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presumably you've googled or oogled some obscurity south of 30ish degrees north. in that case, read on. or check out some delectable creations. and please drop a line with your own musings - otherwise i'll be that weird girl who talks to herself. peace love trees.

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Carrot Ginger Soup

Being a gringa in the Andes trying to cook on a budget is a great challenge – I suggest everyone try it at some point in their life. Almuerzo (lunch) is the focal point of each day here. It is the third meal in five generally accepted meal opportunities and most definitely the largest meal. Often a soup precedes the segundo which consists of potatoes, meat, and some type of small salad. More or less, things generally consist of starch, starch, starch, and protein. There’s way more going on obviously, but always fun to get potatoes, rice, onion, and corn in the same meal. If you had over 300 varieties of corn, and more than 200 of potato you’d do the same.

Finding myself in the land of soups, potatoes, la Pachamama, and general veneration for all things edible, I decided it would be good (and cost effective) to introduce some asian flavors to the week’s lunch spread. And to be honest, I’m mostly intimidated by the prospect of recreating most of the amazing dishes I eat here. Such times require creative measures. This soup is a breeze if you are in a modern kitchen with lots of utensils. It’s a little less breezy when you are in a more abbreviated cooking space, but still possible. The flavors are all represented in this recipe – feel free to change any parts of the process al gusto. Regardless of your location, nothing like being in a totally different hemisphere to come in touch with a little food prep ingenuity.

PARTS
1/4 C. vegetable oil

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

5 large potatoes, peeled & cubed

1 C. ginger root, peeled & chopped

1 hot pepper, chopped (jalapeno, locoto, habanero, or thai peppers all work)

1 T salt

2 T dried basil (or 1 C. fresh basil if you can find it)

8 carrots, peeled & sliced

about 2 cups potable water

1 cup coconut milk (not lite!)

juice of 1 lime

peanuts or peanut butter (or both!)

PROCESS
In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for about 7 minutes longer, stirring often. Add the ginger, peppers, salt, and basil and continue to saute for another 4 minutes or until everything is cooked through. Add the carrots and enough water to just cover the veggies. Boil for 15 minutes (or enough to kill the amoebas in your water/veggies) and then let sit for 15 minutes more. Add the coconut milk and lime juice. At this point you can put it into a blender to incorporate the flavors. If that’s not a possibility, simply simmer the soup for 10 minutes more.

Serve with a dollop of peanut butter or chopped peanuts. This will really taste great with a side of rice and some grilled chicken (albeit, killing the vegan aspect of the meal) and add a little more weight to things. And if you are truly Bolivian, a glass of fresh fruit juice.

Onto Bolivia…with a few road bumps along the way down

It seems my overconfidence as a traveller has already got the best of me. As I sat watching the Bronco’s game, I frantically realized I had forgotten a solid half of the essential documents I needed to present to Customs in La Paz. And thus I have become the only backpacker to take refuge in the elite Admirals Club at the Miami Airport. Humbled by my complete failure to be prepared, I at least can enjoy free beverages, cookies, and internet for the next 6 hours while I await my flight. Not usually my style (or my budget), but I’m thankful that I could at least find a computer and a printer. We’ll see how my frantically printed documents are received by the customs crew tomorrow…
 
Tomorrow morning I land in La Paz (at a comfortable 11,975 feet) and then catch a flight to Cochabamba where I will meet my cousin Natalie and her husband Scott. I will be in the country for 4 weeks and am really excited to be able to share a part of the life they’ve been living for the last 5 months. It will be a great time to meet all of the amazing folks they work with and observe some of the dynamics that exist amongst the people, languages, and cultures that abound in the Andes. I hope to see some areas outside of the city and am wanting to explore possibilities of seeing the Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat) in the south and Lake Titicaca, the largest body of water at such a high elevation anywhere in the world.
 
But for now I’m simply focused on getting through the airport gauntlet tomorrow and hopefully arriving safely in Cochabamba. A few more updates to come, so if you’re interested in travelling here or simply knowing more about some of the dynamics at play in Cochabamba, follow along.
 
