Sunday, September 16, 2018

SLOVAKIA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Slovakia: the country that made one-half of Czechoslovakia, and the one that many people get confused with Slovenia (which is the next country on my list). Home to castles and folk stories, I always think of Slovakia as one of those lesser traveled European secrets, offering the same spectacular mountain views as Switzerland, exceptional food and drink as Germany, and historic architecture as Italy or England -- but for a fraction of the cost. 


The name Slovakia is stemmed from the Czech word Slováky and was first mentioned during the 15th century. It went by a few different names, but it all generally referred to it being the land of the Slovaks, even though for much of its early existence, it was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. But it was quite diverse at that time, and perhaps they were just giving some homage to the people there.


Slovakia is located in Central Europe. It’s surrounded by Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east, Hungary to the south, and Austria and Czechia (formerly Czech Republic) to the west. The Carpathian Mountains run across the northern part of the country and are most noted for the high Tatra mountain range as well as the Fatra mountain range. The Tatras are one of the most visited areas in Slovakia and form the border between it and Poland. Because of this mountainous region, Slovakia is also dotted with tons of caves, rivers, and lakes. Plenty of places to dump a body. (Just kidding, of course.) It also has four distinct seasons, and the temperature extremes really depend on your relation to the mountains.


The earliest evidence for people living in this area dates back to 270,000 BC. During the Bronze Age, the people figured out how to utilize copper as a way to create tools and weapons and jewelry, making them very prosperous at that time. Several different groups came to chill for a while: the Celts, then the Romans, the Huns, the Avars, and finally Slavic tribes. A few of these Slavic tribes got together and formed the Great Moravian Empire. During this time, Christianity became the thing, and the Byzantine Empire sent Saints Cyril and Methodius to help translate religious text into the Slavic language for them, thus coming up with Old Church Slavonic. Of course, like a bunch of siblings, the fighting didn’t stop. This time it was the Magyar and Bulgarian tribes. And by the 10th century, they were included as part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and they would stay “Hungarian” until the end of WWI. During this period, the Ottoman Empire expanded into the area, and Bratislava became the capital of Hungary for a while. The Reformation took place, and many Slovaks became Lutherans. Things changed in 1918, and they were now part of the newly created Czechoslovakia that formed after break-up of Austria-Hungary. Nazi Germany annexed off part of Slovakia, which became the Slovak Republic, the first Slovak state in history. Germany used it as a place to hold death camps and forced labor camps for nearly 75,000 Jews. The Soviets and Romanians liberated it in 1945, and many changes took place in the years after WWII. In 1948, Czechoslovakia came under the influence of communism, which lasted until 1993 when the Velvet Revolution dissolved it. Slovakia joined the European Union in 2004.

 
 Located on the west side of the country on both the River Danube (yes, like “The Blue Danube” by Johann Stauss II) and River Morava, it’s the only national capital to border near two other countries: Austria and Hungary in this case. While it was known by many different names throughout its history, its name as we know it is stemmed from the misreading of Braslav as Bratislav when Pavel Jozef Safáik, poet and literary historian, was taking a look at medieval sources. Today, the city is a mixture of old and new: modern architecture with ancient towers in between. There are several castles still standing (and some not so much) and other popular tourist spots. It’s also the center for everything from government offices and commerce to transportation to education, the arts, and sports.


With a focus on car manufacturing and electrical engineering, Slovakia has a high-income economy. Its economy is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe and was ranked as one of the richest countries in the world in 2017 (39th out of 187 countries ranked). Unemployment is now at the lowest it’s ever been. For those who love architecture and outdoor sports like skiing and hiking, tourism is dependent on you; the country sees over 5 million visitors every year, mostly from nearby countries. Slovakia also has a prolific scientific community, cultivating scientists who have been in on the ground floor of many scientific endeavors. 


The majority of Slovakians are Christian. About three-quarters of the population follow the Catholic Church (by far, the largest denomination), Slovak Greek Catholic Church, a variety of Protestant denominations, Orthodox Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Almost a quarter of the people doesn’t follow any particular religion, are not religious at all, or follows other religions (mainly Islam, even though it remains to be the only EU member that doesn’t have a single mosque in its country).


