Gastronomical Exchange: Gingerbread House

As I mentioned in my recent post, when I returned to Peru after my brief vacation in the U.S., I made sure to bring back a LOT of goodies. Notably, I brought lots of candy and my cremas (Ketchup, BBQ sauce, & Ranch), but I also brought some gifts & knick-knacks for my host-family.

One of these presents was a Gingerbread House kit. Now, I’ve made a few Gingerbread houses in my day, but for my host-siblings this was their first one ever. At first, they weren’t too sure how to put it all together, but once I arranged the basic frame and cemented it in place with the icing, they took it from there.

img_2191

A few minutes later, I returned to find this beauty sitting on our kitchen table.

img_2192

I think they did a pretty good job for their first ever Gingerbread house.

Unfortunately, in the days following its creation, the house was slowly devoured, never to be put to use by a little Gingerbread family.

Until next time,

MGB

Advertisements

Gastronomical Exchange: Quesadillas

Once I realized the salad was a big success, I dared to dream even further. This time with my host-family, we embarked into the great world of Mexican food. Although, given that I am not Mexican, nor have I ever learned to cook authentic Mexican food, we made the best impression of Mexican food that we could.

Fortunately in Caraz, we have a wonderful supermarket called “Comercio Trujillo” where one can buy anything from pasta sauce to oreos, from pizza crust to “Mozzarella cheese”, and for some reason, flour tortillas. Now, way back in November I purchased a pack of flour tortillas and some Mozzarella cheese but due to vacation & the end of the school year, they were quickly forgotten about in the upstairs fridge. That is until, upon returning to Perú, that I happened to go upstairs and rediscover my purchase.

So, after months of waiting (and forgetting), I finally gathered my host-family one evening to make our quesadillas. Now, I wasn’t going to just make cheese quesadillas, if we were going to make them, we were going all out. And so, we bought some chicken, Peruvian cheese (it wasn’t a lot of mozzarella), and the necessary supplies to make guacamole; palta (avocado), tomate (tomato), culantro (cilantro) & lime (limón).

With all of the ingredients assembled, we set to work.

First, we ripped open the bag of tortillas and carefully laid them out on the table.

img_2204

Once the tortillas were assembled on the table, we began the process of cutting the cheese.

img_2205
Left: mozzarella cheese                      Right: queso fresco (fresh Peruvian cheese)

We shredded the cheese to the best of our ability on top of the tortillas, and then added some shredded, boiled chicken which my host-mom had previously prepared. Then to top it off, we added a dash of taco seasoning from a care packing from long ago.

Since we don’t have a “press”, we settled to pan-fry the quesadillas with a little butter in a frying pan, to great success if I do say so myself.

img_2206

Now, after teaching my host-family the general process of quesadilla preparation, I set to work making the important accompaniment; guacamole. Honestly, this was my first time ever making guacamole, but I think it turned out quite splendidly.

img_2203

Once all of the quesadillas had been properly cooked, we were finally able to eat.

img_2207

Overall, quesadilla night was a HUGE success. The only criticism of the night was that of the Mozzarella cheese; my host-sister was not a fan. However, when she tried one with only Peruvian queso fresco, I got a clear “this is the best thing I have ever eaten” response. Success!

Apart from eating the quesadillas, my favorite memory of the experience was when my host-mom offered a quesadilla to one of our neighbors, however placing it inside a roll of delicious Peruvian bread. I couldn’t help myself but chuckle seeing a quesadilla being eaten inside bread like a sandwich.

Until next time,

MGB

Gastronomical Exchange: The Whole Ensalada

Returning from my brief holiday stint in the U.S., I made a decision to be more active in sharing U.S. culture with my host-family. So, in January after seamlessly readjusting to my life here in Perú, I decided the easiest way to share some more U.S. culture was through food. Perhaps my cravings for more  U.S. dishes also played a part in my decision to focus on gastronomical exchange.

Now, like any good Peace Corps Volunteer, I didn’t return to Perú empty handed; my luggage was absolutely full of candy and other food stuffs. One of the prized possessions I brought with me to Perú was Ranch Dressing, my favorite salad dressing.