Paz.

Sweet Potato Breakfast Bread (w/nutz!)

There is no better way to enjoy a beautiful April day than walking through an open-air market. And no better way to make a pauper girl’s week than to happen by the vegetable stand at closing time only to hear the man yell “Ladies and Gentleman, the going home sale! Everything is now a dollar! A dollar a pound, a dollar a piece, everything a dollar – I wanna go home!” Logically I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and pounced on all sorts of odds and ends left on the table, including a basket full of the sweet potatoes that inspired tonight’s adventures in the kitchen.

Sweet breads always taste so good with morning coffee (definitely way better than a breakfast bar) and this loaf will keep any gal (and maybe a roommate) going all week. The recipe is a hybrid of some various quick breads I’ve played with in the past and looks an awful lot like a pumpkin bread recipe. It is a-l-m-o-s-t vegan, the eggs being the only ingredient impeding the proper criterion. Check it out, play around, see if you can get a tasty loaf without the eggs! And of course share how you got it.

Okay, get yer apron…here goes.

Parts:
2 eggs
1/3 C molasses
1/2 C brown sugar
2/3 C apple sauce
1/2 C milk
1 t vanilla
1 medium-size sweet potato
2 C whole wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 C chopped walnuts or pecans

Process:

First thing is to bake the sweet potato. You’ll want it to be cool before you make the bread. Stab it with a fork a few times before you bake – about 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven works great (a toaster oven’s even better). After it’s cooked set aside to cool, or even put it in the freezer if you are short on time.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, brown sugar, applesauce, milk, and vanilla. Peel and mash the sweet potato and add to the mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and blend until smooth, making sure to scrape the sides well. Pour the batter into a greased 9×5″ glass baking dish, leaving about 2 inches of room. If there is extra batter grease a muffin tin and evenly distribute the remainder. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over the top and place in an 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. If you are making muffins, remove after about 25 minutes. A toothpick will come out clean when the bread is ready.

Remove from oven and set on a wire rack to cool. After 8 minutes invert the bread or muffins on a wire rack to separate it from the pan. Keep the bread in a cool place and cover it in foil or plastic to keep it fresh and ready for the morning!

Cheers to makin’ the mornings a little more enjoyable.

Berry Pie in Jul-I/April

Cherry blossoms come and go, green fades to brown (unless you’re in the beloved PacNW), and sunny skies turn gray – but when is there ever not a time for pie? I was craving some a la mode and quickly gathered all the fixins for a mixed berry pie. In April. Not the same as spending all day in the hot summer sun, fondling  thorny blackberry bushes, eating two for every one fruit put in the bucket, wondering why all of the good ones decided to grow precisely 2 inches beyond your reach, losing all your mother’s gardening tools, your dad’s work gloves, bleeding from shoulder to wrist and knee to ankle, and… Oh, forget it. It’s pie and it’s going to be almost as good as if it were picked fresh. Eater’s gotta eat, and this time we’re eatin pie.

Parts:

5 cups of berries (frozen or fresh, straw, rasp, blue, marion, black)
2T vegan butter
2/3 C sugar
1/2 t sea salt
1/3 C apple juice
1/4 maple syrup (the real kind)
4 T cornstarch
1/4 C wheat flour
1 T lemon zest
1 T lemon juice
1 t vanilla

Crust: (perseverance, not Pilsbury)
1 2/3 C flour (mix whole wheat and unbleached white if you wish)
1/4 t salt
1/2 C vegan butter or regular butter (depending on dietary needs)
6-9 T ice water

Process: Per the tradition of my mother and grandmother, I usually toss everything in the pie shell and hit bake. BUT this idea to cook the mixture before baking is much more effective and came from just a short perusing of the internet. Anywho, start out by preparing the “innards”: Put 4 cups of berries in a deep skillet with the butter, sugar, and salt. Allow these to warm up over medium heat, then mash the mixture into a pulp. Separately whisk together the cornstarch, maple syrup, and apple juice. Slowly add this to the warm berries and then add the flour. Stir over medium-high heat until thick, about 2 minutes. Then remove it from the heat, add the remaining 1 cup of berries, and throw in the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla. Set aside to cool while you make the crust.

