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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

I made a list of 13 goals before I moved to Ecuador.  Let’s check my progress, shall we?

  1. Really improve my Spanish.  Fail.  I mean, it IS better than when I first arrived (when I had a jumble of Turkish, French, and Indonesian tumbling out of my mouth).  My fluency, vocabulary, and grammar have improved, and I’ve picked up some Ecuadorian features of Spanish.  But honestly, I haven’t studied or practiced as much as I should have.  For my job, I almost always use English since I work with English teachers.  And most of my friends, including the Ecuadorians, speak English.  Obviously I get by, but my Spanish can still use a lot of improvement.  Que bestia.
  2. Learn a few words of Quechua.  Technically I guess I accomplished this – I know 4 words:
    guagua = baby
    chuchaqui = hungover
    yaguar = blood
    cocha = lake
    Why these 4?  Because they’re commonly used among Spanish speakers or for location names.  I had been thinking more along the lines of “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” etc.  Oh well.

    This family speaks Quechua. I do not.

  3. Become a better salsa dancer.  I’m proud of this one.  HUUUUUGE win!  I took classes at a dance school for 2 months, then hired a private instructor for my remaining 8 months.  I usually went out dancing at least once a week (sometimes more).  In fact, I’ve become a regular at TWO salsatecas!  I LOVE that the bouncers greet me and let me in free now.  I LOVE that I can show up at any salsa club and know or at least recognize other regulars.  I LOVE when a new guy asks me to dance, assuming I’ll be bad like most gringas, and then realizes I know what I’m doing and starts doing more complicated figures with me (and says something like “You dance well!”).  I LOVE when I’m dancing really well with a partner and a little crowd watches us (cuz that has happened – more than once!).  I ABSOLUTELY LOVE that I have worked myself into the salsa community. 
  4. Visit the Galapagos Islands.  Did I ever!  I spent 2 weeks on the islands (visiting 6 of them) – partly for work and partly for fun.  This was a life goal – accomplished.
  5. Take more people pictures.  A work in progress…
  6. Go snorkeling.  Did this in the Galapagos.
  7. Go hiking.  I went on a few hikes around Quito, and in Mindo and Cajas National Park.  But I’d like to do more hiking in the future.
  8. Eat lots of Ecuadorian food.  Check, definitely.  This one was easy because I like most Ecuadorian dishes I’ve tried.  I’ve eaten several bowls of locro de papas (cream of potato soup).  I’ve enjoyed more batidos (fruit shakes) than I can possibly count.  I’ve had all sorts of ceviche (it’s much better on the coast than in the highlands).  And I ate cuy (guinea pig) twice.  I know a ton of traditional dishes, have learned about many exotic fruits that don’t even have English names, and recognize most offerings on restaurant menus.  I know my way around Ecuadorian food.
  9. Learn to cook some Ecuadorian dishes.  Check.  I took an empanada cooking class, and I got an Ecuadorian cookbook when I attended a second cooking class organized by the Embassy. 
  10. Visit local markets. Yep.  Went to the big one in Otavalo twice.  And went to local markets in Quito several times. 
  11. Travel to Cuenca.  Double check.  I spent a weekend there for fun, and later spent a week there for work.
  12. Not get malaria.  Not a problem living at 9000 feet, but I also managed not to contract any tropical diseases when I went to the coast or Amazon regions.  Whew.
  13. Have some gosh-darn visitors.  Señor Adam visited for a month, and Señorita Maura joined us for 2 weeks.  And mi hermana Carolyn came for 2 weeks.  Win, win, win!

Inspired by a post some Peace Corps Volunteers in Ecuador wrote, here are a few other statistics to recap my first 10 months in Ecuador:

Workshops given:  57

Volcanoes seen: 11.5
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Ruminahui, Tungurahua, Illiniza Norte, Illiniza Sur, El Corazon, El Altar, Cayambe, Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotocachi (well, part of it)

Chimborazo Volcano, the tallest in Ecuador

Provinces visited:  13/24
(Esmeraldas, Imbabura, Pichincha, Manabi, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Bolivar, Guayas, Santa Elena, Galapagos, Azuay, Napo).  Granted, some of the provinces I didn’t visit are kind of off-limits to Americans due to FARC activity, drug trafficking, and other not-so-pleasant border issues.  But I hope to visit more provinces in my second year.

