Sunday, April 22, 2018

SAMOA: THE FOOD



I’m not even sure if spring will get here. Here it is, the middle of April, and we’re still getting threats for snow. But I did finally get my taxes filed (lame… I have to owe this year) and the Karabars/KaratGold Coins launched a few days ago. So that’s exciting!
Oh, this was absolutely wonderful!
 What’s also exciting is that I’m making Samoan food. I actually divided this between two days. The first recipe I made was Pani Popo, or Samoan Coconut Rolls. I mixed all of the roll ingredients into a bowl: 3 ½ c of all-purpose flour, ¼ c sugar, ¼ c dry milk, 1 pkg of yeast, 2 eggs, 4 Tbsp of softened butter, 1 ¼ tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used coconut extract instead), and ¾ c lukewarm water. I mixed everything until it came together as a dough. Then I dumped it on my floured pastry mat and kneaded it for several minutes. After I formed my dough into a ball, I put it in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rest for an hour covered lightly with plastic wrap. Mine didn’t really rise all that much, but I kneaded it a little more before dividing it into 12 pieces. I rolled these into balls and placed them in a greased 9”x13” cake pan. I recovered it in plastic wrap and let it rest for another 45 minutes. Before this time was up, I made the coconut sauce. In a sauce pan, I mixed in 1 ¼ c of coconut milk, ¼ tsp of coconut extract, ½ c sugar, 2 tsp of cornstarch, and a pinch of salt. I heated this up, stirring constantly until it thickened up (it took about 6-8 minutes or so). Before putting this in a 350ºF, I poured the sauce over the rolls. I took it an extra step and sprinkled a few coconut flakes on top of each roll. The recipe said to bake it for 18-25 minutes until it was golden brown, but it took mine about 28 minutes. However, once they cooled slightly, I thought these were fantastic! The sauce on top was sweet, but the dough was not as sweet as I thought it might be. In fact, it might have even been a little dry at times. It was perfect with some warmed up hazelnut coffee.

I need much more of this in my life.
The main dish I made today was Samoan-style chicken and coconut rice. I used bone-in chicken thighs and seasoned them with a little salt, pepper, and paprika. In a large skillet, I browned my chicken in a little oil and then removed them and placed them on a plate. In the leftover oil, I sautéed some onions and garlic before adding my chicken back into the skillet. Then I poured in some soy sauce and vinegar (I used red wine vinegar instead of the apple cider vinegar), and enough water to mostly cover the chicken. After about 20 minutes, I took the chicken out again; this time I added in some ground ginger and 4 Tbsp of cornstarch, constantly stirring for several minutes until it started to thicken up. Then I returned my chicken back into the skillet, letting it simmer for a few minutes more. In the meantime, I made my coconut rice: I made steamed rice like I normally do (except with a pinch of salt) but then when it was cooked, I poured the coconut milk on top and let it soak in. To serve this, I poured out the coconut rice and placed the chicken on top, garnishing it with some chopped scallions. I really enjoyed this. I think everyone on the family liked it, except my son was mad that chickens have bones. The sauce was excellent, although I wished I had twice as much chicken because we didn’t have any leftovers, and there was soooo much sauce leftover.

This. Right. Here. Is. The. Best. Soup. Ever.
The only dish I made the second day was a Samoan noodle soup called Saimin. I started with making the broth: 8 c of water and some salt. When it came to a boil, I added in 8 oz of noodles (I used 2 bundles of Japanese udon). Once my noodles were cooked to al dente, I added in about 4 c of chicken broth (1 box?) along with all of my toppings and seasonings: 2 Tbsp of soy sauce, about 1 tsp pepper, about 1 tsp ground ginger, shredded carrots, chopped bok choy, sliced mixed mushrooms, diced scallions, egg (stirred in like egg drop soup), and small cooked shrimp. You can actually add whatever you want really. I let everything simmer for about 20-30 minutes to really mesh all the flavors. This was amazing and everyone loved it. And I mean everyone! I will definitely do this again. In fact, we decided we’d rather have this instead of chicken noodle soup.

