culture with us and we have had many delicious dishes that he has made through the year from Ecuador.

This holiday was no different, as he and his family were over to share in our annual Halloween Kids Dinner (he has two sons, 3 and 5 yeas of age) and he wanted to share his own custom of drinking colada morada and eating guaguas de pan.

Both were truly delicious – the colada morada was SOOO delicious and I thought the guaguas de pan were very good too – but he was disappointed as it had turned out more like a baking soda biscuit than bread as was the traditional guaguas de pan. It was the first time he had made the guaguas de pan and I have to say – it really was delicious.

Of course, my culinary curiosity was piqued and so I did some research and I managed to find a couple of recipes for guaguas de pan online – in Spanish.

It was pretty simple to translate and once I got through the metric to imperial conversion; I was set to try my hand at the guaguas de pan.

My neighbor had made us the colada morada and guaguas de pan on the Sunday after Halloween and the actual Día de los Difuntos was on Monday.

I ran home after work on Monday night and went to work on making the guaguas de pan.

Guaguas de pan are 'bread babies'. (The word guagua, pronounced wa-wa, is Quechuan.) Some families make their own guaguas de pan at home, but most buy them from the panaderías, or bakeries, which only make them during this time of the year. These bread babies can be up to 12 inches long and are shaped with a ball of dough for the head and a long, tapering ball of dough for the body. They are decorated with icing and may have jam or some other sweet inside.

My first guaguas de pan

The recipe is really a basic one and I think easy enough for anyone to try.

GUAGUAS DE PAN RECIPE (pronounced 'wawas')

Yield: 6 guaguas de pan about 6-7 inches long.


2.2 lbsall-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons of salt
¼ cup of sugar
1 1/3 cup of butter, soft, room temperature
4 eggs
3 packs of rapid rise yeast

1 round tin of Goya Guava Paste - 21 oz.. Pasta de Guayaba

(You can also use your favorite jelly)


Colored royal icing (or I used Betty Crocker colored Cookie Decorating Icing)


1. Mix flour, sugar, yeast and salt together in a bowl.

2. Make a well with the flour, put in the softened butter and mix well, it should look like cornmeal.

3. In a bowl put the eggs, milk, yeast, and mix well and gradually add the dry ingredients and mix well until it gathers into a soft ball of dough.

4. Knead the dough on an unfloured surface until the dough is spongy and elastic.

5. Separate the dough into six equal parts, form into balls and let rise covered with plastic for 30 minutes or until doubled in volume (1 hour is using regular and not rapid rise yeast).

6. Roll each ball out into an egg-shaped oval to about ¼ inch to ½ inch thick.

7. Lay cut strips of guava paste in the center and seal dough around the paste.

8. Lay seam side down and shape into guagua or baby shape.

9. Let rise covered with plastic for about 30 minutes

10. Brush with glaze of one beaten egg and add raisins for eyes and nose.

12. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until brown and shiny.

13. Let cool for an hour and then frost with icing in bright colors.


The colada morada (translated as the purple colada) is a drink made from cooking blackberries, blueberries, cinnamon, cloves, and other fruits and spices with a little oatmeal in the water until thick. The drink is then blended until smooth. From the middle of October until the second of November, cafés and restaurants try to outdo each other in offering the best guaguas de pan and coladas moradas.

colada morada ingredients ready to cook


Recipes for colada morada can vary from region to region and family to family. While all versions contain the purple corn flour called 'harina de maiz negro' (cornstarch can substitute in a pinch) blueberry, blackberry, and pineapple, some will use naranjilla juice (an Andean fruit), babaco (champagne fruit), strawberries, and even raisins.

Tea Ingredients:

½ bundle of spices for colada morada (5-6 orange leaves, 1 fistful each of lemon verbena and myrtle)
6-8 whole cloves
6-8 whole allspice
4-5 cinnamon sticks
1-2 ishpingo (Ecuadorian cinnamon)**

1. Fill a large Dutch oven halfway with water (approximately 2 liters).
2. Place the spices in the water. Boil for about 15 minutes. Set this tea aside to be used later.

Juice base ingredients:

1 ½ pounds blueberries, rinsed of any impurities
2 pounds blackberries (boysenberries can also be used, or any combination of the two)
1 large pineapple, peeled and cored*
2 cups (or more) sugar
2-3 heaping tablespoons purple corn flour (or cornstarch)

1. Put the blueberries in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a roiling boil for 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. As the blueberry juice cools, blend the blackberries with a couple of cups of water. Strain the juice and set aside.