Dance clubs visited in Quito: 15ish (there was a lot of dancing these past 10 months)

Hearing loss sustained from all that dance club time:  What?

Books read:  20
Morning runs in Parque Carolina: about 2-3 per week

Illnesses: 5 or 6 head colds plus some sort of upper respiratory thing that had me coughing for a month (this is way more than usual for me.  I suspect Quito’s pollution and the custom of greeting people with a kiss on the cheek were contributing factors).  A few cases of upset tummy (about normal when traveling/living abroad).

Earthquakes felt:  3 (one in February, and two in October)

Number of men seen urinating in public:  Unfortunately, this is a weekly occurrence – I lost count way back in February.

Crime victimizations:  2 cell phones pick-pocketed on the bus (one in May and one in October) and 1 jacket stolen at a dance club (although I was stupid to set it down on a speaker instead of using the coat check).  I guess this would also be the appropriate place to note my friend Adam’s “comically non-violent” mugging when he visited, although I wasn’t with him at the time.

Cost of pirated DVDs: $1.25 – $1.50

Average taxi ride cost: $1.50 – $2.00 during the day (when taxi meters are in use), about $3 at night (when I have to negotiate with the driver)

Cost of a local bus ride:  $0.25

Average high temperature in Quito: about 68 degrees F, year-round!

Average low temperature in Quito:  about 50 degrees F, year-round!

Blog posts written about Ecuador:  27 counting this one

Number of times I felt lucky to live and work in Ecuador: nearly every day!

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My German friend Kerstin, who’s big into baking and cooking, asked if I wanted to take an empanada cooking class with her.  I think we all know what the answer to that question was.  Over the course of 2 Friday mornings we learned how to make 6 different kinds of empanadas.  Empanadas de Ambato were filled with cane sugar and cheese.  Empanadas de Mejido contained a completely different sweetened cheese filling.  Empanadas Venezolanas had ground beef and veggies inside.  Empanadas de Viento are big airy pillows of fried dough containing melted bits of cheese.  Empanadas de Arroz are made of a rice dough and filled with ground beef and veggies.  And Empanadas de Verde are made from a complicated plantain dough (so complicated I couldn’t even get a picture of them) with a cheesy center.

There was a lot of dough, most of it containing lard.  There was a lot of cheese.  There was a lot of frying.  I probably won’t make these at home very often, but it was still fun to cook (and of course sample!) some Ecuadorian food.  My coworkers raved about the leftovers I shared at my office, so I guess the empanadas turned out pretty well.

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Afiyet Olsun

Turkish food is SO GOOD.  It’s something I really enjoy about living in Turkey, and I hope I can replicate some of it when I no longer live here.  Toward that end, my friend Jennifer and her mom recently organized a cooking class at a cafe.  We each invited some friends and spent a few hours together learning to make some typical Turkish dishes.

Our menu included İç Pilav (rice often used for stuffing), Mercimek Çorbası (lentil soup), Karalahana Dolması (stuffed black cabbage leaves), Engenar (artichoke appetizers) and, of course, Baklava.  There was a lot of butter involved, but I try not to think too much about that.

Afiyet Olsun!  (Turkish for bon appetit)

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When I taught English on the cruise ships, I had to interview each student to determine his/her class placement.  One of the questions was “Tell me about your hometown.”  Most students, regardless of language level, made a combination of good, bad, and neutral statements.  Things like “Is big city” or “There are too many cars” or “It’s really close to the beach.”  But I noticed something different about my Balinese students.  When I posed that question to them, their faces usually erupted into HUGE smiles.  They then proceeded to say nothing but positive things about Bali.  This struck me.  And usually at some point in their description they uttered the sentence “Bali is beautiful.”

Having already visited Bali in September, I knew they were right – Bali IS beautiful.    So when the Fulbright program needed help with a pre-departure orientation there, I jumped at the chance for a free flight, happily re-worked my teaching schedule, tacked on a couple weekends, and made a full week of it.  I decided I would base myself in Ubud, the arts and culture mecca.

I ate roast suckling pig at the world-famous Ibu Oka’s restaurant.  There isn’t a whole lotta pork on Muslim Java.  But in predominantly-Hindu Bali, pork is not only fair game, it’s a traditional dish.  My Balinese ship students were always talking about it, so I had to try it.