What's not to love?
So, as I was doing this, I did think about the movie Moana. I found a BuzzFeed article that I read years ago where the author interviewed other Polynesian friends and asked about their opinions of the movie. Overall, most were pleased that Polynesian culture was represented, even though they wanted to make sure people knew it was more or less a mash-up of a variety of cultures in the film. But it was well-researched and represented the cultures well. Many of them were just excited that there was a now dolls they could buy their kids who looked like them. And I think that’s all anyone wants: to be seen and acknowledged for who they are.

Up next: San Marino

Friday, April 20, 2018

SAMOA: MUSIC AND DANCE



While much of their traditional music is similar to other South Pacific musical styles, Samoan music has some key differences. One of the most noticeable parts of their music is the use of percussion instruments. There are several types of drums that are commonly used in Samoan music. Slit drums have been used in the islands for over a thousand years in a number of situations. These drums are often used as a means to signal over the water, for announcing village meetings, and as an accompaniment for songs, chants, and dances.

 

One of the largest drums is called the logo. It’s played by hitting it from the side with a beater and was often used for important events and announcements. The lali drum is a set of two drums and is always played by two drummers. One drummer plays the larger one while the other drummer plays the smaller one. It’s thought that the lali drums were introduced from Fiji. Other drums include the talipalau drum, which is like a medium-sized lali drum. The pate and nafa drums are types of smaller drums.




A few other instruments you’ll hear in Samoan music include singing, jaw harps, nose-blown flutes (I bet the inside of this instrument looks like a toddler’s sleeve), the panpipe, conch shells, and the fala (a rolled up mat that’s beaten with sticks).




After the British missionaries arrived, they introduced Western music to the Samoans. And they also brought along Western instruments with them as well, namely the guitar; the ukulele was introduced later on. Brass bands were also brought in toward the end of the 1800s. As US Marines moved into the area and radio had expanded their listening capabilities, American popular music infiltrated itself into Samoan music. There was a merge of cultures that included both instruments and musical styles.




Today, dance in Samoa is kind of a hybrid of modern dances (like hip-hop) and various traditional dances. Many of the traditional dances actually tell a story. A couple of these dances include the sasa (characterizing everyday tasks), the fa’ataupati (a slap dance), the manu siva tau (a war dance), and the taualunga (often considered the grand finale). The dancers will sometimes wear different accessories to accentuate the story.




I know there are probably tons of Samoan musicians out there, but this past week was so busy that I only had time to sample three. The first one I listened to was Pacific Soul. I can tell that they incorporate more of a traditional sound into their music; yet at the same time, they also have a soft rock sound and a reggae sound to them at times. One thing I noticed is that the vocals makes use of rich harmonies (especially in the background vocals). It seems that some songs are sung in Samoan and some are in English.




The Five Stars is another band that I listened to. These guys definitely have an island feel, and to be honest, it seems a little reminiscent of some Caribbean styles. I like it. I’m not a guitarist, so I don’t know the names of guitars (please help me out on this with more specific terms), but they use a higher-pitched pitched guitar that I always link with Afro-Caribbean and certain African styles of music.




Now I did come across one Samoan hip-hop group called Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. This definitely has a west coast American influence. I mean, I kind of liked what I heard. Sometimes I hear independent groups, and you can tell there’s it’s amateur: their flow is a little awkward, the mixing is really basic, etc. But these guys sound like they’ve been doing this for a minute. I can tell their influences are probably DMX, a little Cypress Hill, and maybe a little Tupac. OK, maybe just a little bit of everything.



Up next: the food

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SAMOA: ART AND LITERATURE



In Samoa, there is a ritual exchange of goods and traditional arts. Women typically give a finely woven mat called an ‘ie toga.  They also give a type of bark cloth called siapo, which is decorated with pictures of flowers and other natural objects.

