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.

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

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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

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Foto Friday: El Hombre Araña

My apologies for this being 1 day late, but I was on a little vacation with some friends visiting from the US and could not update my blog. A post on my vacation and consequent visit to one of the Wonders of the World will be forthcoming.

Anyways, this week’s Foto Friday features a very special individual, widely renowned for his humor, wit, intelligence, acrobatics, and arachnid qualities. If you didn’t guess it, this week’s foto Friday is about the Amazing Spiderman.

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Junior in his Spider-Man costume.

Ok, so maybe not the real Amazing Spiderman, but the closest thing to him that I’ve got is my host-brother, Junior. Junior is a 5 year old with a lot of energy, sass, and spunk, and a huge, I mean enormous, interest in superheroes. His favorite superhero, in case you didn’t guess, is Spiderman or as they say in Spanish, El Hombre Araña. A few weeks ago in March when my friend visited from the US, I had him bring a few things along for my host-family. Since my host-brother junior and my sister Sarah have a shared passion for the web-slinger, Sarah got a few Spiderman things for Junior, including his awesome Spiderman outfit he is wearing in the photo.

Now, I must be clear. My host-brother wore this outfit nearly exclusively for about 3 days straight after receiving it. He wore it to bed, he wore it to breakfast, and he even hid it in his backpack so he could put it on in secret when we worked in the market one Sunday. While he doesn’t wear the Spiderman outfit as much anymore, he still pulls it out on occasion and anytime I have to leave for vacation or training, he asks me to bring him back some Telarañas (spiderwebs). I still have yet to find some place that can sell me reliable spider-webbing, but I’m sure it is only a matter of time before my host-brother is back to busting up crime in the campo with his costume and spider-powers.

Ok, so many he won’t be stopping any crimes, but he will be having a good time at the very least. So why did I share this photo? Because an important part of the Peace Corps experience is the host-family living situation. Your host-family can become another family for the Volunteer, a family that supports the Volunteer through the ups and downs of service, a family that makes you tea when you are sick, a family that helps you navigate the complex cultural norms in your new life abroad. In my case, Junior brings me a lot of joy with his crazy antics, and helps keep me positive throughout this whole experience.

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.

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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

Peace Corps Pup

So about 2 weeks ago I decided to join the long line of Peace Corps Volunteers before me by getting a pet, in my case a puppy.

When I got back from my great Lake Hopping adventure at Laguna Parón with some other Peace Corps Volunteers in Áncash, I headed straight home to my host family.  I was pretty tired, so I ate some food in our kitchen before going up to our tienda to just relax a bit.  When I was up in the tienda, a few of the neighborhood kids came into the store to buy some food; eggs, tuna, oil, limes, tomatoes, gum, candy, etc.  One little girl was holding an adorable brown puppy, but despite my questions, she shyly avoided telling me its name or even where she had found it.  My host-mother eventually came up the tienda (store) and got the little girl to talk, and found out they had just found the puppy on the street, presumably abandoned because she was an hembra (female).

Then, surprisingly, the little girl thrust the puppy in my host-mom’s arms and said “Tómala, mi mamá no la quiere” (take her, my mom doesn’t want her around).  My host-mom turned to me, handed me the puppy, and said “Mira, acá está tu perra” (Look, here is your dog!).  I had been wanting a puppy for sometime, so I was thrilled by this unexpected turn of events.  The funniest part of this moment however was when my host-mom decided to regalar a la chica (give to the girl) a huge bag of mangos; I got a puppy in exchange for mangos.  Only in the Peace Corps would something so odd and funny happy haha.

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First night with a new family.

She was very shy for the first few days, skittering away at any noise or sudden movement, but over the next few evenings I would sit outside reading my Kindle with her on my lap to try and get her accustomed to my presence.  She was a shy little girl, but in time she began to come out of her shell.

When I first saw her, I was just drawing blanks about what I would call her.  She looks like a chocolate lab mix, so I wanted to avoid all of the chocolate lab cliché names like chocolate, hershey, mocha, etc., but I couldn’t think of something that seemed to fit.  Finally, after about 3 days of thought, I settled on a name for my new pup: Hazel Leia (had to get a nerd reference in somewhere with her).