Consequently, the first U.S. “food” I prepared for my host-family was a salad, or ensalada. Now, they do eat salads in Perú, BUT the difference being that salads are not a regular component of one’s day to day diet. In fact, at least here in the sierra, the day-to-day diet mostly involves rice, potatoes, and occasionally vegetables cooked to death in the daily soup. If anything, salads are a side, and would never be considered a legitimate meal. And at least in my house, the term ensalada refers to sliced avocado, red onion, & tomato with lemon juice (still tasty, but missing some of my favorite veggies). Well, I decided that I wanted to eat more vegetables and I wanted my host-family to do so as well, and so shortly after returning, we made a simple salad of lettuce, onion, tomato, and carrots.

img_2177
Dicing the carrots
img_2178
The washed lettuce
img_2179
The finished salad (just missing its Ranch)
img_2180
Lunch with my fresh salad

While I don’t think I convinced them that a salad can be a meal, I at least got everyone to try it, and everyone, except my 5 year-old host-brother, really enjoyed it, especially with the Ranch Dressing. I wasn’t too upset my host-brother hated the salad, because what 5 year-old really enjoys vegetables anyways.

Here’s to more gastronomical exchange in the near future!

Until next time,

MGB

S’more Cultural Exchange: 4th of July in Perú

The Peace Corps has 3 goals:

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained Volunteers.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Simply put, each Peace Corps Volunteer’s responsibility is to provide technical support and training to the people of the country where he or she works, as well as to promote cultural exchange in said country. Consequently, a large part of my work involves teaching Peruvians about the United States, sharing my experiences of growing up there, and correcting misinformations, such as “all U.S. citizens live in mansions”. Teaching about the U.S. is known among Peace Corps Volunteers is known as Goal 2, and this goal can manifest in many ways such as teaching English, teaching a geography class, starting a Frisbee team, or, in my case as of yesterday, celebrating the 4th of July.

For the uninformed, the 4th of July is Independence Day for all U.S. Citizens, marking the day in which we signed the Declaration of Independence and officially declared independence from Great Britain way back in 1776. Nowadays, the 4th of July is celebrated in various ways all across the country, but generally with some sort of cookout (meat, desserts, and alcohol obligatory) and accompanying fireworks. Now, Peruvians obviously don’t celebrate U.S. Independence Day (they have their own independence day on July 28th), so in order to share a bit of my U.S. traditions with my host-family, friends, and neighbors, I organized a good-old campfire in my backyard. And what campfire could be complete without the ultimate campfire dessert, S’mores?

Around 5:30pm, some of the neighborhood kids started appearing and we got to getting the fire started. None, and I mean none of the kids, not even my host sister, believed I knew how to start a fire, but thanks to my brief stint in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, I proved them wrong, to their disbelief.

P1050590
Gathering wood for the fire.
P1050591
I more or less made a log cabin fire lay, but let my host-sister light it up.
P1050592
After a short while, the fire got going and so the S’more prep began.

So in case you don’t know, to make a S’more, you need 3 basic ingredients and 1 specialized tool. The 3 key ingredients are Marshmallows, Chocolate, and Graham Crackers; Marshmallows and Chocolate were easy to find here, but with the Graham Crackers I struck out, and so we substituted sweet vanilla crackers instead (they worked quite well). Now, when you have your ingredients all ready, the next step is to find the specialized tool, aka the ideal stick; you want the stick to be decently long, but slender at the end so that it can pierce the marshmallow easily.

Now, to get started, you grab a marshmallow, pop it on the end of your cooking stick, and then warm the marshmallow over the fire. Personally, I prefer to cook my marshmallow by rotating it over the coals until it obtains a nice Goldy-Brown color, but others, including some of my neighbors, prefer the fast approach in which you just shove the marshmallow into the flame until it catches on fire and turns into a black ball of gooey sugar.

P1050597
Friends and neighbors roasting their marshmallows.

Now, once you have your marshmallow nice and golden, you place it on a cracker, put some chocolate on top, and then top it off with another cracker to complete the perfect S’more.

P1050595
The first S’more of many of the night.

