Life Lesson #3: It’s a Small World After All

What do you get when you combine six degrees of separation with the song, “It’s a small world after all?” Well, fine readers, you get:

Life Lesson #3: It (really is) a small world after all!

Disney World – one of the most magical places on earth!

A place where kids beg their parents to go on vacation, where newlyweds spend their honeymoon, and where generations of families gather together to take in the magic found here.

There’s so much to see and explore between the various parks that it’s often hard to decide what to do first! Should I go to the Animal Kingdom and go on a safari ride?

Or, should I start with Epcot where I can travel to Italy, France, AND Morocco without ever leaving the park?

Maybe it’s better if I just start in Magic Kingdom, see a parade and some of my favorite Disney characters, ride some timeless Disney rides, and go from there?

Growing up, I was lucky enough to travel to Disney World twice- once with my family and once with my high school band. Both times were wonderful and I can safely say that I was never able to see or do everything that I wanted while I was there. I saw many parades, watched fireworks shows, took pictures with my favorite Disney characters, and rode many rides. Thinking about the rides, the ones that stick out the most to me are: Splash Mountain (awesome, but wet-clearly), Space Mountain (super fun), the Buzz Lightyear ride/game (I rocked that game), and the It’s a Small World After All ride.

If you’ve been to Disney World/Land (or even if you haven’t), you’re probably familiar with “It’s a small world after all.” If you’re not, here’s what you would experience if you were on this ride:

As a kid, I didn’t really understand or appreciate the meaning of the song or the excitement of the ride. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing all the different cultures and countries represented in the display…although, the song did get a little annoying after awhile. Nevertheless, I didn’t really see how everything was connected or realize how small of a world we actually live in.

 Now that I’m older and yes, even somewhat wiser, I’ve come to better understand how the song and ride is applicable in the real world.

Most of you may be familiar with the theory of six degrees of separation. It’s a theory that asserts that everyone in the world (yes, all 7.2 billion people) are connected to everyone else by six links or people.

Wow.

It’s such a crazy idea when you take a moment to think about it.

When I think of this theory, it’s hard not to imagine I’m back on that ride in Disney World. Is it possible that a girl from a  small town in Ohio can be connected to a random stranger half way across the country? It seems crazy and doubtful.

I’m not saying that I buy into this theory completely, but I can appreciate it in the context of realizing that it really is a small world after all. When you move to a new place, start a job in a city where you know no one, and are feeling completely alone – remember this.

Remember that we are all connected in some way, shape, or form. Maybe not by six people. Maybe it’s a connection through an activity that you participated in when you were in high school. Maybe it’s through a university you attended for undergrad. Or, maybe it really is by a person. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Finding those connections may not even be intentional. You may have to work to make those connections and to put the puzzle pieces together, but I have a feeling that if you look for it, you can find the link.

Here’s why: When my family was in Egypt when I was a baby, we were in the Cairo airport waiting for our flight. From across the airport, someone began frantically waving to my family. From what my parents tell me, they had no idea who this woman was or why she was trying to get their attention. As she approached them, she addressed them by their first names. My parents didn’t recognize her. At all. Literally. It was 2:00 am in an airport half-way across the country from our real home and here’s this woman who knows us. Apparently, she was the sister of the priest of our church in Ohio and had recognized us from a single mass when I was baptized. Connection number one.

In July, Joni and I (and Sarah, too, but she wasn’t there for this part) attended a bachelorette party in Cleveland. As Joni and I were riding in a taxi that evening, we began talking to our driver. We were talking about various topics, when it somehow came up that we had attended the same university for graduate school (not at the same time). It was so random to be riding in this taxi in Cleveland and accidentally find out that we had the same alma mater. Connection number two.

During my first year of grad school, my mom came to visit me. Naturally, this trip involved shopping because what mother-daughter trip doesn’t?! When she was there, we went to Sam’s Club. Shortly after we entered the store, we saw a man who was clearly a Coptic Orthodox priest. So, not to be too creepy or anything…my mom and I followed him and his family to the checkout lane…to talk to them. As we introduced ourselves to the family, we realized that he knew my uncle (who is a priest) who still lives in Egypt. Seriously? In a country with over 80 million people, how could be possibly know my uncle? What are the chances that when my mom and I serendipitously (is that a word?) ran into this family that we would be connected?