Keep in mind that you’ll need enough dough to cover the top (with lattice, or with fun-shaped scraps). Grease a 9-inch glass pie plate. Start by sifting the flour and salt together. Next step is to cut in the butter. If you have a mixer or a food processor, blend just until the mix is grainy. If mixing by hand, use a pastry cutter or fork to toss the mixture and “cut” the butter into the flour. Do this until the mixture is mealy or forms small rice-size pieces. Then begin to add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Again, if you’re a lucky duck with a machine, this should go great and you will just need to add the water until the dough is moist and forms a ball in the pan. If you’re a superstar do-it-by-hander, then you will actually need to use your hands to work the water into the dough. Wash your paws well and then begin to blend the water in, pinching the mixture with your fingers to bring it all together. Don’t get too aggressive here as over-working will make your dough tough and chewy (yuck). Form a ball and then pat the dough flat on a floured surface (if you don’t have a good table top, roll the dough between two sheets of plastic or wax paper). Roll the dough out thin until you have at least a 12″ circle present amongst the cracks and edges. Carefully separate the dough from the surface using a metal spatula and fold gently in half to raise it into your greased pie plate. Make sure to place the dough in the plate so that no air is left between the crust and the dish. The aesthetics are up to you. Either cut the excess from around the edge with a knife and flute the edges by pinching your index finger and thumb together. Or you can just fold over the excess to make the crust a double layer, saving some dough to roll out and cut for lattice strips, a top sheet, or cut-out decorations. I was lazy here and just flopped it over.

Okay, so pour your berry concoction into the pie crust and do what you may to cover or decorate the top using the remaining pastry (don’t skip this step – the extra pastry cuts through the tangy sweet of the filling and rounds out the flavors). Place the pie in the oven at 375 degrees farenheit for 45 minutes, checking to make sure the crust doesn’t brown too much.

Remove, let ‘er cool, and enjoy with friends a la mode.

Agria y dulce…

Agría y dulce, sour and sweet, whatever you can think of to conjure up that feeling of torn sentiments. This is my final note here on life in Ecuador. I realize I haven’t written in quite a while and as I think of things to say about the last 3 1/2 months of my life, I feel incredibly overwhelmed. We finished the evaluations for our program and our last session together was talking about reverse culture shock. So hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I feel so much at home here and that going home to the States will be a new ‘cultural’ experience.  So as I get excited to finally return after 6 months of frolicking through Latin America, I will also be incredibly sad to leave a place where bus routes, bread shops, rain, breathtaking mountains, bright colors, indigenous tradition, and latin beats have become familiar enough to make this my home away from home.

The month of November I spent working with a fair trade organization in Quito called Camari. Camari works as a distributor, exporter, and local store to promote the products of more than 6500 Ecuadorean families. Everything from produce to soy products, alternative grains, breads, teas, ointments, and artisan products would greet me every morning when I walked in to work. Throughout the course of my time there, I had the opportunity to talk with more than a hundred customers, employees, and producers about their lives and how fair trade places a role in what they do day to day. It is a system which has allowed them to maintain culture and tradition, while at the same time pursue a means of income that is sustainable both to the environment and to their livelihood. I have needless to say had an incredibly up close and personal experience learning about what ´going local´ actually looks like…Ecuador is brimming with goodness, as it produces all its own food and is able to maximize its spot on the equator to be completely self sustaining. Camari works without profit motive, allowing development strategies to thrive through simple business models. It´s hard to verbalize how incredible this opportunity was for me and I walked away each day full of new perspectives and friends.  I also didn´t mind all of the free samples offered to me, which were I think just the means to a conversation about what in the world this crazy gringa was doing hanging out in the store for a month.