The official language of Slovakia is Slovak, part of the Slavic language family. In the southern regions, Hungarian is also widely spoken, and Rusyn in parts of the northeast. Understandably, the most common foreign language is Czech. One of the things I didn’t know was that even though Czech and Slovak are closely related (and in some dialects, intelligible), Czech Sign Language and Slovak Sign Language are not. 
 

In looking around the Internet, I came across something that said that members of the Slovak and Slovenian embassies meet once a month to exchange wrongly sent mail from people who got the two countries mixed up. I was shocked. However, upon further research, I found that’s not entirely true. They do meet monthly, but not to exchange mail. At least, not really (I bet they kept all the good coupons, though). Google, people. If a story sounds sensational or crazy, Google it. Gooooooooogle it.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, September 9, 2018

SINGAPORE: THE FOOD



I had been looking forward to going to the Scottish festival because over the past couple of years, I had really gotten more interested in my own family histories. I had also been trying to learn German to cover the other side of my family (mostly because German seemed easier than Gaelic, which is a near-impossible language to learn). But yesterday was one of those days where the rain lasted nearly the entire day and into the night. So, I stayed home and drank coffee and read. (I mean, I’m not mad.) 

My not-so-marbled cake. Mer ner.
But to make up for some foiled plans, I’m made food from Singapore. The first thing I’m made was Singaporean Marble Cake. At first glance, it doesn’t seem Singaporean at all. In fact, marble cakes are German in origin, I believe. But they are popular throughout Malaysia and Singapore. I read a couple posts from Singaporean women who talked about often buying marble cake from local bakeries. And I’ve never made a marble cake, so I was intrigued. In a bowl, I mixed together my butter and sugar. When it was all mashed together, I added in 4 eggs one at a time and mixed it well. Then I folded in the flour, milk, and vanilla extra and stirred until it was smooth. I poured half of this batter into a separate bowl, adding in some cocoa powder and stirring it together. Now comes the fun part. And by fun, I mean, not as easy as I thought. I greased a cake pan and laid parchment paper in the bottom. I though I was going to alternate a chocolate layer with a vanilla layer, but when I poured my batter, I realized my cake pan was too big. So, it ended up being only one layer of chocolate and one layer of vanilla. And even though I tried to marble it, you can’t tell AT ALL. In a 350ºF oven, I put my cake in to bake for 45 minutes, and it was just too long. I took it out and let it sit, and it just got hard on top and was kind of dense in the middle. But it might be really good to have with coffee or tea. 

You can smell this from a half-mile away. Mmm, oysters.

The next dish I made was Or Luak, or oyster omelette. First, I beat my eggs with soy sauce and set aside. Then I mixed in 3 Tbsp of rice flour and a pinch of salt in 125 mL of water to make a watery batter of sorts. In a hot skillet, I heated a little oil and poured in my batter and let it set up for a bit. Then I poured my eggs over that, and when it was almost set, I mixed it altogether and pushed everything to the side to make a well in the center. I added in some more oil and stirred the minced garlic in and added in some chili paste and oysters, seasoning with some salt and pepper. I stirred to make sure it was all mixed and cooked together. I served this warm, garnished with cilantro and some extra chili sauce. I liked this dish, but then again, I like oysters. I think the combination of the eggs and the flour mixture gave it a dense, almost sticky texture. But it was still good. 

I wasn't as much as a fan of this, but my husband liked it.
The next dish I made was Sayur Masak Lemak, or curry vegetables. I left out the shrimp paste because I couldn’t find it where I was shopping, so I hope it doesn’t make a huge difference. Instead, I mixed a little bit of salmon roe furikake with some water and mashed it together, hoping it would do the trick. I mixed that with some diced onion, and chili paste in a bowl and pounded with a mortar until it was like a paste. I chose cooked salad shrimp in lieu of prawns and let them thaw and sprinkled them with sugar, setting them aside. In a small saucepan, I heated some oil and sautéed the chili paste I just made and then added in my shrimp and shredded cabbage (I used a pre-made cole slaw mix, so it had some bits of carrot in it too). I let it cook down until the cabbage was almost done. Then I poured in 180mL of water along with 120mL of coconut milk and a touch of salt, letting it boil for several minutes before removing it from the heat. I served this with some white rice. I thought this was moderately bland in flavor, and the shrimp got tough when I heated everything up. But it wasn’t bad. I always expect anything labeled as “curry” to be spicy, but it’s not really.