3. Cut the pineapple into small cubes.

4. Once the blueberry mixture is cool, blend it and strain it. Mix the blueberry and blackberry juices with the tea of spices above. (Divide into two Dutch ovens for easier handling.)

5. Add the pineapple and boil for about 20 minutes, or until the pineapple is soft but not mushy.

6. After the pineapple is cooked, add about 1 cup of sugar to each pot. Let dissolve and taste, adding more sugar if needed. (The amount of sugar needed will depend on how ripe the fruits are. Adjust the sugar levels to taste.)

7. Put 2-3 heaping tablespoons of purple corn flour in a glass of cold water. Stir and dissolve the purple corn flour and then add half of the mixture to each Dutch oven. Stir for about 5-10 minutes more, allowing the colada to thicken. Adjust the amount of purple corn flour as needed (more for a thicker colada).

Serve the colada warm or cold. 

colada morada - hot and delicious!

 Ecuadorians will eat colada with guaguas de pan, soft bread loaves shaped in the form of babies (guagua meaning baby in Quechua), filled with chocolate or marmalade, and decorated with frosting on top. In place of guaguas, any soft dipping bread will do.

* Other fruits can be added to colada morada, such as strawberries or babaco. If adding babaco, add at the same time as the pineapple. If using strawberries, add the fruit in the last step, cooking for about 5 minutes.

**Ishpingo is the Quechua word for the native Ecuadorian "Cinnamon" tree Ocotea quixos (Lauraceae), found only in a small region of Amazonian Ecuador and Colombia. It is in the same family (Lauraceae) as the common Cinnamon and has a similar aroma. It has been used locally as a spice and flavoring agent since pre-European times.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wine Bottle Cake

As Rita Mae Brown once said, "The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans are suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you."

Last week was Boss's Day and there were plans to take the boss out to lunch - so I offered to make a chocolate cake.  Simple enough, right?  Well somewhere along the line, the classic chocolate cake I had in mind mutated into a cake that looked like a wine bottle...

Clearly, I am insane and not only am I insane - I am so far gone that I believe that my behavior is normal.

 The cake board for the 'wine crate'.

 The base cake board covered in fondant and glazed with gel color thinned with vodka.

 The cake board, and the pieces of cut out cake crumb coated with chocolate ganache. 

 The cake as 'wine crate'.

  The 'bottle', covered in green fondant before the overglaze of dark green and navy blue.

 The wine crate and bottle... 

 The finished cake with edible label and white chocolate shaved 'straw'. 

In any case, it all worked out in the end and the cake turned out pretty good overall.

For those of you who asked me "how" I made the cake and "how to make" your own wine bottle cake, it really isn't too difficult if you get your mise en place set up ahead of time..

I am assuming that if you are going to attempt this type of cake, that you don't need to be told that you need baked cake, fondant, ganache or buttercream and all of the tools and food colors to play with food.

A great resource for making novelty cakes is the book and blog by Confetti Cakes:


Confetti Cakes Book on

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Class Ice Breakers - UGH!

So not much going on in my classes except a LOT of reading! Students couldn't get into the classes early so I didn't get my textbook list until day 1 so off to Amazon and $$$ later, my books were being shipped overnight. Interestingly enough, one of my books had a digital edition and so for $10.00 more, I was able to access the digital version immediately and it stays in my Amazon media library forever. I am always suspicious about that word because so far in my life, all the things that have been supposed to last or 'be' forever - have not...but I digress. The online version is very cool in any case, and I would get all my text books that way if possible. I already get Saveur and a few other magazines digitally via Zinio Digital Books and Magazines and it is very convenient. I do like the 'feel' of a real book though for general reading...

Anyway, so this week has been a lot of reading, preparation and the online 'ice breaker' activities.

One class only required a photo of yourself and a brief written intro. The other two required PowerPoint slides about yourself.

In  616 Production of Computer-Based Training, one PowerPoint slide was required with three historical events from the year of your birth so people could 'guess' when you were born.  Here is my slide:

In addition to the three historical events listed, I added three others in the imagery of the slide:

1.  The date of the patent for bubble wrap was July 28 of that year by Marc A. Chavannes (although it was invented in 1957) and did you know that the company manufactures enough bubble wrap every year to wrap the equator ten times?

