Month: February 2013

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Cassava Pudding

I secretly love it when a word like “pudding” takes on a whole new meaning than “the sweet chocolate goop  found in the refrigerator cases of American supermarkets” (although I do enjoy that sort of pudding as much as the next sugar crazed mom). I love surprises like this because they teach me not to take so much for granted. They remind me that there are people all over this beautiful world who have different ways of doing things. And, in case you didn’t get the memo, different is a beautiful thing. Imagine how boring our world would be if we all looked the same, talked the same, and… ate the very same pudding? In Solomon Islands and throughout Oceania, pudding is any goupy mixture that’s been grated and baked. Or sometimes steamed. Confused? Let’s get specific. The most popular pudding in Solomon Islands is Cassava Pudding. This is more of a savory cake than pudding.  It’s made with grated cassava, sweet potato, and coconut milk. The whole shebang is traditionally baked all afternoon in …

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Menu: Solomon Islands

When wind, ice rain, and snow blast our home, I shut my eyes and escape to Solomon Islands for a little imagination vacation. It doesn’t become real, though, until I try the food. What I find, more than anything else, is that the traditional food relies heavily on that which can grow on the islands. This is limited to staples like coconut, papaya, taro, sweet potatoes, and cassava. There would have been a time when 80% of these ingredients would have scared me off. Not because there’s anything wrong with them,* but because I would have no idea what to do with them. Heck. I wouldn’t have even known what they were. But, this is our 160th country.  After this week, there’s only 36 weeks left. I’m not scared any more. I’m excited. Curious. Open. So here’s what we made. All recipes and meal review will be posted throughout the week. PawPaw Curry [Recipe] Take green papaya (a.k.a. not ripe) and cook it down with sweet onion, coconut milk, and a blast of homemade curry powder. …

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Children outside Tuo school, Fenualoa, Reef Islands, Solomon Islands. Photo by Pohopetch.

About the food of the Solomon Islands

This week’s country meets the ocean with two faces. On one side are her cliffs, razor sharp and formidable  On the other are gentle slopes. The two are connected by a central spine of mountains. This is the Solomon Islands, a collection of islands to the northeast of Australia, just east of Papua New Guinea. In this tropical land, many houses are built on stilts and about 80% of islanders live in the boondocks. The Pacific Ocean is as much a valued friend, relied on for nourishment in the form of fish, lobster, and crustaceans, as it is an inestimable danger in times of storm or tsunami. Finding information about food on the islands required quite a bit of detective work, which ultimately led me to a fascinating collection of blogs created by volunteers visiting the islands. Of these, Stilettos in the Solomons gave the most helpful overviews (and had the most intriguing name). Like much of the Pacific, crops are limited to what can grow along rugged mountains, not to mention they must be hardy enough to …

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Monday Meal Review: Slovenia

“What you build easily will fall quickly” – Slovenian Proverb I rarely take the time to bake any more. Life keeps getting in the way. Meetings, obligations – the stuff of adulthood. This week, thanks to Slovenia, I had the opportunity to use my hands to shape, braid, and decorate an ornate loaf of Slovenian Heart Bread. As I worked, I was surprised to find myself overcome with relief. Working flour, water, egg, sugar, and butter together into a smooth ball felt like an old friend, come home again. When I try to pinpoint this comfort, I come to the conclusion that baking feels exactly like a vacation. But from what?  What could baking do to “take me away” … and, perhaps more importantly, what was it pushing me towards? For starters, baking takes me away from the perpetual click-click-click of the keyboard and mouse. So often I find myself lost on Facebook and Pinterest happenings, or who is doing what in some other life that seems oh so much more interesting than my own. But …

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Bean n’ Barley Soup | Ričet

Slovenia is known for her soups – each bite captures the taste of the earth and sky, rolling hills and grand mountains. They are the answer to frosted windows, the worst sort of bone-chill, and that scratchy feeling in the back of the throat. Slovenian soup is the sunshine to your snowy day. Today, in particular, we explore Ričet, one of the more beloved soups found throughout Slovenia. She’s made with barley, a soft, earthy grain that reminds me faintly of pasta, but chewier and more wholesome. When paired with beans, carrots, potatoes, onion, and garlic, an entire meal is made. A slice of rye bread on the side would be grand. While Ričet could certainly be made vegan, traditional Slovenian soups would include sausage or, as I have done, bacon. This adds another layer of complexity, making it all the more likely that I’ll be reaching for a bowl of Ričet when the winter snows float down. Makes 3+ quarts Ingredients: 1 1/4 cup barley 1 1/4 cup dried pinto beans water 4 large carrots, chopped 2 …

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Braided Heart Bread | Pleteno Srce

We are closing in on spring …  that special time of year, when weddings and baby showers sprinkle our calendars, and everything is awash in the promise of new love. In Slovenia, such times are marked with Pleteno Scre – an ornamental, braided, tender loaf of bread, shaped into a heart. Pleteno Scre is an honored gift. The slightly sweet loaves are painstakingly decorated with edible tokens, like wedding rings and flowers (as I have done), or even astonishingly detailed birds, or paper thin leaves that seem to crackle under the slightest breeze. This art form takes time to master, so I stuck with simple flowers, a wreath, and rings. The best part is that this is something you can do as a family. Little ones love to have a piece of dough to play with. Mashing and rolling, twisting and turning – it’s what they do best. Ava didn’t even want to make any shapes for the heart – she just wanted to play next to me, while I worked. It was sweet. And …