I think I'm the only one who liked this.
Finally, I made Steamed Tofu. I had eaten some similar dishes when I was in Japan. In a pot, I mixed together some minced chicken with some mushrooms, onion, minced garlic, ginger, corn flour, soy sauce, sesame oil, a little wine, and a little bit of pepper. I let this mixture cook for about a 10 minutes because I was using canned chicken, stirring occasionally. While that was cooking, I cut my tofu into nine squares. In each square, I used a teaspoon and scooped out a hole in the middle of it. Then I took a little of the chicken mixture and filled it in the hole, topping it with a couple of dried cranberries. I actually had forgotten to steam it. But I ended up just garnishing them with parsley and drizzling them with a sauce made of a little water, soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, and a dash of wine. I liked this: the combination of the cranberries with the chicken and the parsley was fantastic. The kids had a hard time with the texture, and I remember my first time eating tofu. It was certainly an experience.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good meal, but with some minor changes. 
I enjoyed this meal, but then again, I like Asian food. I realized this meal was heavy on the seafood, but that’s ok. I also found out that canned oysters aren’t as expensive as I thought they were going to be. I loved fried oysters, but whenever I order them from a restaurant, I get like five of them. Granted, they are usually larger than what was in the can, but I can get two or three cans of smaller ones, and that would make for a good meal. I’m so excited about this roundabout way of making my favorite foods. And I was finally able to use that can of coconut milk that had been in my cabinet for months.

Up next: Slovakia

Saturday, September 8, 2018

SINGAPORE: MUSIC AND DANCE



Pop music may seem to dominate Singaporean music these days, but every single one of these musicians are the product of its diverse musical history. 

 
One of the dominant musical cultures in Singaporean music is the numerous genres and styles. Music of the Hakka people and Chinese opera (especially Hanju opera and Teochew opera) are especially popular, combining music and stories with performance. Some of these may be on a smaller scale performed at festivals, while others may be a large-scale event. There are also quite a few amateur or community-based Chinese orchestra organizations throughout Singapore.

 
Malay music, like Dondang Sayang (a love ballad performed by a chamber group of sorts) and Kroncong (a style using a ukulele-like instrument and others in an ensemble along with a singer), is also a part of Singaporean music. Other Malay vocal forms like Malay opera (called Bangsawan), ghazal, and dikir barat are also popular in the Malay communities. Even Hindustani, Karnatica, and Bhangra style music from India are also heard in many areas.

Peraranakan music is a blend of styles stemming from a mix of Chinese and Malay traditions, introduced by the Chinese who intermarried with the local Malay people. This mix of Chinese and Malay traditions and culture is often mixed with the English language. One of the most striking examples is a song called "Bunga Sayang" that was popular in 1994 and became an anthem of sorts for the National Day Parade and the 117th International Olympic Committee session for host city selection.


If you’re a fan of Western classical music, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to listen to classical music in Singapore. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra performs at the famous Esplanade Concert Hall, but it also gives free performances in local parks. Several other orchestras and opera companies perform around Singapore, and music education is encouraged in Singapore. Several high-profile and talented musicians have performed with these groups.


Dance in Singapore incorporates the dances of many of its neighbors as well as traditional dances of its ethnic communities. The Lion Dance, a Chinese dance, is performed more often around New Years festivals. The Malay national dance is the Zapin, introduced in 1937. The Bharatnatyam and other south Indian dances are taught in the Tamil communities. 


I came across a number of modern musicians. Probably one of the most recognized musicians from Singapore is Stefanie Sun. Singing in Chinese, her music is pop but utilizes quite a bit of classical elements in her music. At least from the album I was listening to. I liked her style and will probably listen more this week.


Another pop singer I liked was JJ Lin. Also singing in Chinese, his music is more in line with pop with some minor influences from EDM. I enjoyed the few songs that I sampled from him. I can tell there is quite a bit of expressionism in his music. Like, it’s not all dance-pop, but there are some darker and quieter songs included on the album.

Kit Chan stood out, not for sounding close to what the Japanese sometimes call Hello Kitty (kittii-chan), but because the first song on the album I was listening to is piano jazz. I know the Japanese have a thing for jazz, but apparently it’s popular in Singapore, too. The rest of the album wasn’t jazz, but it did use the piano quite a bit.