 
Men, on the other hand, will typically give items carved from wood and red feathers. Carving sculptures was pretty rare prior to the European’s arrival, but typically, their woodworking objects tend to be in line with similar arts from Fiji and Tonga.


Other traditional arts you’ll find made in Samoa include jewelry, hair accessories, and other ornaments. Many times, these things will be made from other naturally occurring materials found on the island, like coir (coconut fibers) and sea shells.


And let’s be honest – one of the types of art that really sticks out is tattooing. In the US, I feel like there is still a stigma against tattooed people, at least in some circles and even on a professional level. (The only reason why I don’t have one yet is because I can’t decide on what I want.) However, in Samoa as in other South Pacific countries, tattoos carry a different social standing. Both men and women are tattooed and each tattoo is related to their families, their communities, and their role within their community. According to dictionary.com, the word tattoo is ultimately derived from the Tahitian word tatau, which is also the same word in Samoan. 


The earliest form of literature in Samoa was oral storytelling. However, written literature didn’t truly emerge until the 1960s, right around the time of their independence. Most Samoan literature is written in English. There have been many writers who have emerged from Samoa.


Probably one of the more famous novelists is Albert Wendt. (His birthday [Oct 27] is the day before mine.) Wendt’s most famous novel, Leaves of the Banyan Tree, was published in 1979. He’s worked as a professor and visiting professor at several universities throughout the South Pacific islands and currently resides in New Zealand. There’s actually a documentary on him called The New Oceania.


Other writers from Samoa include Sia Figiel (poet, award-winning novelist), Emma Kruse Va’ai (poet, writer, educator), Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard (poet from American Samoa, but I’m including it here anyway), Savea Sano Malifa (poet, founder of the newspaper Samoa Observer), Eti Sa’aga (poet, journalist, writer), and Sapa’u Ruperake Petaia (poet, writer).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, April 15, 2018

SAMOA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE



When I was trying to find recipes for Samoa, I was surprised to find a ton of recipes for desserts based on the Girl Scouts cookie called Samoas. And that was entirely NOT what I was going for, although they are delicious. And the other part was that now there are two Samoas: the island nation of Samoa (I grew up calling it Western Samoa) and American Samoa (a US territory – for more information on this and other US territories, please watch John Oliver’s segment he did on this on his show).



The name Samoa most likely comes from the Samoan words sa meaning “sacred” and moa, meaning “center.” There may be other theories out there, but I couldn’t find anything substantial.


This island nation is located in the south Pacific. It’s slightly northwest of the island of Niue, south of Tokelau, and east of Wallis & Fortuna (belonging to France). There are two main islands (Savai’i and Upolu) along with four smaller islands. The US territory of American Samoa lies southeast of Upolu (American Samoa itself actually refers to five main islands and two atolls.). The climate here is tropical, with a rainy season that lasts from November to April. The islands used to be covered in lowland tropical rainforests, but nearly 80% of those have been lost.


It’s believed that Samoans landed on these islands nearly 3000 years ago, but from where exactly, it’s still somewhat disputed. They share cultures, languages, and genetics with other nearby islands (namely Fiji and Tonga). The Dutch were the first to arrive in 1722, followed by the French in 1768. English missionaries (through the London Missionary Service) and other traders began making their way to the islands during the 1830s. However, the Germans looked upon the islands with more of a commercial purpose in mind, mainly with copra (dried coconut meat) and cocoa production. At the same time, the US started taking interests in the eastern islands as a territory, and several became known as American Samoa. The Samoans entered a civil war, and the British, Germans, and US each began sending in ships to protect and control their interests. A storm hit and destroyed most of the ships, ending the conflict; they signed an agreement giving the eastern islands to the US (American Samoa) and the western side to Germany (German Samoa). During the German’s 14-year rule, an uprising took place. The response was to banish the leader of the uprising to the German-held Northern Mariana Islands. New Zealand then controlled the islands from WWI to 1962, when they became known as Western Samoa. They were hit hard by the global influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 (I didn’t fully realize how widespread this epidemic was). The Samoans weren’t really happy with New Zealand’s control either, and there were several uprisings, some ending tragically for the Samoans. In 1962, they finally gained their independence, making them the first small-island nation in the Pacific to do so. In 1997, they voted to change their name from Western Samoa to just Samoa (something American Samoa wasn’t happy with apparently, thinking it would be confusing and diminishing their own identity).