2.  I have the old flag of South Viet Nam since I lived there from 1970 - 1975 (yes, I was there for the "fall") and since the year I was born is considered the "official" start date of the Vietnam War, I felt this was appropriate.   The year I was born is when LBJ committed US troops full time with public knowledge...but the US actually sent military advisers into Viet Nam in 1954 and started adding armed troops few years later. The US did not admit to the country that we were legally there until President Johnson needed funds for more military might. So all in all Viet Nam lasted 21 years for the US ending in 1975.  Congress never declared it a "legal war"  as the US never recognized itself as being personally there, but over 58,000 US soldiers lost their lives in something that was never declared a war.  Hmmm...what is that saying about change and how things stay the same?

3.  Finally I put the logo of the Tokyo Olympics (with my face in the red sun of the hi-no-maru) on there as well...

...and if you haven't guessed it yet, I was born in 1964.  January 23, 1964 at 4:30 am at Fatima Hospital in Taegu, Korea.

TMI yet?

The second class, INSDSG 640 Planning and Design of Educational Multimedia Programs, required five slides and interestingly enough, the concept for the information was based on the MBTI or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and I am a solid ESFP.  So here are my slides for that class:

So there you have it - "ME" in 6 slides...and STILL most likely TMI!!

Have a GREAT day!!  (^_^)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Basmati Rice Pilaf with Caramelized Onions, Cherries and Pine Nuts

4 Tablespoons of butter
3 medium onions: 2 sliced (about 3 cups
1 teaspoon of Lebanese Kibbee Spice (see recipe below)

1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt; more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 orange, zest finely grated (about 2-1/2 tsp.) and juiced (about 6 Tbs.)
Splash of Armagnac (or cognac or brandy)
3/4 cup sweetened dried tart cherries

1-1/2 cups hot basmati rice, cooked to directions on package

1.  Start rice cooking then prepare rest of elements while rice is cooking.  I use a rice cooker – very handy for this part!

2.  Pour the orange juice and the splash of Armagnac over the cherries in a small microwave safe bowl or mug to hydrate them, the liquid should almost cover them completely.

3.  In a 12-inch heavy-based skillet (I use an electric skillet on med-high), melt 4 TBS. of the butter over medium heat.

4.  Add the sliced onions; reduce the heat to medium low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and nicely caramelized, 20 to 25 min.

5.  Add in the pine nuts and cook with onions until lightly browned, be careful not to burn.

6.  Once onions are caramelized, place into a bowl and sprinkle with kibbe spice and mix well.

8.    Add grated orange peel to onion mixture and mix well.

9.  Place cherries with liquid into microwave and microwave on HIGH 1 minute.

10.  Strain the cherries, discard the orange juice/Armagnac liquid and stir into onion mixture.

11. Once rice is done, fluff the rice by slipping the tines of a fork down into the rice alongside the edge of the pan. Gently lift and toss the rice toward the center of the pan. Continue this process as you work your way around the perimeter.

12.  . Using the fork, gently fold in the cherries, caramelized onions, pistachios, and orange zest. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Kibbe Spice Mixture

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall Classes Begin - 1 Year and Counting to M.Ed!!

So it begins...

I am on my lunch and just took a peek at my classes that start today:

Class 1:   INSDSG 601 Introduction to Instructional Design

Course Objectives:

•    State the reason for using an Instructional Design Model.
•    Identify and describe the purpose of each component of the Dick and Carey Model of Instructional Design.
•    Develop instructional (performance) objectives that include behavior, condition and criteria.
•    Develop an assessment strategy for an instructional event.
•    Develop assessment items that map to instructional objectives.
•    Develop an instructional strategy that maps to learner needs and performance objectives.
•    Plan a formative evaluation strategy to assess instructional materials

Class 2:  INSDSG 616 Production of Computer-Based Training 


Course Objectives:

This course is designed to introduce the Instructional Design graduate student to the components of CBT/WBT development.

Research based techniques will be examined during the development process. Students will be exposed to a large volume of resources and reading material in the area of e-learning development. Students will have an opportunity to explore the development process using some e-learning tools commonly used in the field today.