The week we all got back together as a group we shared these experiences with one another to complete the last leg of our course work. We all felt pangs of envy at hearing of the incredible projects of the group: living in the Amazon with a commute by canoe down the river every morning; being chased by pigs through the southern Andes while doing research on mining practices; interviewing indigenous peoples while leaning up against a pipeline carrying oil across the jungle; living and working on an organic farm in the Sierra…the list goes on. I think the most general conclusion we could make from all of this was just how much we were grateful for the experiences, for the amazing people so willing to help us learn more about their country, and for teaching and showing us just how much we really don´t know, and how young we are in this world.

This last week 9 of us had the fortunate opportunity to go to the Galápagos Islands. As if Ecuador weren´t amazing enough for me, swimming with sea lions, turtles, and sharks, while passing the evenings on a sail boat going from island to island was a very nice taste of paradise. Blue footed Boobies, albatros´, finches, lava caves, and volcanic landscapes filled every waking minute…I´ve been on land all day but still feel like the boat is rocking underneath me. What a great way to seal off a great trip.

With that I will leave you all for a while. Six months is quite a long time to be gone, but I feel like I have just begun the adventure. I leave with a long list of things to return to do (a long list of excuses come back soon)…Until my accounts fill back up and the ´real world´ takes a breath to give me time to escape again, I´ll leave this blog and wish you all the best, where ever you may find yourself in the Holidays. It has been a blast sharing this all with you and a million thanks for all of the comments and glances. Peace love and aventura…

Jen

aquí y contenta

Hi! Just a quick update on things. This month is a bit different for our program as we are on our own doing independent studies. I had originally planned to spend this time in a small village almost on the border with Perú, living and working in a small coffee growing community. However an incredible opportunity arose to work with a foundation here in Quito who has been humbling mastering the process of fair trade for almost 30 years. It is quite an incredible experience to get to work in a place where EVERYTHING is home-grown. For the next month I will be a part of the organization, looking to see how they support the surrounding communities in their argriculture and artisan work. More updates and pictures to come…

  Oh and a little shout out for the election results as well. I know a lot of you back in the states are skeptical, which is a good sign because to me it means we´re engaged in what´s going on in our country. But from a foreign relations standpoint, let´s just say I couldn´t be happier. Skepticism still runs deep in my blood, but the countless conversations with Ecuadoreans has left me constantly more sure of a need for some serious changes to how the US handles itself in it´s foreign relations.  One thing that´s for sure different between American culture and others is what one person here has described to me as a lack of passion for what happens in our country. I disagree with this statement in a few regards, but for the most part, I think he was totally right. American apathy looks pretty stark next to qa government who has seen more coups and new constitutions in the last 20 years than in any country in a life time.

With that I´ll justify standing on this soapbox and humbly step back down…Being abroad has definitely given me that the-more-you-learn-the-less-you-know feeling. Praying and hoping…

Closer to the Sun

Well, I’ve again waited to tell about too many things, leaving this blog victim to my long-winded posts. I’ll try and briefly tell you about the last month here in Ecuador, which has been incredible to the point that I’ve neglected the world a bit. Don’t worry though, absentee ballot is in and I’m desperately searching for a way to be connected on November 4th, when I’m sure you will all be relieved to finally escape the advertising and campaigning and debating and general chaos. Suerte (may the force be with you).

After leaving the valley and our first host families, we travelled to the Oriente, better known to the world as the Amazon Basin. Our drive took us from 4000-1500m in just over 5 hours. The change in scenery was incredible, but as the air became thicker, the bugs got bigger. They were  good reminders of where I actually was. Our rides in longboats down the Arajuno and Napo Rivers were also pinches on the arm as I took in images I had only ever seen through film and photo. One night was spent in an Eco lodge off one of these rivers, where Tom (an expat from John Day, Oregon) had built one of the most beautiful hardwood resorts to educate tourists on the delicate ecosystems and communities in the area. Mona, his pet wooly monkey, was definitely one of the most amazing friends I’ve ever made and despite almost having all my hair pulled out, I felt complete in having travelled to the Amazon. We had the oppotunity to spend a day in a small village upstream, teaching mini math lessons and helping to paint the school. The president of the community also gave us an extensive tour of the communal gardens, where all the food the community consumes is grown–pretty incredible to think of their sustenance-based lifestyle. Despite the knowledge of the land posessed by this community, there were also some incredible hardships existing that one day of painting seemed to do absolutley nothing about. Alcoholism is a big problem, along with difficulties in access to education and economic gain. The eco-tourism industry looks to help solve some of these issues, but I definitely left confused and troubled about how a community of indigenous people like this has suffered from globalization.