It’s a small world.

So, why am I telling you this? I think it’s as much for you as it is for me. I think it can help you realize that no matter how far you go from home that you’re not alone. You’re not disconnected. The connections are there, you just might have to look for them. You might think you know no one. You might think that there’s no one around who can possibly understand the uniqueness of where you came from. But, in some way, the connection is there. It may be unexpected and not in the way that you had anticipated, but I have confidence that you’ll figure it out.

Now, go forth and enjoy the ride! Find those connections.

Who knows, maybe you’ll discover how you’re connected to your favorite actor, musician, or politician!

Like Downton Abbey? Pick Up Lauren Willig’s “The Ashford Affair”

I don’t think I need to explain to anyone how much I like to read. I do. A lot. So much in fact that recently I’ve been wondering why I haven’t absconded to the publishing capital of New York City and started a life of reading bliss. But, that’s a discussion for another time…

One of my favorite author’s is Lauren Willig. Her Pink Carnation series is excellent and definitely gave me much reason to procrastinate throughout college and graduate school. Okay, let’s face it — it still gives me reason to procrastinate. With 9 Pink books currently in publication, a 1oth due out in August 2013, and an 11th in progress, Willig has provided readers with a fun and easy to read adventure through history as main character Eloise Kelly researches her doctoral dissertation in England and discovers that her interest in the flower-named spies of the Napoleonic Wars is more involved than she could ever imagine. Intrigue, mystery, a little bit of danger, humor, and some romance never fail.

Now, however, Willig has embarked on a new adventure: a fantastic stand-alone saga called The Ashford Affair.

Source: laurenwillig.com

Source: laurenwillig.com

In 1906, 5 year old Addie is taken in by her wealthy Uncle and Aunt, Lord and Lady Ashford, and goes to live with them and her four cousins at their estate Ashford Park. Seen as a poor, heathen relation and an imposition by her Aunt Vera, Addie spends her childhood and adolescence trying to make up for what her Aunt sees as her bohemian origins — even though her father was the younger brother of Lord Ashford.

Despite her Aunt’s criticisms, Addie quickly befriends and forges a sisterly bond with her cousin Bea. Different in both outward appearance and personality, Addie and Bea do everything together and travel through their childhoods and adolescences as each others’ closest companions. As adulthood beckons, Bea is fêted as the Debutante of the Decade and quickly marries the Marquess of Rivesdale, securing her mother’s expectation of a successful marriage and her own childhood dream of becoming a Marchioness. As always, Addie is by Bea’s side through it all. However, the aftermath of the First World War and personal choices create fissures in their relationship, and when one cousin makes a decision that transports her from the grandeur of London to the red dust filled fields of Kenya, the cousins find their bond tested to its very core…

Nearly 70 years later in 1999, 34 year old Clementine Evans is on the cusp of achieving her dream of making partner at her Manhattan law firm, even if doing so has come at great cost to her personal life. When she attends her beloved Granny Addie’s 99th birthday party in New York City, Clemmie has no idea that her life is about to be turned on its head. Despite her close relationship with her grandmother, Clemmie doesn’t know much about Granny Addie’s history. So when in her weakened state Addie reveals a snippet of information that leaves Clemmie confused and her mother, Marjorie, and Aunt Anna suspiciously silent, Clemmie becomes curious.

Clemmie’s confusion and curiosity lead her to uncover a deeply held family secret that threatens everything she knows to be true and holds the key to her family’s often complicated dynamics. From the rooms of Ashford Park and the 1920s nightclubs of London to the coffee fields of Kenya and the streets of 1999 Manhattan, the events of The Ashford Affair questions the strength of sisterly bonds, explores the true meaning of family, and reveals the complexities of life and love in times of drastic change and war.