Located on the northern coast of the island of Upolu, the city of Apia serves as its capital and largest city. Historically, the city also served as the capital of German Samoa as well. It serves as the center of the government as well as center for most other services (financial, education, media, transportation, etc.). The Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson lived out his final years in Apia. The winters are probably WAY better than in Scotland.


Samoa is an economically developing country. Agriculture is still a top exporter, especially in taro root, bananas, cocoa, noni, copra, and coconut cream/coconut oil. There has been some investment in expanding the financial sector along with tourism.


Because of Samoa’s history of being controlled by Christian-dominant countries, it’s no wonder that Christianity has a strong stake here still. The largest denomination is the Christian Congregational Church of Samoa, followed by Roman Catholic and Methodist and several others. Despite the fact that Samoa’s constitution declares Samoa as a Christian nation (a change made only last year), there is also a sizable number of Baha’i followers.


English is the official language along with Samoan (known as Gagana Fa’asamoa). There are actually more Samoan speakers (including second-language learners) than English speakers. Samoan is similar to other Polynesian languages like Hawaiian, Tongan, Maori, Tahitian, and Rapanui. And there is also Samoan Sign Language for the deaf community and a Samoan Braille as well. 


Two things I read about caught my attention: in 2009, Samoa switched to driving on left, something they felt aligned them with other countries in the world. I always wondered what that process looks like in logistically getting everyone to switch over. I just imagine a lot of head-on collisions during the first couple of months. Another thing that amazed me was that in 2011, they moved the International Date Line so that they were in line with Australia and New Zealand. Previously they were 21 hours behind Sydney, the result of being set up in the 1890s to work with Californian businesses. Now, realizing they have much stronger economic ties to Australia and New Zealand, they are only ahead of them by three hours. It certainly makes a lot more sense.

Up next: art and literature

Monday, April 9, 2018

ST VINCENT & THE GRENADINES: THE FOOD


Well, we made it through another week. We survived Easter, and a bunch of other stupid snow this week, too. Doesn’t the weather know it’s spring? It can really stop with the snow already. Oh, and there’s snow predicted for tonight and tomorrow night. Lame. 

If it's roughly the same color as goat, does it count?

One thing that’ll warm me up is Caribbean food from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. I mixed things up a little bit by making the bread last this time. Today I started with Curried Goat, except I used stew beef because I couldn’t find goat or lamb. I seasoned my meat with a couple cloves of garlic, some salt, a little red wine vinegar, and a little bit of hot sauce (I used a Mexican hot sauce). I let it marinate for about an hour. Then I heated some oil in a skillet and stirred in my garam masala (in lieu of curry powder because I forgot I used the last of mine a while back). After it became fragrant, I added in my meat and browned it. When the meat was browned, I added in some diced onions, some ketchup, a little red wine (I used merlot), a little grated ginger and turmeric, and a few tablespoons of a coconut curry sauce (instead of the curry powder and chutney). I let this simmer for about 5-10 minutes until the sauce began to thicken, and I served this on rice. I thought this was fantastic. The kids didn’t like it as much, but it was really great. Even though I used beef, I bet it would be great with lamb.

My favorite kind of boat -- one filled with tasty food.
The next thing I made was a dish called Stuffed Sweet Potatoes. I scrubbed the potatoes and coated them with oil before putting them in a 400ºF oven for an hour and a half. When they were done, I cut them in half long ways and scraped out the middle and put it in a bowl. In a skillet, I fried up four pieces of bacon along with some diced onion and some diced ham. I also added in 1 Tbsp of butter, a little bit of frozen corn and some salt and pepper. Once I stirred everything up, I took it off the heat and added to my bowl of sweet potato guts. I mixed everything well and scooped it back into the sweet potato shells. Then I put it in the oven for another 10 minutes or so. This was so, so good. It reminded me of a dish I had when we lived in Chicago. I would definitely make this again. 