There were several musicians whose music is a mix of a variety of rock/indie rock or pop styles with some traditional influences. And almost every single one uses the piano. Some of them sang in Chinese (Tanya Chua, Mavis Hee) but many sang in English (Corrinne May, Sophie Koh, The Sam Willows, Gentle Bones, The Steve McQueens, Pleasantry, HubbaBubbas, Sam Rui, Leon Markcus, Nathan Hartono).

There’s actually a hardcore punk scene in Singapore that got started during the 1980s. I love punk, and I was not disappointed in listening to the band Radigals. It sounds like they might be an all-female group, which totally makes me happy. I may have to jam out to them later on. It kind of reminds me of that anime Aggretsuko.  They need to make a longer album because I definitely need more of this in my life.

Up next: the food

Thursday, September 6, 2018

SINGAPORE: ART AND LITERATURE



Singapore's history has been one long story of sharing this tiny space with people from India to Malaysia to China to Britain and others. Each of these groups' art and culture converged on Singapore and became something uniquely Singaporean. Art in Singapore incorporates many different Asian cultures along with a variety of European influences as well.


Although their art has been influenced by many different cultures, there is one culture that dominates their art. Chinese immigrants who moved to Singapore introduced calligraphy, sculptures, and the art of porcelain, many of which are based on the Nanyang art styles. This form was highly dependent on expressionism but also used folklore and indigenous beliefs as part of their art. 


example of Nanyang style
The turbulent times after WWII was a major blow to all of the cultural arts. For the most part, it was nonexistent as Singaporeans rebuilt their country. As they moved into independence, multiculturalism was a prominent theme. Soon, the acceptance of the commercialism of public and private art crescendoed into an explosion of Singaporean artists creating art on a world stage.

by Ng Woon Lam
Today, Singaporean art takes in all modern art movements of its many ethnic groups found in this small country. It has become a hub of Asian and European art. Some artists include Chua Ek Kay (thought of as the "bridge between Asian and Western art," uses many Chinese-style techniques), Cheong Soo Pieng (prominent artist in the Nanyang style, helped drive modern art), Georgette Chen (known for Post-impressionism), Ng Eng Teng (known as the Grandfather of Singapore Sculpture), Lim Tze Peng (artist and teacher, awarded Cultural Medallion in 2003), Ho Ho Ying (known for avant-garde Chinese calligraphy and Abstract Expressionism), and Ng Woon Lam (member of National Watercolor Society and American Watercolor Society). 

by Ho Ho Ying
Literature in Singapore is generally written in one their four languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil, or Malay. There is a strong tradition for the written word in Singapore, but it doesn't necessarily mean traditional novels, poetry, and written text. It also includes spoken word and performance art.


Many of the Chinese immigrants to Singapore brought their poetry with them, and it certainly has been a medium for choice for many of the Chinese living there. Soon, writers began to publish modernist poetry in English, the first of which (Teo Poh Leng's "F.M.S.R") was possibly published in London in 1937 under the pseudonym Francis P. Ng.

After Singapore gained its independence, there was a renewed push in literature. Several writers emerged and led the way, embracing expressionist styles and not only publishing their works in Singapore but the world. Writers began to produce poems, novels, and plays about the life and culture of Singapore as well as address intimate or taboo topics like sexuality, social issues, and gay rights.
 

Genres like children's literature, science fiction, graphic novels, and drama are growing in popularity for writers. Several writers have won numerous awards for their work in these genres, even making it on the international stage.  A few notable authors include Pao Kun Kuo (playwright, founded three arts and drama centers), Haresh Sharma (playwright, has written more than 100 plays), Catherine Lim (fiction writer, touching on themes about Chinese culture in Singapore society), Michael Chiang (often considered one of the more successful playwrights), Goh Sin Tub (wrote numerous novels and short stories in Malay), Goh Poh Seng (novelist, playwright, poet, also has a medical degree), Ng Yi-Sheng (poet and writer, won awards for his work on LGBTQ in Singapore), among many others.