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I really enjoyed this book and it was definitely a nice departure to read a totally different kind of book from Lauren Willig. I am a great fan of historical fiction, particularly the kinds of historical fiction that juxtaposes a modern frame story with a historically placed story. In The Ashford Affair, Willig weaves an intricate mystery of the character of Addie and does an excellent job of placing her characters within the complex period of the early twentieth century. I had a great time uncovering the true story of Addie and Bea and watching Clemmie discover just what the truth was. Willig deftly stretches the mystery out until the final chapters, revealing bit by bit as she goes but never giving away too much too soon.

 

 

Blogger Interviews: Abbie and Emilie

I’ve been really excited about writing this post for a while, because it doesn’t involve much writing on my part, and I get to feature two other blogger-friends of mine who have been on the other side of the world since this summer. When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I attended one of the Study Abroad fairs and grabbed several brochures and magazines for studying, volunteering, and sight-seeing in other countries through my university. Most of the information I picked up was for Egypt, South Africa, or Western Europe, since those are places I’ve always wanted to explore. Although I don’t think I would be able to do a whole semester in a different country (I’m too afraid of missing things), I wouldn’t have minded a two-week experience.

Abbie in Malawi, and Emilie in Istanbul

Abbie in Malawi and Emilie in Istanbul

I met Abbie, who worked as a Resident Assistant while she was in college, through my sister and her friends. She is currently in Malawi (in southeast Africa), teaching at a secondary school, and posts on her blog, Traveling and Teaching: Living and Learning. I got to know Emilie through all of our related activities and mutual friends while we were at YSU together, and got to work with her during my graduate internship. She is studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey (at the same school where Sarah spent last year’s fall semester!) and blogs at overandout while preparing to apply to graduate schools. I asked them a few questions about their experiences in their respective locations…

Abbie's Form 2 Students

Abbie’s Form 2 Students

1. What made you want to travel to this location?

Abbie: I wanted to come to Malawi because I already had such a strong connection to this community as I had previously traveled here in 2010. I’m back in the same part of Malawi and working with the same NGO (non-government organization) as before. This time instead of two weeks, I’m here for a year.

Emilie: I chose Turkey for a number of reasons. For one, Turkey is one of those mysterious countries that it seems no one really knows anything about, and this obviously attracted me. I wanted to meet the people, eat the food, find out for myself if those silly stereotypes that people believe about the middle east are true. A second reason is because Istanbul is quite literally the center of it all. Half of the city lies in Europe while the other half is in Asia. It’s a mix of people from all over the world, 15ish million of them, all living in this crazy, historic, fascinating city. This also makes it easy/quick to travel almost anywhere in the world, with the exception of North/South America, of course.

View from the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia

View from the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia

2. What has been one of your favorite experiences?

Emilie: One of my my favorite experiences so far has been having a HUGE traditional Turkish breakfast with a wonderful, sweet family I met here through some people at home. We had never met before I came to Turkey, but they welcomed Ed (the other YSU student here with me) and I into their home, showed us all over the European side of the city, and have been so generous and kind to us. A few weeks after we arrived, they invited Ed and I over to spend the day and eat with them. It was the most incredible breakfast I’ve ever had, quite possibly the best meal I’ve ever had. Not only because of the food, but the company also made it unforgettable. I only wish I would have taken my camera… rookie mistake, haha.

Abbie: One of my favorite experiences actually happened the first weekend I was here. One of the girls, Alice, who hangs around the lodge/NGO where I stay frequently asked to take me on a tour of the village. As we were walking she asked what my surname was and I told her. She started to smile and talk in Chitumbuka to the other girl walking with us. I asked her to explain and she told me that my surname is the name of her sponsors. What that meant was that my parents sponsor her education. On top of that, I am her math teacher at her secondary school! Alice took me to see her house that is made of mud and sticks and has a thatch roof. Her family welcomed me and offered me a seat on their front porch. Alice told her brother that my parents sponsor her education. Her brother began to tell me in broken English how grateful they were for the sponsorship because by bettering Alice’s life with an education, it’s also bettering her family’s life, as well as the village. Education here is the only way out and a lot of the times it’s not possible because of money.

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia

3. Have you had any trouble adjusting to anything?

Abbie: Everywhere I go I stick out like a sore thumb. When I go to the market, when I walk through the village, when I do my laundry in my back yard I am entertainment for most people. As I walk down the road, kids from everywhere will yell “Mzungu!” meaning, “white person.” I’m unable to be anonymous here and that has probably been the most difficult thing to adjust to.