This is a course in developing e-learning. The course addresses the execution of common instructional strategies. The process of development, as well as the use of instructional graphics and human interface design will be studied. Achieving hands-on practice at e-learning development is a major component of this project based course.

Class 3:  INSDSG 640 Planning and Design of Educational Multimedia Programs

Course Objectives: 

•    Be able to demonstrate through the design and use of media elements, advantages of an e-learning approach over a traditional instructor-led model
•   Be able to identify resources that will enable the instructional designer to enhance learning in an instructional design project
•    Compose sound instructional design objectives
•    Demonstrate using a learning design document, which incorporates various types or learning activities and interactions, an effective way to solve an instructional design challenge

In looking over the syllabi and  assignments, it will be a LOT of reading and writing but that was to be expected - well, to be honest; maybe I didn't expect it to be 'as much' reading and writing, but shigata ga nai ne!!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Upside-down Fresh Fig Cake

We have two fig trees (a Misson Fig and a Turkish Fig) that I bought from Magnolia Nursey about 6 or 7 years ago and the last three years, we have had figs appear but not ever enough to make anything with and the figs were nothing to write home - or even blog - about.  Pathetic figs!!

I am not sure which tree is which but I think that the one on the left is the Turkish Fig Tree.

This year, the fig trees are all grown up and they are LOADED with figs - especially the Turkish fig tree. 

When my mother-in-law was here, we cute a few fresh figs and then drizzled them with balsamic syrup and added them to the mezze - she and John loved them!

Figs, however, are really perishable and you have to eat them right way or they get over ripe over night. 

Faced with about 14 figs today that I have to use, I think I will make a fig cake as opposed to a fig tart... 

For a lighter, more summery dessert I added lemon zest to the batter and a little cardamom to the topping. Next time, I'll enhance the citrus flavors by adding some lemon juice as well. 


Upside-down Fresh Fig Cake 

Makes 6 servings 


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 teaspoon cardamom

10 fresh figs, stems removed, cut in half


8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

I usually line the pan with a strip of nonstick foil and leave  some hanging out on each side to facilitate removal of the cake from the pan but you can use butter and parchment if you prefer:

Butter a 9-inch cake pan with 2-inch sides. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat or in the microwave, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Stir in the brown sugar and honey until smooth. Pour the sauce into the prepared cake pan. Arrange the figs, cut sides down, in concentric circles over the sauce. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the remaining 8 tablespoons butter with sugar and vanilla until lightened in color and texture, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating until well combined after each. Beating on low speed just until combined after each addition, add dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk in 2 parts.

Spoon the batter evenly over the figs.

Bake the cake until golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.

Transfer the cake to a rack and cool in the pan for 50 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen.

Place a serving platter on top of the pan and invert the cake. Gently lift off the pan and remove the non-stick foil or parchment paper.

Spoon over the cake any of the sauce that has run off, and serve warm.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Quimbolitos Equatorianos

After the great dinner we had last night, I was looking around to see what other great dishes Ecuador might have for me to try making. There are a few in English but most are in Spanish, naturally so I got my trusty Spanish dictionary and dug into some of the great recipes from Ecuador. I found a blog called, "Sabor de Familia" which means "Taste of Family" and they had a number of great recipes. I saw a recipe that I am going to attempt tomorrow called, "Quimbolitos Equatorianos" which is a tamale like steamed cake. Probably not a great description but it is a batter that is spooned into an Achira leaf (also known as Dasheen or Yautia) or in Japan as Taro.

Luckily with both Supremo Food Market, a Latin grocery and H-Mart(also know as Han Ah Rheum) a Korean grocery; we can get fresh frozen Achira/Dasheen/Yautia/Taro leaves easily enough.

I will let you know how they turn out - based on Edison's reaction - tomorrow night or so.

In translating a few Equadorian recipes, variations called for toasted corn flour, anise, cream cheese as well as Chihuahua and even Parmesan cheese.  A few also had a yeast option and after researching a few recipes, I chose the more common flour or corn flour and cornstarch based versions that used baking powder as a leavener.  So here is a recipe that I put together:

Quimbolitos Equatorianos


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

6 large egg yolks

6 large egg whites

pinch of salt

pinch of cream of tartar

2 tablespoons sugar

6 ounces Chihuahua, mozzarella, muenster cheese or parmesan cheese grated.