Up next: music and dance

Monday, September 3, 2018

SINGAPORE: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


When I was a freshman in high school, a high-profile case out of Singapore made international news. An American teenager going to school there, only a few years older than I was at the time, was caught as part of a group of rowdy kids vandalizing cars, tearing down street signs, and doing other stupid things. What was controversial was the differences in punishment between the US and Singapore. Basically, Singapore doesn't mess around when it comes to this kind of behavior: he was assigned to 4 months prison time, a fine of more than US$2000--and six strokes from a bamboo cane. Many Americans thought the caning was too excessive for a teenager. They did compromise and reduce it to four strokes. Although many Americans were upset with the way it rolled out, there were also many Americans who made the point that you are subject to the laws and ordinances of wherever you visit. 

The name Singapore comes from the Malay word Singapura, which is based on the Sanskrit words simha ("lion") and pura ("town"). For this reason, they're often known as Lion City, even though there were never really any lions in this area. The main central island is known as Pulau Ujong and means "island at the end" because of its location on the end of the Malay Peninsula.



Besides Pulau Ujong, Singapore consists of 62 other islands located in the Singapore Strait at the end of Malaysia and across from the Riau Islands of Indonesia. The Johor Strait separates Singapore from Malaysia and is so narrow, it pretty much looks like a river. Because of urbanization on this limited landmass, Singapore has lost nearly 95% of the forests that were once there. However, in the late 1960s, the government started promoting more green space and gardens, thus giving itself the nickname Garden City. The islands are in a tropical climate, so there are no distinct seasons outside of rainy and dry.



In ancient times, it has been referred to by many names and included as part of local poetry. Once referred to as Temesek, it was considered part of the Indian Kingdoms. Portuguese sailors arrived in the early 1600s and burned down the settlement known as Fort Canning, and the island was generally left alone for the next couple of centuries. Sir Stamford Raffles, a British statesman known for establishing British settlements in the East Indies, arrived in Singapore in 1819 and thought it would be a prime location for a new port for the British East India Company. The sultanate was unstable at the time, and through some shady finagling, he was able to secure the exiled older brother back into Singapore as long as they let him build the port. They did, and Singapore got its start. In 40 years, the population grew from around 1000 to nearly 80,000 as many people from all over arrived to work on the plantations (mainly pepper and gambier at that time). By the 1890s, rubber had become a cash crop, and this area became a global hub for it. After WWI, the British began building a large naval base there; it was finally completed just at the onset of WWII. With the Japanese invasion of British Malaya, the base proved to be moderately useful when the Battle of Singapore took place in 1942. However, it was a huge loss to the British, with about 85,000 captured and 5000 killed (mostly Australians, though). After the war, there were riots and revenge killings and general pandemonium. Food shortages, damaged infrastructure, unemployment, and disease didn't help either. The failure of the British to help rebuild didn't go unnoticed in the eyes of Singaporeans, and thus began talks of anti-colonialism and independence. Chinese communists began to fight against the government during the 1950s, and in 1959 they voted to be a commonwealth with Lee Kuan Yew as their first Prime Minister. At that time Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaysia (made of Malaya, Singapore, Brunei, North Borneo [British territory], and Sarawak [British territory]). However, Singapore disagreed with Malaysia on some key issues, and basically they were voted out. They became the Republic of Singapore in 1965 with that exit, and their first few years started off on a somewhat rocky start. However, it didn't take long for them to establish their place in the world. Their higher-tech economic policies helped push them from a third-world country into a world leader. The Port of Singapore is now one of the busiest ports in the world. Although they weathered through some natural disasters, public health and financial crises, they recently made the news a few months ago as offering a neutral ground for Trump and Kim Jong-un to hold the first meeting between the US and North Korea.


Supertrees a the Garden by the Bay

Singapore is a city-state (like Monaco and the Vatican), so it's capital is... Singapore. However it's divided into planning areas: 55 areas across five separate regions. Of these planning areas, Bedok is the largest with nearly 290,000 people. Singapore has become a world center for finance, education, trade, tourism, and often is ranked high on a number of global lists.


Singapore's economy is not only ranked as one of the highest in Asia, but in the world. It's often ranked as one of the freest and one of the easiest to do business with, and it has shown immense growth over the past several decades. However, it's also ranked as one of the most expensive cities to live in (they're also known for having the largest percentage of millionaires). It's viewed as a tax haven with low unemployment and is known for its zero tolerance when it comes to corruption. And it's for these reasons that nearly 7000 multinational companies have chose to create branch locations in Singapore. Because of and leading to this multi-ethnic environment, around 44% of the workforce consist of foreign or immigrant workers. There's no minimum wage in Singapore, believing it adds to the competitiveness of business, but what it really adds to is a larger gap in income inequality. 