Now almost 2 weeks later she is quite well adjusted and no longer runs at every noise and sudden movement.  For the first 2 weeks, her diet consisted of food scraps/bread, but she is now making the transition to real dog food, despite the questioning glances of my host-family.  I fed her the dog food for the first time last night and she immediately ate it without hesitation; she was extremely hungry.  She is a little underweight and seems to have some fleas, so as soon as she puts on some weight, I will be off to find a vet and some anti-flea shampoo in Caraz so I can get her happy and healthy.

I plan to document her growth over the next 18 months on this blog to the best of my ability.  But in the meantime, I plan to just get her healthy and properly trained.

Until next time,

MGB

 

The Clay Dinosaur

If you were expecting a blog post about a clay-mation adaptation of “The Good Dinosaur”, then you have come to the wrong place.  If you came without expectations, then you are right where you belong.

My host dad makes bricks, but he’s not alone. In my neighborhood, there are approximately 15 brick factories, or ladrillerías. Now you might be asking, “Why are there so many brick factories in one neighborhood? Wouldn’t they just be saturating the market or something? Why don’t they spread themselves out a bit more?”. All good questions, which are quickly resolved with two words: clay deposits. The soil in my neighborhood here in Perú has a ton of clay, and I mean a TON, and it just so happens that clay is a vital ingredient to making the adobe/mud bricks that are ever so abundant here in Áncash. Coincidentally, the vast clay deposits were likely the reason some Pre-Incan societies inhabited the area: they used the clay to make pottery and other ceramics.

While this clay is of huge economic importance to my site, it can also be used to satisfy more artistic needs. One day, my host-siblings and I collected some clay and set to work making some figurines. I decided to go with an prehistoric animal theme, sculpting a long-neck first.

Second up was a sharp-tooth, followed by car and late some dinosaur eggs, made by my host-sister.

I haven’t played with clay in quite a long time (probably since middle school), but all of the little tricks/tips I learned in art class slowly came back to me as I worked on my dinosaur friends. I’m hoping to improve my clay-sculpting abilities over the next 2 years, but we’ll see how that goes.

Until next time,

MGB

Batalla de Agua (Water Battle)

When I joined the Peace Corps, I certainly had no ideas or expectations for what my living situation would be like, although I will admit my first thoughts went to a small  hut in a forest where I would have to walk long distances to find water to bathe, cook, etc. While I think I could have lived in such a situation, I am very fortunate to be living with a wonderful host family in a nice house that has running water, electricity, etc.

Now, even though we have running water, being an Environmental Volunteer, I don’t really like putting water (or really anything) to waste. However, one day, at the prompting of my host siblings, I made an exception. On that day, the third of December of 2015, I engaged my host siblings in an epic water balloon/water battle.

My poor siblings had no idea what they were getting themselves into, because the threat of imminent drenching awakened my immense competitive spirit, leading me to “borrow” the first water balloons that my host sister had made prior to lunch. Post-lunch, the fun began with my host-sister convincing my host-brother to join forces with her to take me down, only to have the tides turned against her when I convinced my brother to join forces with me instead for the promise of sweet, sweet, American candy (thanks Mom!). Promptly, with the help of my host-brother, my host-sister was drenched, and myself only slightly damp. When the balloon supply ran out, we switched to plastic cups and buckets.  Honestly, plastic cups and buckets are much more effective than water balloons.

My host-sister had taken control of the outdoor sink and plastic cup supply and the situation looked dire, but with the threat of drenching her with the dirty pig-water (which I never would have done), I gained control over the precious sink resource, which turned the tide of the battle in my favor. Subsequently, the battle was fairly one sided with my host-sister emerging from the encounter as wet as a melting snowman, and myself emerging only as wet as a Shamwow. When the battle was good and won, and I had claimed my victory for all to see, my host siblings decided they weren’t wet enough and willingly drenched themselves in water while I documented the entire occasion, shutter-shot style.

While I did feel bad about using so much water for no other purpose than fun, I think it was worth it.

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