That experience was a transition for our academic program, which started the following week in Quito with new families. Each day we have had 2-3 lectures given by experts in fields such as Ecuadorean politics, women’s rights, development, afro-ecuadorean issues, economy, and other broad and pertinent topics. Our discussions have been rather charged and it’s been interesting combining this classroom knowledge with all that’s experienced in the culture itself. I know I already said this, but my experience of Quito has been more than amazing…My host family is so excited about showing me how real quitenos get along, with my host sister definitely going above and beyond to make sure I see all there is to see in 3 1/2 short weeks. One weekend, we crammed 12 into a small hostel in a hippie eco-tourism town about 2 hours outside of Quito. I earned the role of poser-quitena, desperately trying to keep up with the slang and joking of these very latin, very beautiful people. Waterfalls, rafting in tire tubes, and dancing ’til the discoteca closed made it all complete.

Last week we had our last ‘excursion’ together as a group and travelled South to Guayaquil, Ecaudor’s largest city that sits in a large port off the coast. After a night in this tropical city, we hopped on a bus and were dropped off two by two in small villages along the southern coast. My friend Sarah and I landed in Palmar, a small fishing village off the main highway. We stood there for a bit waiting for someone to take pity on us and ended up randomly meeting a PeaceCorps volunteer who had been living in the town for 10 months. We eventually got around to meeting up with Hannah, and spent 4 hours in her small apartment on the water drinking tea and finding our common love for adventure and people. I should stop to describe our purpose in Palmar, which was to live with our family and find out as much as possible about the town, developing a work journal that would legitimize any type of writing about the week. That sounds pretty dry. Really it was a week of living with the most generous family in the world, taking walks on the beach everyday and hiking the bluffs to look out on the only mangrove forest left in the province. The people in Palmar were so tranquilo (kind of like calm) and generous with their information, laughs, and plates of rice that Sarah and I mechanically found an appetite for every 3-4 hours during the day. The week definitely changed me in ways I can’t even begin to articulate–I hold on tightly to my shells and jewelry from all the children who would follow us around as we explored this small community on the Pacific coast. Our last day was a rush of beach walking and futbol games, where we definitely earned some giggling with our tall and awkward playing. We pushed to the last minute, tears running down my face as we walked to catch the last bus of the day to go back to our group.

Through all of these experiences, the strongest emotions have come as I leave, mostly because in the act of leaving I prove that I have an option to escape to an incredibly blessed an comfortable life. The same was true in the Amazon, and I’m sure I will feel the weight again in the month to come. It is a feeling that can lead to hopelessness, to an incredible sadness that you are briefly looking at these individuals through a window with lots of knowledge about possible solutions, but with really no working ability to send the kids to school, to build the homes, to deny the fact that if their life is white then your’s is black. They’re dilemmas that never really have fixed answers. What I am learning though is how much I have to learn from people with such a different and beautiful energy for life. Humility is definitely something I get handed each day.

I’ve included some photos again because they’re probably more interesting than getting through this novel I’ve just written. Some are of Cotopaxi where we camped next to some Incan ruins this last weekend. It definitely made me feel small and humble standing next to the point of the Earth’s surface that is farthest from its core and closest to the sun. If that was my home, I probably would have thought that God was the sun too. The wild horses and silence of the grassland was truly unbelievable and seemed to be a culmination to a month of extra-ordinary experiences.

Again, thanks for reading and for the e-mails! I’ll write once more before next week, after which point I might not have much internet access. All of these people and places are incredible, but I can’t help miss you all in the midst of them. Love, peace, and sun!