I'm glad I made two of these. One to share, and one all for me.
I found this version of Stuffed Cucumbers that I don’t think I had made before. I took 4 oz of cream cheese and mixed it with 2 oz of grated Colby jack. I added in a little bit of minced onion and a touch of pepper. Then I cut the ends of my cucumbers off and scooped out the middle. I took the cream cheese mixture and used my fingers to help lay it down the middle. When both sides were done, I put them together and wrapped them in plastic wrap. I kept it chilled in the fridge until it was time to eat. To serve this, I cut them in slices like sushi, although it was a little harder to eat that way. However, I really liked this. I’ll jus have to figure out a better way to cut them, but that’s neither here nor there.

Perhaps I should've taken a picture of it cut open. You can barely see the bloody coconut. Well, it's the same color.
And finally, I made Red Belly Bread. It’s getting harder to find recipes that aren’t too similar to something I’ve already made. I started out proofing my yeast by combining 1 package of yeast with 1 tsp of sugar and pouring in ½ c of warm water, letting it sit for about 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, I scalded 1 c of milk. Then I turned off the heat and added in ¼ c of sugar, 2 tsp of salt, and 1 ½ Tbsp of shortening, stirring until everything was melted. In a large bowl, I mixed my milk mixture with my yeast mixture and added in 5 c of flour. I added about ¾ c of water to it, working it to make a smooth dough. I turned it out on my pastry mat and had to use a little more flour to get it to that point. But then I covered it with a napkin and let it rest for an hour. While it was resting, I made the filling by mixing together 2 c of sugar, 4 c of water, 2 c of shredded coconut, and enough red food coloring to make it red. I let this boil until the water had all evaporated. After this, I kneaded it for a couple of minutes before dividing it into 8 balls (the recipe calls for 4, but I made smaller ones). Rolling out each ball so that it’s about a ¼” thick, I spread my coconut mixture in the middle and rolled it up. I thought I made sure my seams were pressed and sides tucked under, but apparently not. Some of them leaked out and looked like it bled all over my baking sheet. And the candied coconut was hella hard to clean up since it quickly became concrete. I put it in a 350ºF oven for 40 minutes. These were actually kind of good. Definitely sweet, but some of the coconut mixture got really hard and clumpy, and I could tell when I didn’t break it up before rolling the dough. I think they’d be good with some strong coffee.

Overall, I'd say it was pretty good. I probably annoyed my coworkers by bringing in curry for lunch, though.
The last three countries I’ve done have been from the Caribbean (St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines). While there are a few Caribbean countries I’ve yet to cover, I feel like I just want to start in Cuba and just island hop my way all the way to the southernmost island. I don’t think that plan will happen any time soon. But maybe one day. And I definitely wouldn’t need to worry about snow.

Up next: Samoa

Saturday, April 7, 2018

SAINT VINCENT & THE GRENADINES: MUSIC AND DANCE


Like many Caribbean countries, the music of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines shares roots with the Caribbean, African, and European countries. There are three main styles heard here: calypso, soca, and big drum. 

 
Calypso is a mix of African and French styles with lyrics often built on satire and often mixed in socio-political commentary. Steelpan music was built upon calypso styles and is used as accompaniment. Soca music is a very popular type of dance music. It also incorporates a lot of calypso into it as well, and it’s pretty widely heard throughout the Caribbean with a few variations. Big Drum is similar to calypso in the fact that its lyrics are also social commentary and/or satirical. However, the music here is performed on (gasp!) big drums. These drums were originally made out of tree trunks, but now it’s more likely they’re made of rum kegs. 


Dance is such a part of their culture that it’s performed at many of the festivals and celebrations throughout the year. In fact, the entire month of September is designated as a Dance Festival Month. Schools, community groups, and dance troupes across the islands come together to showcase their work. Dances include a variety of styles like traditional dances, folk, modern, Latin, and ballroom.