Emilie: Ah, well, living in Istanbul has required quite a bit of adjusting. Not only is the culture overwhelmingly different, moving from small-town Ohio to one of the most overcrowded cities in the world was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. The traffic, the pollution, the (not always reliable) public transportation, lack of greenery, it was all pretty frightening at first. Now, I appreciate all of the differences for what they are, I’ve stopped expecting Istanbul to be just like Ohio, and it’s finally starting to feel like home. I guess if I wanted everything to stay the same, I wouldn’t have come. But I definitely know now that I can’t live without nature, it’s just so depressing!

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

Check out Sarah’s post about her impromptu cave camping trip in Cappadocia!

4. What is one thing you wish you could bring home with you?

Emilie: The one thing I wish I could bring home is the incredibly cheap produce. Seriously, the fruits and veggies and fresh bread are sooooo cheap here, and the quality is so good (assuming you know what you’re looking for). There are bazaars all over the city every day of the week full of vendors selling fish, produce, cheese, just about anything you could ever need. The bazaars and the produce are something I’m really going to miss.

Abbie: One thing I wish I could bring home with me is the kitten I recently got for my house! She is ADORABLE! Her name is Kim Jong Kitten and she eats all the nasty critters that lurk in the corners of my house. (she was named by a PCV friend). Also, I want to bring home ALL THE BABIES!!!!! They are soooo cuuuuute!

 

I wish I could share all the gorgeous pictures these girls have taken. I’m so jealous of each of their journeys and I hope they both continue enjoying themselves. I can’t wait to read more about them! Thank you, Emilie and Abbie! 🙂

Summer’s (Almost) Over, Time to Plan Your Next Beach Vacation

I love summer. I love the warm weather, the thunderstorms, swimming in the pool, bonfires, picnics, and generally being outside. But most of all, I love going on vacation.

Now, you can go on vacation any time, but summer is vacation season and I look forward to traveling every year, even if it isn’t to a new place. I drive my family crazy because as soon as one vacation is over I start thinking about and planning the next — even if the only planning I’m doing is inside my head. Haha.

The bottom line is that I am a planner, and I feel that in order to have an awesome, relaxing, and fun vacation you have to be organized and plan ahead. An added bonus is that when you plan ahead, you often are able to get some great deals and save money.

I love all kinds of vacations. I love to go to big cities where you can walk around, see the sights, visit museums, and shop. As a history person, I like to go to places that have historical value too. I also have a childish love for Disney World.

But, for me, two of the best kinds of vacations are 1. going to the beach and 2. going on a cruise.

Because there’s so much information on both kinds of vacation, I’m breaking this up into 2 posts — this one about the beach and the second about cruising.

So, here’s my advice on planning and booking the best beach vacations. Hopefully, I’ll help you save a little money too.

Hitting the Beach

The beach is one of my favorite places on Earth to be. I love the sand, the ocean, the sound of the waves. There is something so relaxing about sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella, closing your eyes, and just soaking it all in.

The beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Picture from hiltonheadvacation.com)

Ohio doesn’t have a beach, unless you count the shores of Lake Erie. And, although a lot of my fellow Ohioans spend time on Lake Erie’s shore during the summer months, to me, there is nothing like the ocean. This makes the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean the closest beach to visit.

My favorite beach to go to on the East Coast is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Located at the southern-most part of South Carolina, Hilton Head is a boot shaped island that boasts 12 miles of clean and beautiful beaches and an overall subdued atmosphere that is the opposite of commercial and bustling beach destinations like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Other great East Coast beaches are Wilmington/Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Outer Banks, North Carolina. There are, of course, countless more. Do a simple Google Search and discover other beaches to travel to. And, don’t forget the wonderful West Coast and Gulf Coast beaches too!