Now, while many people are purists and prefer the straight up S’more of marshmallow, cracker, and chocolate, I like to experiment a bit. Personally, I enjoy substituting the chocolate for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (try it, it is glorious!), and yesterday we experimented even further buy coating one of the crackers with Peanut Butter before adding the marshmallow (just as good!).

P1050599

So, while I didn’t celebrate 4th of July this year in typical U.S. fashion, I had a fantastic time sharing a bit of my U.S. traditions with my friends and family here in Perú. The S’mores were incredibly well received by the neighborhood kids, with responses ranging from dancing and hopping around the yard, to tiny voices screaming “Mark, Mark, regálame otro” (Mark, Mark, give me another one), to my host-brother crying when I wouldn’t let him have more until everyone had eaten their first. All in all, the kids made their way through 2 bags of marshmallows, two packets of vanilla crackers, and 3 bars of chocolate.

Activities such as making S’mores with my host-family and neighbors are just one of the many, many reasons why I love my Peace Corps service here in Perú. I mean, who else gets to say that making S’mores with children in rural sierra Perú falls under their job description?

Other PCVs, what plans do you have to celebrate 4th of July with your host-communities?

Until next time,

MGB

Foto Friday

So this is the second of the weekly themes that I am now incorporating into my blog, the other having been Martes de Música.

On Foto Fridays, I will post a photo I’ve taken here in Perú, along with a brief explanation of the story behind the photo, or its significance.

For the first installment, we have a photo of my host-brother during his 5th birthday this past February.

P1040166

So right off the bat, I’m sure you notice that his face is covered with icing, and in my opinion giving him the appearance of a cat or a raccoon. Now maybe you are thinking the explanation for his icing-face is that he is a little kid and just couldn’t wait to try some of that sweet, sweet cake. However, you would be mistaken with that line of thinking.

In Perú, there is the widespread tradition of the birthday boy or girl taking a bite out of their cake. However, what usually happens is they go in for the bite, and someone else either pushes the cake into their face, or their face into the cake. I’ve personally witnessed this happen at least 5 different times, and have no doubt that when my birthday rolls around next month, I will meet the same fate as my host-brother.

Again, this is another tradition that I think we should adopt back in the US. What could be better to liven up a birthday party than a face full of cake?

Let me know if you try it out at your next relative’s cumpleaños.

MGB

Christmas in Caraz

Ok, so Christmas was a long time ago, but better late than never, right?

Perú is a very religious country, with the predominant religion being Catholicism. An estimated 85% of Perú’s citizens self-identify as Catholic, and Catholicism is even directly mentioned in the Peruvian Constitution as having been an important component to the country’s development. Consequently, Christmas, or Navidad as it is known here, is quite a big deal, although not in the overtly commercialized sense that it is celebrated in the US.

Christmastime here in Caraz is characterized by lots of masses and religious celebrations, family time, and the ever so popular  Chocolatada. So, what is a chocolatada? Well, my best translation would be a “Hot Chocolate Party”, but in reality those words fail to summarize the occasions.

Essentially a chocolatada in an event where people from the community come to drink “hot chocolate”, eat Panetón (essentially fruit-cake, but not the bad brick-like monstrosity we have in the States), and socialize, all while enjoying some kind of strange Holiday-themed show which tends to involve people in Santa Claus costumes dancing and engaging kids in strange contests. If you are a student, mother, municipality worker, essentially anyone really, you will probably attend anywhere from 3-4 chocolatadas between November and Christmas Day. I think I ended up attending around 6 this past year, not regretting having attended a single one.

IMG_1406
The chocolatada entertainment

Apart from the Chocolatadas, many people receive Christmas baskets from their employers or from government programs such as Vaso de Leche. Since I work with the municipality, I got a HUGE basket full of random things like sugar and milk, that I ended up just donating to my host-family, because what am I going to do with a few kilos of sugar?

P1030649
My Christmas canasta (basket), complete with Panetón (the bread thing)

But, chocolatadas are only one aspect of Christmas festivities here in Perú. While decorating houses with trees and lights in the fashion we do in the States is not the norm, my Municipality did adorn our wonderful plaza with some lights and Christmas figurines which definitely reminded me of home. But personally, the best part of the Christmas season for me is the celebration with my host-family. Here in Áncash and most of Perú, Christmas is celebrated differently than in the US. While for most Christmas-celebrating US citizens, the primary day of activities is Dec. 25th, in Perú most of the celebrating is actually done on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th.