As far as modern music goes, I listened to several bands and musicians on Spotify. One of the groups I came across is Mattafix. They’re actually a duo from the UK, but one of the members grew up on St. Vincent before moving back to the UK when he was 18. Their style mixes a little reggae, R&B, hip-hop, soul, world rock, and dancehall. I really liked their sound. I listened to a couple of their albums while I was working the other day. 


Another artist who I didn’t immediately recognize his name is Kevin Lyttle. But when I heard his most famous song, “Turn Me On,” I knew it right away. There are a few other songs on that album in the same style, which I like. It’s a little reggae, a little dancehall, a little something else. You can tell there is definitely a Caribbean flavor to his music. Overall, I liked the album.


Skarpyon is a ragga soca musician I came across. I thought his music was pretty catchy, definitely something you can dance to. He’s performed across the Caribbean, and I can see why I imagine he’d be pretty popular. I also listened to several songs by Jamesy P., another soca musician. His song “Nookie” is pretty catchy, and I can see why. It actually charted in the US (#54) and the UK (#14). Skinny Fabulous should also be added to the list as well. His music is in the same genre. He’s won a few awards and has released a ton of singles. 

 
One artist I enjoyed listening to was Maddzart. His music is reggae and dancehall and makes me think I should probably play this with the windows open. Never underestimate the therapeutic power of playing a good reggae and dancehall playlist on the open road. 


Up next: the food

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

ST VINCENT & THE GRENADINES: ART AND LITERATURE


Visual arts in St Vincent and the Grenadines are not something that is expressly promoted very much, although it’s not because there isn’t art. There are some self-taught artists who promote their work, but even at that, there are few.



The earliest forms of art include rock carvings (called petroglyphs) and pottery. Some of the sites of the rock art are included in tentative World Heritage lists by UNESCO. Many of the traditional arts and handicrafts (jewelry, shell art, goatskin drums, woodcarvings, and others) are on display at some of the islands cultural and historical museums, galleries, and markets. There are several festivals and celebrations held throughout the year that are also used as a means for artists to show off their works.


In their traditional arts, they typically used many of the materials around them as their medium: banana leaves, local woods, different kinds of shells including conch, eggshells, grasses, flowers, bamboo, palm leaves, etc. Many of these would end up making mats, shoes, hats, bags, toys, and images of island life.

by Nzimbu Browne
One of the most well-known artists from St Vincent and the Grenadines is Nzimbu Browne. He has made a name for himself as one of the few artists here who have created sustainable art. His specialty is mainly creating art out of banana leaves, a part of the plant that is generally thrown away. Browne learned some of the techniques from the artists who really started the idea of creating banana art: Ras Bandy Payne. Soil conditions, the weather, and other factors can affect the colors and texture of the leaves, and he takes all that into consideration when creating his works.



The vast majority of literature from St Vincent and the Grenadines is written in English. One problem smaller countries face is that it’s sometimes harder to get published. It could be due to a number of things, including literacy rates, lack of opportunities for printing, and not quite as much public support. I’m not saying all those factors apply here, but perhaps some do on some scale. However, there are a handful of authors who hail from the islands. One of the most notable is Dr. Edgar Adams. He’s a historian and has written many books on local history and other topics.
 
St Clair Jimmy Prince, also the Minister of Education apparently
Other Vincentian authors include Shake Keane (poetry, music), Ralph Everard Gonsalves (prime minister who wrote about his experiences), Cecil Brown (short stories), and St Clair Jimmy Prince (poetry). 


There is one magazine from St Vincent and the Grenadines called ARC. It’s devoted to the cultural arts of this island county. It stands for “Art. Recognition. Culture.” Getting its start in 2011, it was found by two visual artists, Nadia Huggins and Holly Bynce. And while it’s based in SVG, they really cover the arts scene across much of the Caribbean.

Up next: music and dance