Whether you’ve been to the beach a million times or have never gone before, here are a few things to consider before you start to plan:

Some Things To Consider

  • What’s your budget?
  • Who are you traveling with? How many people are going to be in your party?
  • When are you going to go? How many days vacation are you aiming for?
  • How far do you want to travel?
  • Are you going to fly or drive?
  • What kind of accommodations do you want? Hotel? Condo? Rental house? On the beach? Off the beach?
  • Do you want your vacation to be jam-packed with fun non-stop or do you want a primarily relaxing vacation where you make your own fun?
  • Do you need a lot of attractions and shopping close to where you are vacationing?

Budget, Driving vs. Flying, and Picking a Destination

A beach vacation can often be less expensive than many other types of vacations, depending on where you travel, where you stay, and how you spend your time while on vacation. However, beach vacations can quickly become very pricey.

What’s great about the beach is that the most money you will spend is on the journey from your home to the beach, on your accommodations, and on food/drinks.

Driving is one great way to save money, especially with the price of airfare today. Now of course, this only works if you are within driving distance to the beach you want to visit. For example, from where I live it takes at least 7-8 hours to reach the Atlantic. But to get to a “good beach” I need to drive at least 10 hours. It takes 14 hours to get to Hilton Head and I’ll admit that while it is a long drive, it is worth it in the end. So, you need to determine how long you’re willing to sit in a car, and whether such a distance is worth it if you’re only heading to the beach for a couple days.

Also, remember that flying to the beach isn’t always easy. It’s a pain to take beach chairs and umbrellas on a plane. Some destinations allow you to rent them and some condos/beach houses have them available for guests. But not all do, and renting/buying them can be pricey and inconvenient.

One of the most important things to decide is which beach you’re going to go to. Consider whether you want a busier, more crowded and lively beach destination or one that is quiet and relaxed. Also think about what else there is to do at that destination. Do you want someplace with a lot of nightlife, clubs, bars, major shopping, and other attractions? Or are you okay with a place that is more low-key, essentially a beach destination located in a small town with some shopping (both major and locally-owned), restaurants, and very few other attractions.

When to Go, How Long to Stay, Hotel vs. Rental, How Many People Traveling

One great thing about a beach vacation is that in order to travel to one, you often travel south which gives you a longer traveling season. Know that beach vacations will always be the most expensive in the summer because it’s the peak beach season. This doesn’t mean you still can’t get a good deal, but it does mean that if you’re looking to travel on the cheap you should consider going to the beach shortly before or shortly after the peak beach/summer season. (Also, pay attention to the weather as those later summer months run into peak hurricane season.)

Another thing you have to decide is how long you want to stay at the beach. When going to the beach, I have almost always stayed for a full week (Saturday – Saturday). Going for 7 nights might seem like a long time to some, but it can also be great for your wallet. Most beach destinations have plenty of hotels or inns to stay in. But they can be extremely pricey at $150-$300 or more per night. Instead, consider renting a condo or (if you have a lot of people) a house at the beach. Whereas you might spend upwards of $1200 to $1500 for 5 nights in hotel (double occupancy), renting a condo for 7 nights is a great bang for your buck.

Depending on how large a condo you want, 7 nights can cost you as little as $600-$1000. When you factor in that most beach condos have multiple bedrooms, direct beach access, a kitchen, living room, and various other amenities I’m a firm believer that a condo is the way to go.

Plus, the beach is equally as fun in large groups as it is for couples and small groups. Condos and beach houses can sleep a lot of people, so one great way to defray costs on rentals is to divide the expense amongst a bunch of family or friends!

Best Way To Start (and Finish) Your Beach Rental Search

Check out Vacation Rentals By Owner to browse vacation condos and houses all over the world (and not just at the beach). I’ve had great luck in finding vacation accommodations off the VRBO website. Even if you don’t want to use the VRBO site to book your vacation rental or contact an owner, it’s still a great place to see what each destination has to offer.

My VRBO advice (and advice for any vacation rental):

1. The more photos a listing has, the better!

2. No price is set in stone. If an owner is desperate to rent, they will negotiate.

3. If the description is vague, ask for more detail. If you want to walk out the door and have your feet in the sand in less than a minute, make sure the rental is truly on the beach. Ocean Front generally means that the rental has immediate beach access. Ocean View generally means the rental is at least yards away from the beach and may not be “on the beach” at all.