1/2 cup masa harina (or cornmeal)

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

Grated lemon zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon anise seeds crushed (optional)

2 tablespoons brandy or rum from soaking the raisins

Pinch of salt

One 1 pound bag of banana leaves cut into10 x 12 pieces


Let the butter soften at room temperature. In a mixing bowl combine the butter and sugar until it becomes light and fluffy cream, add  the yolks and beat until light and well mixed then add rum.

In another container place the flour, masa harina, cornstarch and  baking powder , gradually add to butter mixture.

Beat egg whites with pinch of salt until foamy, then add cream of tartar and beat to soft peaks.

Then add one tablespoon of sugar at a time and beat to glossy, stiff peaks.

Take 1/3 of egg whites and incorporate into butter mixture until lightened and then fold in remaining 2/3 egg whites until batter is well mixed and fluffy.  Take care to not over mix.

(How to fold the quimbolitos)


Place a banana leaf down with the grain running left to right

Spread 3 heaping tablespoons of mixture in center of leaf about 3.4 to 1 inch thick

Place 3 or 4 raisins on top of batter

Bring sides of leaf together over filling

Fold other ends under and place on a cookie tray until ready to steam.

Place quimbolitos in steamer, top loosely with leaf pieces and cook 30 - 40 minutes.

Stay Tuned!!!

Ecuadorian Dinner

We had dinner with our neighbors Edison & Alyse - and Edison (as I have mentioned already) is from Quito, Ecuador. He has made a number of dishes for us in the past and all have been really good.  Last night he made two more dishes that we haven't had:

Locro de Papas

Locro de papas is a classic Ecuadorian potato and cheese soup. Soups are very popular in Ecuador; they are one of the cheapest and best tasting dishes you can find. A typical Ecuadorian meal will consist of primero or the first course, seco or segundo or second course- usually meat, poultry or seafood with rice and dessert. Soups are usually served as a primero and most soups -as well as a lot of other dishes- are always served with avocado and aji or hot sauce.

Locro de papa is more common in the Andes highlands or Sierra region of Ecuador, and like many Ecuadorian dishes the ingredients and preparation will vary from one city to another, some variations of the locro de papa add fresh corn to the soup, others add chopped cabbage. I read also that some made locro de papas without cheese and used freshly ground peanuts instead, when people couldn’t afford to buy cheese they would use ground peanuts.

This locro de papa is a great soup for cold rainy or snowy weather; it can be served as a first course, but is satisfying and filling enough to make a complete meal. 

 Edison's Locro de Papa was a beautiful saffron-gold color (from the achiote) and he served his soup without the avocado because it wasn't ripe enough. He also didn't top it with feta cheese - which was fine with me. However, he did have the other traditional accompaniments like "chulpi" which are these really crunchy tiny corn nibs that you sprinkled on the soup and for Ed and I as well as himself, he added  pieces of the bagged pork rind snacks which turned from airy crispy into a soft soup soaked morsel. Yum!

(These are the toasted, crunchy 'chulpi' - yum!)

LOCRO de PAPA RECIPE (Locro de Papas Ecuatoriano)

10 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped into small and large pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp achiote powder
7 cups of water
1 cup of milk or more
1 cup grated or crumbled cheese (mozzarella or monterey jack)
1 bunch of cilantro, leaves only, minced
Salt to taste
1 cup of feta cheese (optional)
Chopped scallions
Avocados, sliced or diced
Aji or hot sauce (see bottom of post)

   1. Prepare a refrito or base for the soup by heating the canola oil over medium heat in a large soup pot; add the diced onions, minced garlic cloves, cumin, and achiote powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.

   2. Add the potatoes to the pot and mix until they are coated with the refrito. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring a every couple of minutes.

   3. Add the water and bring to boil, cook until the potatoes are very tender. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes in the pot, don’t mash all of them, the consistency of the soup should be creamy with small tender chunks of potatoes.

   4. Turn the heat down to low, stir in the milk and let cook for about 5 more minutes. You can add more milk if the soup is too thick.

   5. Add salt to taste

   6. Add the grated cheese and cilantro, mix well, and remove from the heat.

   7. Serve warm with the avocados, scallions, feta cheese and aji or hot sauce.

Seco de Pollo (Seco de Pollo Ecuatoriano or Ecuadorian chicken stew)

Alyse told us that the name "Seco de Pollo" is a bit odd because it translates to "Dried of Chicken" and 'seco' does mean "dry, dried, and parched" among other things in Spanish but Edison explained that 'seco' in this case was an exception and meant "segundo" or second because the dish was a main (or second) course and 'seco' had colloquially been used as long as he could remember to mean "second" dish.  There is also another famous dish called "Seco de Chivo" (goat stew served with a side of rice).