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Menu: Slovenia

“Pray for a good harvest, but keep on hoeing.” – Slovenian Proverb This old Slovenian proverb teaches a clear lesson: it is the work we put into life that ultimately leads to the “good harvest.” We must roll up our sleeves and put in the hard hours and back breaking labor. There’s simply no escaping it. Case in point: Slovenia is known for her comforting food, seemingly plucked straight from the countryside, but much goes into the effort, whether it be the extra fancy, ornate Pleteno Srce bread, or the slowly simmered soup. There’s love, finesse, and more than a bit of decor in each. Even with spring right on the edge of the horizon, we can’t be sure when the warm times will come. So… let’s stay cozy with Slovenia until winter finally breaks for the year. And let’s keep on hoeing. *All recipes and meal review will be available throughout the week. Bean n’ Barley Soup | Ričet [Recipe] If you’re wondering how Slovenians spend a cold winter’s afternoon, Ričet is the answer. Imagine a …

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Ptuj, Slovenia. Photo by Marcin Gierszner.

About the food of Slovenia

This week we explore a land of sharp mountains and sunlit grasses, where sheep meander and grapevines hang heavy with fruit. This is Slovenia, a natural wonderland, a place where the simple way of life is preferred. Nowhere is this clearer, than in the food. There are salads of bitter dandelion greens (harvested from right outside the back door) tossed with potato and hard-boiled egg, and bowls of sliced cucumbers in sour cream.  There are turnip strudels (!) and cranberry stuffed omelets (!!). The ingredients are common, but the combination is anything but… Like most of the region, potato dumplings are considered a mighty good thing. It’s that age old search for comfort… an itch that can also be scratched with homemade rye bread accompanied by barley bean soup  [Recipe], carrot turnip soup, buckwheat balls, or plated sausages. Speaking of bread, Slovenia also has an incredible assortment of baked goods, from the glorious rye breads (which we tried with Belarus)  to intricately braided wedding breads [Recipe], Easter rolls, fig or olive bread, nut or fig potica (or even …

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Monday Meal Review: Slovakia

“Everything bad is good for something.” – Slovak Proverb Have you ever done something, only to find it didn’t work out as you’d planned… but somehow it worked out even better? Last week I casually substituted a video for my written meal review. I thought it’d be a fun change of pace- a more visceral experience for you. Almost immediately, the comments filled with a resounding “no,” – an outcry that was astonishing both in it’s passion as in it’s consistency. Almost every single person felt the same way, which is remarkable in itself. And the fact that every comment was worded thoughtfully, kindly, and compassionately? So awesome. As I read through the comments, I was moved by your devotion to the blog and especially to the written word, referred to as a ‘dying art’ by some. I thought about your responses while I cooked this week’s comforting menu – soup, bacon bread, and blueberry bubbly cake. Maybe it was a subconscious move on my part – after last week, a big bowl of coziness was just the …

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Slovak Sour Bean Soup

When winter raindrops slide down the glass… when the droplets are  so close to ice that they sting on my wind-chapped face… there’s nothing better than a piping hot bowl of soup. Thankfully for me, Slovakia knows what’s what in this department. The fine people of Slovakia could probably make this staple soup with their eyes shut, and – for the first part, at least – that’s exactly what they do. While the house slumbers under the bright moon, a quiet bowl of bean sits in the shadows, soaking overnight. In the morning, after a big stretch, the softened beans are put to a bubble with bits of bacon (or perhaps a ham hock), potato, and – not to be forgotten – a splash of vinegar. The whole thing is thickened with sour cream and flour (or sometimes cream). The result is a bowl of warm, thick goodness – but of course every family has their own version… versions so good, you’ll want to snag a bite (or three) from under each other’s noses.   While traditional …

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Grilled Garlicky Bacon Bread | Hrianka

“Better to eat bread in peace, than cake amidst turmoil.” – Slovak Proverb Oh, Slovakia. My husband has been woo’d, my daughter smitten. As for me, I’m in love. No, it’s not because of Valentine’s Day. It’s because of Bacon. Garlic. Oh, and a nice, thick slice of Sourdough Rye Bread. Yes… Slovakia really did us in when it comes to Hrianka. At her most basic, Hrianka is plain toast rubbed with garlic. At her most beautiful, she’s a collection of hearty slices griddled in hot bacon drippings, then rubbed with cloves of fresh garlic. And so my heart sings on… Serves 2 Ingredients: 5 slices of bacon 2 large slices bread (rye or sourdough a plus) 1 large clove garlic Method: Fry up that bacon. Eat the bacon. Or perhaps use it to garnish some Slovak Sour Bean Soup (recipe coming soon). Now for the fun. Griddle your bread in the drippings. Health Tip: If you have too many drippings, you can just brush both sides of the bread with a little to taste …

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Blueberry Bublanina | Bubbly Cake

From early springtime all the way into the deep heart of fall, Slovakia’s mountains and hills burst with nature’s bounty. For those who search, a perpetual harvest reveals herself. Here, trees swoon with the weight of delightfully sour cherries, juicy, grapes, apricots, and apples. There, bushes bloom with blueberries, woodsy and sweet. This land, surely, is magic. When there is more fruit than can be gathered in an apron, Slovakia makes Bublanina, a.k.a. Bubbly Cake. Just one secret makes this slightly sweet cake light and fluffy: whipped egg whites. Fruit, sliced, chunked, or left whole, is scattered across the foamy surface and, as the cake puffs up in the oven, it bubbles around the fruit. Some fruit sinks down. Some fruit does not. Once out of the oven, the whole thing is covered with a cloud of powdered sugar, until even the air around it tastes sweet. It’s all kinds of whimsical and the perfect way to ring in the hope of spring (I promise it’s coming – I even witnessed a few daffodil leaves …

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