4. Are there any hidden fees? Is cleaning included? What about taxes?

5. Remember that most vacation rentals do not provide the same amenities that hotels do. You may have to bring your own towels and/or sheets. You most certainly will have to bring paper towels, toilet paper, soaps, etc. Pots and pans, silver wear, dishes, etc. are almost certainly provided. Ask what is included to be safe.

6. It’s never too early to start looking at vacation rentals. The good ones always sell out fast and one rental can sell out for the entire summer long before the season begins. Often owners will run specials and/or give discounts for early bookings.

7. Look for last minute specials too, sometimes owners who have one or two weeks remaining or a cancellation will slash prices to rent the unit.

Well, I hope I’ve given you some great advice about planning your next beach vacation. Remember, planning is a great way to ensure a fun and relaxing vacation, where you can then throw the need to plan out the window and just enjoy life.

 

Kumpir: A Twist on the Baked Potato

After much hemming and hawing over having a whole lot of nothing to say, I have decided that maybe my “nothing” is enough to say.  This “nothing” is a recipe.

This afternoon I could not find a good recipe for kumpirs, something that quite honestly I do not need a recipe for.  I watched those tasty loaded baked potatos get made a handful of times in Turkey, enough for me to know how to make one.  for potatoes and cheese to make myself a cheap, filling dinner.  What I wanted was for Google to reassure me that my memory of the kumpir served me correctly, but instead I got a handful of boutique kumpir recipes very unlike the buttery, cheesy fast food version I had in Istanbul.

I know perfectly well how to prepare a kumpir, so since Google is lacking in solid kumpir recipes, I thought I would share.  For about $10, you too can make an “exotic, foreign” dish.  You can pat yourself on the back for being all swanky and multicultural.  All it takes is a microwaved baked potato and, truthfully, whatever leftovers you feel like wrangling out of the fridge.  The toppings I list are the standard kumpir toppings, but the kumpir is more of an art form of throwing everything you can find on a baked potato than of following a specific recipe.  Given the dismal economy and rising food prices, I think a lot of people could get on board with my quest to lower my grocery bill without feeling like all I eat are ramen noodles.  So I present the kumpir, a gloriously fatty, delicious, cheap meal.

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I neither made nor ate this particular kumpir, but it looks legit.  I found it on Google, which does in fact have many good things even if the specific kumpir recipe I want is not one of those things.

What you will need

Really large potatoes

Shredded mozzarella or feta cheese

Corn

Hot dogs (about 1 hot dog for every 1 large potato)

Macaroni salad

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Optional, suggested additions

Pickles

Peas

Olives

Butter

Ketchup & mayonnaise

Anything you need to eat right away before it goes bad

How to make your kumpir

1. Microwave cook the baked potatoes.

2. Heat up the corn and hot dogs.  Cut the hot dogs into little pieces.

3. When the potatoes are cooked, split them open.  Leave enough of the potato skin uncut that the potato still stands upright like an oval rather than flat on the plate like a disc. 

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This is an example of how NOT to slice your potato.  I overcut mine and it turned into a flat, listless baked potato.  My sense of spatial reasoning is not so great…

4. Scrape the potato off the skin and mash it inside the skin.  Keep the skin upright here still. 

5. Add the cheese in and mash it with the potato.  Don’t be shy about adding cheese because in this case, the more cheese the better your kumpir will taste and look.  (If you are using butter, also add it now.)

6. Add the pickles, olives, macaroni salad, etc.

7. Add the corn and hot dog slices.

8. Top with ketchup & mayonnaise.

9. Enjoy.

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This is how the finished DIY kumpir should look.  I wish I could credit myself with producing this baked potato, but my boyfriend made this one.

The budget friendly breakdown

$2 Two giant potatoes

$2.17 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese, only about 3 oz of which were used

$2.28 Macaroni salad

$1 Package of eight hot dogs, two of which were used

$1.50 Jar of pickles, half of which were eaten

$.70 Corn

Total cost: Under $10

The best part?  We will each get two meals out of those two giant potatoes, so this $10 recipe serves four people.  You even have ingredients left over.