Buddhism is the main religion of Singapore, with nearly a third of its population practicing it. Because of its location and history, there are quite a few followers of Christianity as well, followed by Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism. Surprisingly, there are a significant number of people who do not adhere to any particular religion at all. A Pew Research Center study concluded that Singapore is one of the most religiously diverse, yet conservative, countries in the world. 



There are four languages in Singapore that have been granted official status: English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Of these languages, English is the most common language in terms of government, business, and education. Documents may be written in the other languages, but it also has to be translated into English as well. So, it seems like while they're all official, English (which is based on British English) is a little more official, although Malay has been seen as a national language in the past. And most Singaporeans are bilingual between English and one of the other languages. 


I'm not a fast walker. Well, ok, I'm generally faster than kids under 10. But that's mostly because I'm only 5-feet tall. Anyway, I came across this article about a British study of which countries produce the world's fastest walkers. It studied adults who were not on their phones or carrying excessive bags and timed how long it took them to walk 18 meters (about 59 feet). Singaporeans came out on top, averaging the trek in about 10.55 seconds. That just seems insane to me. I would die. I'm only hoping that means they're on their way to eating some fantastic Singaporean food somewhere. Now, I MIGHT walk that fast if there’s food or drink at the end.

Up next: art and literature

Friday, August 31, 2018

SIERRA LEONE: THE FOOD


It’s been a busy month getting the kids off to a new school year. My daughter started middle school this year, which has a 7am drop-off time. So, she and I have been struggling with this early wake-up time. I feel like I’ve been a zombie for the past few weeks. But both kids are doing well and adjusting – both have been picked as Top Five Students of the Week for each of their grades. So, I suppose they’re getting off to a good start. 

This dish was fantastic! Definitely had a fan club.

And it’s taken me a while to cook the food from Sierra Leone (mostly because we’re trying to fix up our house to move into, so all of our extra money has been pouring into floors and cabinets lately). But here we are finally. I divided this cooking between two days. The first dish I made was West African Plasas, or Chicken in Peanut, Spinach, and Tomato Sauce. I got out my large pot and heated up some oil in it. I added in my chicken thighs (with the bones and skins on them) to brown them on all sides. When they were browned, I took them out and put them on a plate off to the side. In the same pot, I added a touch more oil before caramelizing my onions and then adding in 2 cans of tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, a thawed and drained package of frozen spinach, 1/3 c of peanut butter, a vegetable bouillon cube, a little salt and pepper, and a cup of chicken broth. Once it comes to a simmer again, I added my chicken back into the pot and pushed it down into the sauce, covering it some. I covered my pot and turned my heat down low, letting it simmer for another 20-30 minutes. I served this on top of rice. I really liked this, even though I couldn’t really taste any of the peanut butter at all. And I got quite a few compliments from people at work when I took it as leftovers. 

I normally love banana bread, but this needed a little something more.
The bread I made was Rice Bread (slightly different than the one I made for Liberia). I started by mashing six kinda ripe bananas in a bowl until it was like a lumpy pudding. Then I slowly added in 1 ½ c of rice flour (I used white rice flour) into the bananas. After stirring to avoid lumps, I slowly poured in almost a cup of sugar, stirring it well again (the riper the banana, the more sugar it makes naturally; since mine weren’t as ripe, I added more sugar). Finally, I added in 2 tsp grated nutmeg, ¼ tsp of cinnamon, and 3 oz (6 Tbsp) of vegetable oil and stirred again. Once I gave it another couple of good stirs to make sure everything was smooth and consistent, I poured it into one of my baking pans (I oiled it beforehand). I couldn’t find my loaf pan, so I had to use a different one. No worries. Setting my oven to 350ºF, I baked this for about 60 minutes. It didn’t seem quite done, so I put it back in for a little longer. I really liked the flavor of the nutmeg with it, but the slightly gooey texture kept making me think it wasn’t done.  