This chicken stew is another delicious recipe from Ecuador, and is also known as "seco de gallina criolla", if it is made with a young chicken it is called "seco de pollo" and if it is made with an older hen it is called "seco de gallina criolla". Traditionally it was a way to cook those older tougher hens and soften the meat but cooking it slowly in a sauce of onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and spices, the traditional preparation also uses "chicha" - a fermented corn drink – instead of beer, most people today prepare it with beer because it is much easier to find and tastes great. "Seco de pollo" is an easy recipe to make but it is time consuming mainly because the chicken has to cook for a long time, "Seco de pollo" is always served with arroz amarillo or yellow rice -just add some achiote to the rice preparation -and fried ripe plantains. Those are the two must have sides; Edison (and many others) also like to also serve it with avocado slices.



6 lbs of assorted chicken pieces

6 tbs canola oil

2 red onions, quartered

½ red onion, minced for refrito

10 whole garlic gloves plus 4 minced garlic cloves

2 tsp ground achiote or annatto

4 cups of beer

8 tomatoes, quartered

3 bell peppers, quartered

1 hot pepper (jalapeno or serrano)

1 bunch cilantro, reserve some to add at the end

1 bunch parsley, reserve some to add at the end

1 tsp oregano

2 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste


Arroz amarillo or yellow rice

Fried ripe plantains

Avocado slices


   1. Blend the beer, quartered onions, whole garlic cloves, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot pepper, cilantro, parsley, oregano and cumin to obtain a smooth puree.

   2. In a large saucepan or soup pot heat the oil over medium heat to prepare a refrito or sofrito, add the minced red onion, minced garlic and achiote, cook for 2 minutes.

   3. Add the chicken and brown lightly on each side, add the blended puree mix, and cook on low heat until the chicken is very tender and the sauce has thickened, about 2 ½ hours.

   4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

   5. Add the remaining cilantro and parsley.

   6. Serve with arroz amarillo or yellow rice and fried ripe plantains. Can also be served with avocado slices.

AJI - (Aji Criollo or Aji Ecuatoriano)

I know some people who assume that food from Latin American countries is the same in each country and while there are a lot of similarities, the cuisine and ingredients are not only very different in each country but also regionally in each country. The reason I mention this is because the food that Edison has made for us (and my foray into some peruvian cooking recently) has been SO not anything like what I have had from Mexico, Spain, Cuba or Puerto Rico.  They all have great, distinct cuisines that are just delicious!
 Aji is made from a very specific pepper, the ají pepper, also known as Peruvian hot pepper, or Capsicum baccatum, containing several different varieties of pepper.  The most common are simply differentiated by color, like "yellow Peruvian hot pepper" or "ají amarillo". These peppers have a distinctive, fruity flavor, and are commonly ground into colorful powders for use in cooking, each identified by its color. 

 Aji Criollo is a fresh hot sauce or salsa that is very popular and a lot of typical dishes are served with it, it is pretty easy to make and should be consumed ideally the same day but can last up to 3 days. You should look for the "aji amarillo" but you can use serrano peppers to make this aji, they are usually spicy enough to make it pretty hot, you can also use jalapeños but I find that they are inconsistent and one might be spicy and another is not spicy at all so use at your own risk or be sure to taste to your level of heat before you use them in making Aji.
4 aji amarillo or hot peppers
½ bunch of cilantro (stems and leaves)
½ cup of water
3 garlic cloves
Juice from ½ lime or lemon
3 tbs finely chopped white onion (scallions or the whites of leeks can also be used)
Combine the hot peppers, cilantro, water, garlic cloves and lime juice in the blender and blend well.
Add the chopped white onions and salt to taste.
 It was a wonderful meal with some wonderful friends and the sangria went well with this amazing dinner!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Summer Sangria

I am not a big drinker these days but I do love red Spanish sangria (and Ed's freshly muddled mojitos with fresh mint from the yard) and this is the best recipe that I have cobbled together over the years for sangria. 