I took a morning walk through some rice paddies.  It was lovely.  I stopped to watch a man collect coconuts:

I walked to neighboring villages, where I came across some Balinese kids studying traditional dance and music.  Watch them practicing here.

I took a bicycle tour around central Bali.  We paused to admire some terraced rice fields:

Then we ate breakfast overlooking this:

We also visited a coffee plantation, where I tried kopi luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world.  The high cost comes from the harvesting process:  civet cats eat the coffee beans, the civets digest the coffee beans, some poor schmuck collects the coffee beans, and then the beans are roasted as per usual.  Not being much of a coffee connoisseur, I thought it tasted like regular coffee.  It did not smell like poo.

Then I took a shuttle to the orientation site, where I spent 2 days preparing Indonesia’s best and brightest to study and teach in U.S. universities.  And can you believe THIS was the view from my hotel room?

After “work” it was back to Ubud for me.  I took a cooking class and learned to make traditional Balinese dishes.  I took a silversmithing class and made what is now my new favorite ring.  I wandered around and met two characters from Eat, Pray, Love: Wayan the healer and Ketut the medicine man.

I hired a guy with a motor bike to drive me around central Bali, visiting Hindu temples.

sarongs required at Goa Gajah (the elephant cave)

the holy springs at Tirta Empul

I happened to be in Bali during Galungan, a Hindu holiday that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.  What a wonderful thing to celebrate.  Because of the holiday, many families were praying at the temples.

Sometimes entire villages paraded together to a temple.  It was an astounding sight.

I walked along more rice paddies.  Despite my daily struggle to avoid eating rice, I sure do love to gaze at it growing.

I went to some traditional dance performances:

I walked all around Ubud and its surrounding villages,
popping in and out of stores,
window shopping,
bargaining,
stumbling upon Hindu ceremonies,
patronizing local cafes,
and enjoying life.
I walked so much I developed a blister.  I changed my sandals and walked some more.  And in case you couldn’t already tell, I went a little crazy photographing all of it.  You can see many more pictures here.

Bali is very different from where I live in central Java.  Bali is Hindu.  Bali is more touristed.  Bali is quieter.  Bali is lined with sidewalks.  Bali is less littered.  Bali is full of wonderful restaurants.  Bali is sprinkled with colorful flower-filled offerings, mini disposable works of art giving thanks to the gods.  And of course, Bali is beautiful.

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Indonesia is not internationally known for its cuisine, probably because a lot of it is crap.  LOTS of rice.  LOTS of fried things (fried rice, fried noodles, fried chicken, fried duck, fried tofu, fried tempeh, fried cassava, fried bananas, fried potatoes, fried anything-you-can-think-of-to-toss-in-a-large-wok-of-boiling-palm-oil).  Don’t get me wrong – fried food is often tasty, but I just can’t eat it every single day.  Dishes also use LOTS of sugar, LOTS of MSG, and LOTS of food coloring.

But one traditional Indonesian dish that I really like is gado-gado, a mixed vegetable salad topped with peanut sauce, often accompanied with shrimp crackers.  It is not fried and it does not (have to) contain rice, making it a decidedly uncrappy meal option in Indonesia.  It’s healthy and adaptable and yummy, and I wanted to learn how to make it.  I asked around the English Department and found that Bu Christine is widely regarded as a good cook.  So, I recently went to Bu Christine’s house with my counterpart Dwi  to learn how to make gado-gado from scratch.

The salad itself is easy as you can mix and match many ingredients.  We used:
cucumbers, sliced
tomatoes, sliced
hard-boiled potatoes, diced
lettuce
hard-boiled eggs, quartered
tempeh, fried & cooled
tofu, sautéed & cooled
You could also use green beans, cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots, or other veggies.  Some Indonesians substitute clumps of sticky rice for the potatoes.

The tricky part is the peanut sauce.  You can buy it prepared, but we made it the old-fashioned way by using a mortar and pestle to grind chilies, shrimp paste, salt, a ginger-like root, garlic, and palm sugar into a paste.  Then we boiled the paste with coconut milk, tamarind, crushed roasted peanuts, lime leaves and bay leaves until it thickened.  In the U.S. I will probably simplify this whole process by using peanut butter and a blender, but this is still one Indonesian dish that I plan to keep in my recipe box.

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