Although everyone thought the mild sausage too spicy, I liked this dish.
The final dish I made was Egusi Soup. I started by browning some mild sausage (the recipe says “meat” – no clue as to what kind; I imagine it’s whatever’s on hand). In a separate bowl, I mixed together a half can of diced green chilies (if you want heat, use some hotter peppers), a half can of diced tomatoes, and about a quarter of a diced onion. Then I took mashed them all together with my pestle and added it to the sausage, letting it simmer for 10 minutes or so. I didn’t have time to look for egusi at the international store, but I did have a small bag of walnuts that I ground up. Not a perfect substitute, but it added a nice flavor. Then I added in my ground “egusi,” a condensed stock cube (in lieu of a Maggi cube – those things are full of MSG), and a tin of smoked salmon. After a few minutes, I added in some spinach leaves and a bit of salt and pepper, simmering for another 5-10 minutes. I could’ve actually left out the salt completely. I served this with some steamed white rice. I was skeptical about the salmon-sausage-walnut combo, but you know what? It was quite tasty! Outside of being a little bit oily, I thought it was fantastic. The rest of my family thought it was too peppery. (Wimps.)

Pictures or it didn't happen. He actually ate part of my food... and liked it.
It took me a while to complete this one, but it got done. I'm not used to having to cook during the week. And even though sometimes I'm grateful for a break, it actually made me a little stir crazy to NOT be cooking something exotic in the kitchen for a while. (My husband probably enjoyed that part. Just kidding -- if you ask him, he'll deny it, but then give you "that look.") All in all, I think everyone enjoyed this meal, even if it was spread out over a couple of days. And oddly enough, I kept running into articles, books, organizations, and people with ties to Sierra Leone.

Up next: Singapore

Saturday, August 11, 2018

SIERRA LEONE: MUSIC AND DANCE


The music of Sierra Leone shares many similarities with other West African countries. It is made of their own native traditions mixed with elements of French, British, Creole, and Caribbean music. A variety of percussion instruments (including different kinds of drums and rattles), acoustic guitars and a number of other modern instruments are used in their music today. Not to mention many styles of vocal singing. 



During the 1950s and 1960s, Ebenezer Calendar & His Maringar Band borrowed the parts of calypso and other Caribbean musical styles to create maringa, or what is also known as palm wine music in nearby Liberia. It grew out of the music people made when they sat around drinking palm wine and a few people would grab their guitars. It gave way to influencing the soukous and highlife styles.


Gumbe is a style that was introduced by the Jamaican maroons when they arrived. The music is centered around the gembe, a large drum with legs. While the drum has some spiritual uses, it has a stronger tradition of being used as a method of communication, stemmed in a history of sending messages to fight the British.


Other pan-African styles are also heard in Sierra Leone. Out of combining several different genres including funk, soul, rumba, the style known as Afropop was born. And many musicians created their own styles and variations off of that. Many modern genres likes pop, dancehall, reggae, rap, R&B, jazz, and a mainly British style called grime (an electronic form that mixes in rap, reggae, and related styles.)


There are three main dance styles are have been popularized in the 20th century: Asiko (or Ashiko), Maringa, and Milo jazz. Gumbe music has a lot to do with their dances and is played as accompaniment to it. Each ethnic group has their own dances. One of the more popular dances in Sierra Leone is the Devil Dance. The people here don’t view devils as the evil entity that most Westerners do. It’s more of a visible representation of secret societies and their leaders. Graham Green wrote about devils and the devil dance as he made his way across Sierra Leone in his book Journey Without Maps.


I only listened to a few musicians/bands from Sierra Leone. The first one I listened to was African Connection. They had a great funk sound to them – I was really digging it. It was complete with the bass and a horn line, but I think I definitely heard some African-influenced percussion rhythms at times. I super liked these guys.


Next on my list was Seydu. I listened to the album Sadaka, and I thought it was very relaxing, very chill. He utilizes the acoustic guitar sound quite a bit along with using African rhythms to accentuate the movement of his music.


The music of Abdul Tee-Jay reminds me of what I think of when I think of African music. I’m not sure exactly what it is: the guitars they use, the rhythms and melody lines, the horn lines that answer each other, the lyrics that I don’t quite understand. But there’s something happy about it, though.


In a way, the music of Bosca Banks reminds me a little of Abdul Tee-Jay, but with more modern, synthesized sounds to it. Not to mention that Bosca Banks sings mostly in English, compared to most of the other musicians I listened to sing in other languages.

Up next: the food