Sangria (Spanish: sangría; Portuguese: sangria; Italian: sangria; meaning "bloody") is a wine punch typical of the Iberian Peninsula. It normally consists of:

    * red wine (usually Rioja or Tempranillo in Spain, and Carrascão (table wine) in Portugal)
    * chopped or sliced fruit (often orange, lemon, apple, peach, berries, pineapple; occasionally melon, grape, or mango)
    * a sweetener such as honey, sugar, orange juice, and/or fruit nectar
    * a small amount of added brandy, triple sec, or other spirits
    * and ice and carbonated soda, in some recipes

I am making a big batch for this afternoon to take to our neighbors Edison and Alyse.

Edison and Alyse, our neighbors invited us for a 'patio warming' since they just had a beautiful bi-level paver patio put in last week.  Edison is from Quito, Ecuador (see map) and he loves to cook (and he is REALLY great at it, I have to say) so I am looking forward to this afternoon

View Larger Map

Anyway, back to the sangria.

I like a lot of fruit in my sangria and I also like to make it the day ahead so it can all macerate together - the fruit juices, liquors and it does make a difference.

You can use any good, ripe fruit.  I usually use strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and grapes.

I also always add citrus in the form of lemons, limes, and oranges.

(Recipe for one or two at bottom of post)


·    5 bottles of an inexpensive dry red wine (750ml bottles)


·    2 cups sugar
·    2 cups brandy (E&J VSOP is fine)
·    2 cups Grand Marnier
·    2 small lemons, sliced crosswise
·    2 small oranges, sliced crosswise
·    2 small lime, sliced crosswise
·    4 medium pears, diced
·    6 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
·    4 apples, cored and sliced thinly
·    2 cups of red grapes, sliced in half
·    4 cups of sliced strawberries
·    1 whole fresh pineapple, cut into chunks

·    2 bottles carbonated lemon-lime soda


In a large glass or stainless container, place sugar on bottom and then add all cut fruit and mix well.

Let this mixture sit for about an hour.

You can then add the wine and let is sit overnight in the refrigerator or a cool place.

To serve

Add ice to glasses and fill 3/4 with sangria mixture and some pieces of fruit.

Top with carbonated lemon-lime soda or seltzer, stir and enjoy!


If you can get a great Spanish (perfect for sangira wine) like Tapena's Tempranillo, then by all means do it.

It was $9.00 a bottle at our local Wine Warehouse in Voorhees, NJ.

Spanish vineyards have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, as a new generation of winegrowers nurture grapes with lush, fruit-forward characteristics. Regions like Penedés, Priorat and Tierra de Castilla are at the forefront of this delicious evolution, offering quality wines for an exceptional value.

Long known for earth-driven Riojas and classic Spanish Sherry, the new style of wine from Spain is especially exciting, as the country’s warm and sunny Mediterranean climate and mountainous landscape cries out for the cultivation of wine grapes. As a result, Spain has more land devoted to vineyards than any other country and ranks among the top three wine producers in the world.

Tapeña offers a fresh, fruit forward style of Spanish wine. It is made by the Ferrer family whose Spanish wine experience dates back several centuries. Today, the Ferrers operate over 11 wineries in Spain with sales all over the globe. Perhaps best known as the owners of Freixenet, the world's favorite sparkling wine, the family is uniquely positioned to introduce these distinctive Spanish wines with broad appeal.

The BEST sangria wine, in my opinion. is the Tapeña Tempranillo

The quintessential red wine grape from Spain, Tempranillo (temp-rah-NEE-yo), the little early one, adapts well to varied growing conditions. Tapeña Tempranillo is a rich, bold blend of fruit, earth and structure, rounded out by a deliciously soft mouthfeel. Think of this Tempranillo as Pinot Noir in blue jeans.

This delicious wine captures the sometimes elusive character of Tempranillo - luscious red cherry fruit wrapped around an earthy, intense center. The finish is long and layered with a hint of coffee and chocolate and a pinch of spice. This distinctive wine from the heartland of Spain is unlike any of the top three red varietals so utterly available from all over the world.

