Country #7: Canada

Monday, February 14, 2011

According to Wikipedia, there may have not been just one Saint Valentine. Some research shows that “Saint Valentine” is simply the name attributed to as many as fourteen martyred saints of Rome, and due to this and many other discrepancies, this feast day was actually removed from the general Roman Catholic calendar of liturgical veneration. The modern “Valentine’s Day” dates back just to Chaucer, who created a fake tradition in his book Parliament of Foules, and that any historical tradition that Chaucer was trying to imitate was vague and mostly unsubstantiated. However, Americans have really embraced this, the mother of all fake holidays (though one could argue that Christmas could take that award as well), going all out with cards, flowers, extensive (and expensive) dates and outings and gifts. Yikes. It’s enough to make one not even want to have to worry about it. Follow the Roman Catholics! Take it off the calendar!
I’ve never really had much use for Valentine’s Day. I throw cards away almost immediately, enjoy cut flowers but they die pretty quickly, and feel that the pressure that VDay puts on couples is ridiculous and the energy is probably better spent elsewhere. But the one thing that I love about Valentine’s Day is that there is chocolate everywhere. And goodness knows, I love chocolate.
This is just a heads up, folks: if you ever find yourself in need of a gift for me, and unsure of what to get, you will never go wrong with chocolate. Any shape, any size, any flavor (I even like the chocolate with chili pepper in it!). And that, my friends, is the beauty of Valentine’s Day. People just walk around with chocolate. It’s like a mini Christmas all over again. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, and in the hopes that Saint Valentine (whoever he was/they were) loved chocolate as much as I do, I present to you: Nanaimo Bars from Canada.


Country #6: Paraguay

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I’m writing this post as I watch the last minute and a half of the Celtics-Lakers game. So, if I lose my train of thought and veer off into distraction, bear with me. I suppose Ray Allen has already shattered the NBA career 3-pointer record, so it’s a good game regardless of whether they win or lose, but still. Lakers. Ugh. No offense to any of you Los Angelenos out there, but you just have to understand. Some things matter. CRAP. Celtics just lost. CRAP.
OK. Time to focus on food.
Paraguay is one of the many Latin American countries that takes its cultural influences from both indigenous peoples and Spanish explorers, as well as neighboring Brazilians. About 95% of the country is mestizo, which is pretty incredible, and as such, the Spanish of Paraguay derives lots of words from Guarani - in fact, Guarani is a co-national language along with Spanish. As it tends to be with many languages, you can usually tell a person’s class from their language; white collar classes tend to speak almost entirely Spanish (even if they can understand Guarani), and the lower classes will speak exclusively Guarani. Many of the lower classes are farmers or other types of land workers, and they grow one of the country’s most popular foods, corn. The sopa paraguaya recipe that follows is one of the most popular festival dishes to make; contrary to the translation (“Paraguayan soup”), it’s not soup; it’s cheesy, eggy, heart attack-inducing cornbread. Oh my. It’s almost like a delicious popover. Both dishes that I made take a Brazilian influence, being an egg and complex meat dish. I wasn’t worried where they came from, though - I had my friends Philipp and Sarah over and we chowed down on sopa paraguaya and alb√≥ndigas con arroz.

***As those of you who are friends with me on Facebook know, as I was cracking eggs, I discovered that all six of them were double yolked! How cool is that?!


Country #5: Libya

Monday, February 7, 2011

While at work today I felt the beginnings of a sore throat, which is always my first sign of any kind of illness. So I walked through Trader Joe’s with one objective: chicken soup. My first thoughts were of homey matzah ball soup, like my mom always made when I was sick as a kid. Then I thought of chicken noodle soup, like in Campbell’s commercials. After that I thought of the soup with fideos, tiny, thin noodles that my host mother in Spain always used to make me. (Then I thought about that terrible fish soup she made when I got one of my nameless but volatile stomach illnesses - I swear, that fish soup made me so much sicker.)
Without having come to a conclusion, I bought a bunch of split breasts and headed home on the crowded 66.* Typing in “ethnic chicken soup” into Google eventually brought me to libyanfood.blogspot.com, and a recipe for Sharba Libiya bil Dajaj wa Alzatar, or Libyan Soup with Chicken and Thyme. It had cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks (dude, are we making pho again?), turmeric, cayenne pepper - all the makings of delicious food. I made a cup of tea and began.

*Yes, I know I live very close to Trader Joe’s. I also had bought enough cans of beans and tomatoes for chili for 10 people, which I can assure you are incredibly heavy. Also, I couldn’t feel my feet.


Country #4: Scotland

Friday, February 4, 2011

When one thinks of great, life-changing food, one does not usually think of Great Britain. It is not known for subtle sauces, delicately charred meats, bright green crunchy vegetables. No; what has always come to my mind is the color brown. Boiled things. Mush. However, one thing that Great Britain really does right is the mighty stew. Slow cooking of various types of meat that makes the house smell wonderful and warms your stomach in the cold of winter.
Before the potato was introduced in Scotland, there was a reliance on barley or oatmeal, because wheat was comparatively difficult to grow due to the damp climate. Various types of cured seafood was very common, since the Scots tended to be a mobile culture with great access to shoreline. During feudal times, there was a huge divide between the rich and poor; the wealthy had a varied diet of both domestic and hunted game, seasoned with exotic spices. Those in power put restrictions on hunting, so the poor were reliant on whatever animals they could keep, and tended not to kill them but rather use them for dairy products. When the did end up killing an animal, they would use all parts of it (haggis, the national dish of Scotland and something that I will NOT be making) is an example of both portable cuisine that is also very utilitarian in its makeup.
So we return to stew. I will say, it is mushy and not my favorite stew ever. Buuut, when it’s cold and snowy out, sometimes a girl just needs a big bowl of stew.
This turnip took me forever to find.