So how did I celebrate Christmas Eve? Well, I worked with my family in the chacra in the morning, helped to feed our animals, and then just kind of hung around the house. Around late afternoon, the festivities began to pick up with relatives coming over to the house to chat and drink, and my host-mom and aunt starting to prepare chicharrón de chancho from the meat of our Christmas pig. Meanwhile, I was upstairs talking to some relatives about American music, how we celebrate Christmas in the USA, and politely refusing beer offered to me every 15 minutes or so. Around 11:00pm however, we all gathered in the kitchen to eat our chicharrón de chanco with choclo (basically corn-on-the-cob).

Not surprisingly,  people started to get tired after the meal. While my host-mom/dad/brother decided to go to sleep, my host-sister and I stayed up for a while because the tradition here is to stay awake until midnight and then do the gift exchange. The gift exchange had to wait until Christmas morning (because of sleeping), but I’m glad I stayed awake because as soon as 12:00am arrived, the neighborhood came to life with the sounds of fireworks bursting and cracking in the night. It was so different from how I would celebrate in the US, but it was wonderful, and I definitely think Christmas Eve fireworks should become a thing back home.

Christmas Day itself was quite tame, with the gift exchange happening late in the morning. I got some candy and a motorcycle clock from my host-family, and gave them various tiny gifts.

P1030657
Unwrapping presents. He got a laser gun.

The best part, was receiving a phone call from my family in the US, and being able to talk not only with my mom, dad, and sisters, but also my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The rest of the day was quite calm, but as night approached, my host-dad revealed a surprise; chispitas! (sparklers). My host-siblings had never used them before, so I had to show them the ropes. While my brother was afraid at first, after about 5 minutes he was sold, and began pretending he was Harry Potter casting spells. He subsequently told me dad, “tienes que comprar estos todos los días”, or “you have to buy these every day”. While Christmas in Caraz was different, it was nice, and I enjoyed experiencing a shared holiday in a new manner.

P1030661
Pretending to be Harry Potter.

Oh, and a few weeks later, Christmas presents arrived from my friends and family, so that was a great late Christmas surprise.

P1030764
The haul from my family in the U.S.

While Christmas in Perú was definitely different from Christmas in the U.S., I had a great time and am glad to have been able to experience the holiday from a different perspective.

MGB

Thanksgiving in Perú

Peruvians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Seeing that Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I really shouldn’t have been too surprised at its absence and honestly, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I had forgot it was even approaching. Consequently, I didn’t really make a big deal about it here, or make much of an effort to share the holiday tradition with my host-family. I won’t be making the same mistake next year.

Most of Thanksgiving Day, I spent in my room watching movies, trying to cope with the sadness of not being home for the holiday. However, around dinnertime, my host-sister came and knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to come help make cachangas, a type of fried bread that tastes similar to a funnel cake. I decided to acabar with my moping, and spent the next hour making and eating these bread patties with my family. While it wasn’t a Thanksgiving feast, it was appreciated, and left me happy as I settled down for the evening.

Now, just because I missed out on a Thanksgiving feast with my host-family, don’t think that I didn’t get to enjoy my turkey, potatoes, casseroles, and pies. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we had a Volunteer Thanksgiving in our regional capital, Huaráz, where we were able to share our US tradition with some Peruvian friends. Oh my, and what a Thanksgiving it was. We had wayyyyy too much food (as is required), and in fact food of all varieties: turkey, chicken, bacon-green bean casserole, pies, potatoes, roasted vegetables, ice cream cake, stuffing, french fries, etc.

By the end of the evening, I was happily drifting into a food coma, still recalling all of the wonderful things that I had consumed. Dish of the night has to go to Nathan who made the Green Bean Casserole with bacon. I couldn’t stop eating it. I didn’t realize how much I had missed bacon until I took my first bite of that glorious, crispy, meat.

Overall, Volunteer Thanksgiving was a huge success, but I need to work on host-family Thanksgiving for 2016.

MGB