Appellation: Tierra de Castilla, Spain
Composition: 100% Tempranillo
Acidity: 5g/L
pH: 3.54
Alcohol: 13.6%
Vintage: 2005


(For those times when you don't need a couple gallons of sangria):



·    1 bottle of an inexpensive dry red wine (3 1/4 cups which is a 750ml bottle)
·    1/3 cup (3  oz) sugar
·    1/3 cup brandy (E&J VSOP is fine)
·    1/3 cup Grand Marnier
·    1 small lemon, sliced crosswise
·    1 small orange, sliced crosswise
·    1 small lime, sliced crosswise
·    1 medium pear, diced
·    2 medium peach, peeled, pitted and sliced
·    1 apple, cored and sliced thinly
·    1 cup (8 oz) of red grapes, sliced in half
·    2 cups (8 oz) sliced strawberries

·    1 bottle carbonated lemon-lime soda


place sugar on bottom and then add all cut fruit and mix well.

Let this mixture sit for about an hour.

You can then add the wine and let is sit overnight in the refrigerator or a cool place.

To serve

Add ice to glasses and fill 3/4 with sangria mixture and some pieces of fruit.

Top with carbonated lemon-lime soda or seltzer, stir and enjoy!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

BEST EVER Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

I am not a big dessert 'eater', but I do enjoy making them.  My Grandma Chadd used to make a great banana bread and this cake reminds me of that bread - and I promise that if you follow the directions EXACTLY (meaning the freezer part), you will always get rave reviews for this cake.

The oven temp of 275° F may sound a little low, but this cake bakes up beautifully.
If you don't have buttermilk, just add 1-3/4 tablespoons of cream of tartar to a cup of milk, or add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of milk and let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes. 
In many baking recipes, you can also just use plain yogurt or sour cream instead of buttermilk. 
The baking time may vary based on individual ovens, so after an hour just use a clean knife or toothpick and stick it into the center of the cake - if it comes out clean it is done.
It can take some ovens 1.5 hours so start checking after 1 hour the first time you make it, to get your timing right.
1¼ hours (approx.) | 15 min prep

Preheat oven to 275° (130 C)

1 9x13 pan

    * 1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed, ripe
    * 2 teaspoons lemon juice
    * 3 cups flour
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
    * 1/4 teaspoon salt
    * 3/4 cup butter, softened
    * 2 1/8 cups sugar
    * 3 large eggs
    * 2 teaspoons vanilla
    * 1 1/2 cups buttermilk


    * 1 cup butter, softened
    * 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
    * 2 teaspoon vanilla
    * 7 cups icing sugar (or confectioner's sugar


* chopped walnuts


  1. Preheat oven to 275°.
  2. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.
  3. In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy.
  6. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in 2 tsp vanilla.
  7. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.
  8. Stir in banana mixture.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  10. Remove from oven and place hot pan directly into the freezer for 45 minutes. This will make the cake very moist, trust me!
  11. For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth.
  12. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla.
  13. Add icing sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth.
  14. Spread on cooled cake.
  15. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over top of the frosting, if desired.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


If you have no idea what Facebook is, well it is a social networking website that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. Users can add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves.

Additionally, users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school, and region. The website's name stems from the colloquial name of books given at the start of the academic year by university administrations with the intention of helping students get to know each other better.

A January 2009 study has ranked Facebook as the most used social network by worldwide monthly active users, followed by MySpace.

I really had initially ZERO interest in Facebook or MySpace because is does seem to be a waste of time and not particularly "fun" or "interesting" but I joined because my niece Dena had sent out invites to everyone and I thought it might be a good way to stay in touch with family members.

So I signed up and suddenly I was bombarded with invites from people that I hadn't heard of in years!
 (As a newbie I was ignorant about all the different privacy settings available to me at that time, but I quickly learned!!)

The first few weeks I went back and forth between "This is cool!" to "This is so annoying and intrusive!" Of course, it usually depended upon 'who' had discovered me on Facebook and sent me a friend request...

But now, I think Facebook is interesting, fun, a sounding board, time-waster and a also ultimately a good way to stay in touch with family and friends.

I have learned how to adjust my settings so people can't see my Facebook page and profile unless I want them to and once you learn to manage Facebook and to tweak it to your own preferences; then it can be as inclusive or as exclusive as you want it to be - and it is no longer intrusive as it was before I learned to control it.

I do take a few quizzes, toss a few pillows and post a couple of pics now and then but it isn't something that I spend a lot of time on - some of the Facebook pages are amazing exercises in über-narcissism but then, so is a blog...

So now the question is: