Monday, January 23, 2017

NETHERLANDS: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


I’ve had a thing for the Netherlands for a while now. I know two people who have spent time there, one for several years. From listening to them talk about the Netherlands, I grew an interest in the country. And thanks to Duolingo, I began studying a little bit of Dutch. However, I was also doing the German track at the same time, and I don’t recommend doing that because they’re too similar. (It’s the same reason why I had to stop doing Portuguese and Spanish at the same time.)
 
The Dutch name for the Netherlands is Nederlands, literally meaning “the lower country.” (Nederlands is also the name for their language, Dutch.) It’s called this because about half the country is less than 1m above sea level. The country is also widely known as Holland, which is sort of a misnomer since Holland only refers to two states (North Holland and South Holland). However, there are a number of people who refer to the entire country as Holland. (For example, the Japanese word for the country, Oranda, is based on the word for Holland.)




The Netherlands is located in the northwest corner of mainland Europe. It’s surrounded by Belgium to its south and Germany to its east, and the western coast borders the northern end of the English Channel. The country experiences warm summers and cool winters (I'm already sold). 


Evidence shows that the Neanderthals were most likely the first people in this area. Other groups have migrated through this area over time, and archeologists have uncovered many of their items, including the world’s oldest boat (a canoe dubbed the Pesse Canoe). Smiths began smelting the iron ore from the bogs and started creating swords, knives, and other tools and weapons. The Romans took over the lands for the first couple of centuries AD, and the Franks took control when the Romans were defeated. The Franks also had to share this area with the Frisian Kingdom. The 10th and 11th centuries were dominated by the Holy Roman Empire. At this time, the Netherlands was nothing more than a collection of small city-state kingdoms, and advancements in agriculture helped develop communities and society at a quicker pace than in the past. They couldn’t get too comfortable, though: things changed as they fell under Habsburg rule during the Middle Ages. Holland began having trouble growing grain and startd figuring out how to effectively drain the wetlands. Finally, they gained their independence and many of the states formed a united confederation. During the 17th century, the Dutch Empire began expanding to the US, the Caribbean and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Between the Dutch East India Company and Dutch West India Company, they set up trading posts all over the world. Under the Batavian Republic, they fought as an extension of the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte until he was defeated. Although the Netherlands managed to remain neutral during WWI, they were invaded by Nazi Germany in WWII. In 1954, the Kingdom of the Netherlands reorganized itself, releasing several of its colonies and reclassified others. They were one of the founding members of NATO, Benelux, the EU, and a number of other organizations. The 1960s and 1970s were a time of quite a few social and cultural changes in the Netherlands. That momentum led to Netherlands being the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. (The US wouldn’t achieve this for another 14 years.) 


Although Amsterdam is the largest city in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is considered the capital, unlike most capitals, it’s not where the center of government is located. For the Netherlands, that would be in The Hague. Amsterdam was named after the dam on the Amstel River (yes, the same river Amstel beer is named after). The city is widely known for its red-light district and weed cafés as well as its picturesque bridges over the canals and waterways. Anyone who’s ever read The Diary of Anne Frank knows Amsterdam, and anyone who’s ever taken an art class in school should know who its two famous resident painters are: Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh. Today, the city is a global alpha city, often topping the Best Cities lists in a number of categories. 


The Netherlands has a developed economy, and many of the top global companies are headquartered here; they’re all names most of us are familiar with: Philips, KLM, ING, TomTom, Unilever, Randstad, Heineken, and Royal Dutch Shell (known as Shell Oil Company in the US). The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest one in the world. In the 1950s, huge reserves of natural gas were discovered, which really helped the Dutch economy. They’re so big that they equal about a quarter of all the reserves in the EU. While the Netherlands in Europe uses the euro as its currency, the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands use the US Dollar instead.



Since about the time of the Reformation, the Netherlands has traditionally been a Protestant country: about two-thirds Protestant and one-third Roman Catholic. But by the time the 20th century rolled around, things started to change. Today, roughly about two-thirds of the people claim no affiliation with any particular organized religion. It’s one of the world’s most secular countries (sounds like my kind of place). There are certainly smaller numbers of Catholic, Protestant, and other Christian denominations still present, and there are also sizable Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist populations as well.

The official and most widely spoken language is Dutch. To me, Dutch is like a cross between English and German. West Frisian holds an official status in the province of Friesland. The European Netherlands also declared two regional languages: Low Saxon and Limburgish. When it comes to the Caribbean Netherlands, English has an official status on Saba and Sint Eustatius, and Papiamento has an official status on Bonaire. About 90% of Dutch can carry on a conversation in English since it’s required in secondary schools. German and French are the second and third most popular foreign languages studied. 

Oh my gosh, these are so kitchy.
When I was a kid, the stereotypical images of the Netherlands used to fill my head: wooden shoes, windmills, tulip fields, and what I read in Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge, including the story of the boy who plugged the dam with his finger. As I entered college, the famous cafés of Amsterdam piqued my interest in the country more. And as an adult, the fact that the Netherlands has a more efficient healthcare system than the US, more affordable college, and a secular view draw me in more. I’ve already learned so much about this small country that does big things. But I think there’s more to learn out there.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, January 15, 2017

NEPAL: THE FOOD


Well, today didn’t turn out like I imagined it would. I know sometimes there are days like that, but when they happen, it still throws me in a completely opposite direction. It was just a whole series of small things (like forgetting to buy green chilies) that kept throwing me off what I was supposed to be doing. In the end, I did manage to make three of the four recipes I pulled for Nepal. 

Spicy. Sweet. Kind of like me.
Actually, I started the bread prep yesterday. I chose to make Gwaramari bread, and to start this, I mixed all my dry ingredients together in a bowl: 1 2/3 c flour, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp each of salt and black pepper, and a ¼ tsp each of ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, and garlic powder. Once I mixed all of this together, I slowly poured in enough water to get it to a paste consistency (I ended up using a little less than 1 c). Then I covered it with plastic (ok, I used wax paper) and put it in the fridge overnight. I think it’s supposed to rest for 24 hours, but mine was closer to 16 or so. When it came time to actually cook these, I poured enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a skillet about ¼”. When it was hot, I put oil on my hands and pulled pieces of the dough off and rolled them into a ball and placed them in the oil. Once they were browned on all sides, I let them drain on a paper towel. I served this with mango chutney, which really made it taste great. I tried it by itself, and it really needs the mango chutney to go with it. Together it gives a certain sweet-spicy flavor to it that makes this really good. 

Surprise of the day. It's good whether it's served cold or warm.

Next I made Aaloo ko Achar, or Spicy Potato Salad. I peeled and diced two large potatoes and boiled them until they were soft. Then I drained the water from them and dumped them into a bowl. (I used a plastic bowl. This was a mistake, and you’ll find out later why it was.) Then I added in ¼ c of peas and carrots, half a small can of diced green chilies, a few shakes of crushed red pepper, ¼ c of lemon juice, and ½ tsp of black sesame seeds. I stirred everything so that it was mixed consistently and set this off to the side. Then in the same saucepan I used for the potatoes, I heated up 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil and threw in ½ tsp of turmeric and 1 tsp of fenugreek seeds. Once the fenugreek seeds started looking brown, I took it off the heat and dumped the whole thing—oil and all—on top of the potatoes. This is where using a plastic bowl was a mistake. As I started stirring everything together, I realized the sides of my plastic bowl was turning a lovely shade of turmeric yellow. Great, I just got this bowl for Christmas. I guess it just needed to have that used-for-twenty-years look. I topped this with fresh cilantro just before serving, and I thought it was great. The lemon certainly gave it a flavor I wasn’t expecting, and the combination of the fenugreek seeds, turmeric, and sesame seeds added a little bit of spiciness that I was also wasn’t expecting. Topping it with cilantro was a good idea; it complimented the other flavors. 

Comfort food, Nepali style.

The main dish today was Thukpa, or Nepali chicken noodle soup. What’s better than warm chicken noodle soup on a cold January day? Not much. (A side of a million dollars would be nice, though.) To begin this, I started with making a spice sauce. I pulled out my blender and threw in a half onion I diced up, 2 tsp of minced garlic, 1 tsp of dried chopped ginger, 1 tsp ground cumin, ½ tsp turmeric, ¼ tsp black pepper (in lieu of timur powder/Szechwan pepper), 1 pinch of onion powder (in lieu of asafetida powder), and half a small can of diced green chilies. I blended this up until it was smooth. Then I added in about ¾ of a container of grape tomatoes and blended until it was smooth again. (This actually made my blender smell like onions and curry.) In a large saucepan, I put a little oil in the bottom and heated it up before pouring in my spice mix and cooking it for several minutes. I poured in a large container of chicken broth (ended up to be 4 ¼ c, so I filled the remaining ¾ c with water) and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Now, the recipe called to cook a chicken thigh in the broth and later shred it, but instead, I used some grilled chicken strips that I bought to put in a salad. I just chopped them up a little and threw them into the broth. After the fifteen minutes were up, I added in some carrots and red bell pepper that I thinly cut matchstick style. While all that was simmering, I heated up water and cooked my Thai rice noodles. After they were cooked, I drained them and then ran cold water over them and drained them again. (Actually, I dumped a whole bunch in my sink on accident. But I still had enough to use for dinner.) To serve this, I put the noodles in the bottom of the bowl and ladled the broth with the chicken and vegetables on top of the noodles. I also topped this with cilantro. I thought it was wonderful. My son thought it was a little bit spicy, but I didn’t think so. I liked it quite a bit.


My meal, so far. But wait! There's more!

I was supposed to make Momo, or Nepali chicken dumplings. It’s like a national dish or something, so I didn’t want to leave it out. But I was too tired to make it today. Luckily, I have tomorrow off of work for Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, so I’m going to make those tomorrow and update this post with photos of the deliciousness. Hopefully all goes well.  


....UPDATE: OK, now time for Part 2.

I'm not even sure what these are. But they were kind of tasty. The right ingredients make all the difference.


First of all, let me start off with the fact that I couldn’t find wonton wrappers at any of the stores I went to. All I could find was springroll wraps. And I even went to an international store, so I must’ve not been looking for them in the right places. The springroll wraps were just too thin. Anyway, I mixed the filling: one large can of canned chicken, ½ red onion diced, ¼ c chopped cilantro, 2 tsp dried minced ginger, 2 tsp minced garlic, ½ tsp ground coriander, ¼ tsp turmeric, ¼ tsp cumin, half a small can of diced green chilies, 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil, and a few shakes of coarse grain salt. I mixed everything together and let it sit to let the flavors blend while I made the other stuff. Next, I made the tomato pickle (also called Golbheda ko achar). For this, I heated up some mustard oil (I mixed together 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil with ½ tsp of dry mustard) and sautéed 2 tsp minced garlic with 2 tsp of ginger. Then I threw in some fenugreek seeds, a little crushed red pepper, and a pinch of onion powder (in lieu of Jimbu herbs), and a pinch of black pepper and stirred. When it was all mixed with the oil, I threw in my chopped grape tomatoes and stirred, letting it cook down for about 8-10 minutes. After it cooked down and cooled a bit, I threw it in my blender to get it down to a smoother paste consistency. 

Holy crap, these were delicious! Pretty sure they're not authentic, but I'm making them again anyway. I thought they were better with hoisin sauce, though. 
So, I did try to steam these using the springroll wraps, but they ended up falling apart when I tried to take them out of the steamer basket. So, I said to myself, “Skip this. We’re gonna fry these suckers.” And so through a series of mishaps and evolution, my momos turned into momo-springrolls. The sauce threw me off. It's definitely tomato-y, but the ginger was strong. It was an odd combination I wasn't used to. They still ended up really tasty, albeit not as authentic as I was hoping they would be. I guess that’s how the springroll crumbles sometimes.  



Up next: Netherlands

NEPAL: MUSIC AND DANCE


Nepal has quite a diverse culture, and its music reflects that. And because of its location between Tibet and India, their styles reflect these similarities. The larger ethnic groups have their own styles. Many cultures, including the Kirat culture, are known for their dances, which are often performed for festivals, weddings, and other religious functions. Sherpa music is very much influenced by Tibetan Buddhism music, and there aren’t many differences between the two. Maithili music is probably one of the oldest musical traditions in Nepal. Today, musicians use modern instruments, even though traditionally, Maithili music is played on traditional instruments. 


There are certain genres of music that span more than one ethnic group. Dohori is a type singing game, typically between men and women. It’s more of a debate, I suppose. The idea is that the guys will start a line of poetry, done in rhythm, which asks a question. Without wasting a beat, the women will respond with an answer (usually a witty answer). It goes back and forth until someone can’t think of a question or answer, I suppose. Sometimes these can go on for an excruciating amount of time, like a week. And I thought Wagner’s 15-hour Ring Cycle was long! 


Depending on the style and ethnic group, common instruments include a variety of percussion instruments (like the damphu, a type of large tambourine), wind instruments (like a variety of flutes), and vocal music. Many Nepali musicians borrow the same instruments found in Indian and Tibetan music as well. 


Today, they also borrow many of the modern Western musical styles, like rock and hip-hop (in fact, they call their version Nephop). I sampled a few bands and groups I found on Spotify. One I listened to is a metal band called X Mantra. As far as metal bands go, they’re pretty tame. They really maintain a melody line in both instrumentals and vocal. And they vocal screaming is kept at a minimal. There was even one song that reminded me of when Guns N Roses sound when they get sentimental or something. 


The next one I listened to was Nepathya. It was a little more on the traditional side, a little slower. He used modern instruments, and even modern instrumentation (like the drum beat and a soft rock effect on the music), but it gave me the impression that perhaps some of the songs were inspired by some more traditional music. 


Mukti is a pop singer who sings in English and Nepali even though the vast majority of the song titles are in Nepali (I’m assuming). Her music tends to be a little slower overall, and it often uses traditional instruments. 


However, I found an album under Mukti & Revival called Sandhai Bhari that is a blues album. I love the blues, so I was immediately drawn to this album. For the most part, it tends to have more of a Chicago Blues or Roadhouse Blues feel to it. I very much enjoyed this one. 


The music of Diwas Gurung seems to span across different categories for me, so it’s making it hard to place. It’s like a cross between late-80s pop and mid-90s rock with elements of electronica and trance. But I think he spans several genres. Other videos I watched of him shows his stretch of musical ability. 


Jindabaad was the closest thing to alternative rock that I found. (I didn’t get to do an extensive search this time.) They sing in English, and when I listened to the album Plastic Heart, I couldn’t help but take notice of the musicianship they have in their music. And they tend to build up their songs to a hard rock chorus. I just wish their album was longer than six songs. I probably would’ve bought it if it were longer. I like their style, though.


I found a few rappers on YouTube. The first one I found was Diwa$ & Dipendra. The song I listened to was more of an R&B/hip-hop song. I liked his style, although his flow reminds me of someone I’ve heard… I’m not even sure who. It’s kind of reminiscent of a Japanese-style or Mexican-style rap. I also came across Laure and listened to a few of his songs; he tends to use strings, and has a nice cadence to his rap. I just wish I knew what he was talking about.

Up next: the food

Thursday, January 12, 2017

NEPAL: ART AND LITERATURE


Because Nepal sits in between two major Asian cultures—Indian and Tibetan—it would make sense that Nepal’s cultural arts share many of these cultural identifications along with new styles that merge both cultures. 


The majority of the ancient artifacts we have today came from the Newa people. The Newa people were known for their religious art (pretty much all of the examples of their art are religious based). Among some of their mediums they used were paintings, metal work, and sculpture. Most of the paintings were paubha paintings, which were paintings that depicted various deities or religious objects or scenes and used for meditation. Sandpainting mandalas were something that Buddhist monks are known for. Other types of sculpting, like stone sculpting and wood carving, were also highly popular. Repoussé art is where the artist hammers out designs in super malleable metal.



As Nepal came in contact with Western cultures, many of their artistic styles stayed with them. As artists learned various styles, they would introduce it to other Nepali artists. Raj Man Singh Chitrakar is often credited to introducing watercolor painting and making it popular. Other artists who were instrumental in bringing different styles and genres to Nepal include Chandra Man Singh Maskey, Bhaju Man Chitrakar, and Tej Bahadur Chitrakar.
 
by Raj Man Singh Chitrakar
The traditional architecture of Nepal is centered around practicality and functionality as well as aesthetics. Pagodas are generally common with Hindu temples, but it’s also used in Buddhist temples as well. The number of layers can vary. Stupas are also commonly found in Nepal; a stupa is a structure that typically holds the remains of Buddhist monks and nuns. It can be a place for meditation and is generally a dome shape, kind of like Patrick Starr’s rock. 

Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur, Nepal
The National Museum of Nepal is one of the main museums in the country, housing many of their national treasures and relics. There are several sections of the museum, including one for Nepalese history and the Art Gallery. This gallery includes many of the ancient works of art going back to the first few centuries of this era. 

Bhanubhakta
A large portion of the literature coming from Nepal is written in Nepali. It’s an old language related to Sanskrit. Bhanubhakta is often considered the first producer of Nepali poetry, and really, Nepali literature in general. We really don’t have any evidence of any writing in Nepali before him, so he wins it by default. However, at that time, most of the people who were literate enough to know how to write were the Brahmins and upper crust of Indian society. Most of the people in Nepal wouldn’t have been included in those circles according to some historians, so they consider Suwananda Daas as the first. The time before their independence struggles and their Civil War inspired a number of authors to use their talents as an expression of their views and as an outlet for their creativity. Many short stories, novels, and poetry were produced during this time. In fact, the writers emerging since the 1990s have really pushed the styles and genres of Nepali literature, and authors writing from abroad add an additional level to Nepali literature.  

Harry Potter in Nepali
At the same time, there were works being written in other languages. One of the other languages people wrote in was Newari (sometimes referred to as Nepal Bhasa literature). Newari literature actually pre-dates Nepali literature. Starting in the early 1500s, Newari lit took off, and its Classical Period mainly consisted of various styles of poetry, short stories, and drama. During the Rana dynasty (1846-1951), Newari literature dropped off. Writers were often jailed for writing in Newari. Writers were also arrested during the WWII years. Buddhist monks would often write in Newari and were the subject of harassment by the government (and even some were exiled) for teaching Buddhism and writing in the Newari language. During the 1960s, the language underwent another blow when only one language was allowed (Nepali). All others were banned. Today, it’s not quite as oppressive as it was, and Newari literature serves as more of a niche genre.

Up next: music and dance

Monday, January 9, 2017

NEPAL: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Four main things come to mind when I think about Nepal: 1) Mt. Everest, 2) Sherpa guides, 3) they have an odd-shaped flag, and 4) the Bob Seger song “Katmandu,” named after the city Kathmandu. However, I’m fairly certain there’s more to the country than a rock song named after its capital and flag shaped like no other.  


The name Nepal is thought to have derived from a number of origins, including being named after a Hindu sage known as “Ne.” Others believe it’s related to the Newari people or of other Tibetan origins. 



Nepal is a landlocked country that lies in between the Tibetan region of China to the north and India to the south. Small areas of India separate Nepal from Bhutan and Bangladesh. The country is divided into three main areas: terai (plains region), hills (between the terai and the mountains), and the mountain region (part of the Himalayan Mountains). Eight of the worlds “eight-thousanders [8000m+]” are located in Nepal, including Mt. Everest. Nepal’s climate is generally linked to its altitude. It also experiences five seasons: the four traditional seasons along with a monsoon season. 

Sir Edmund Hillary (of New Zealand) and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay
People have trekked through the Himalayas nearly 11,000 years ago, and various Indian and Tibetan people more than likely started living in the Nepali region about 2500 years ago. It was once under the Tibetan Empire, but later was ruled by the Chalukya Dynasty of South India who introduced Hinduism to the Buddhism that was already there. During the mid-18th century, a Gorkha king by the name of Prithvi Narayan Shah worked to basically set up Nepal as we know it. There was quite a bit of negotiations and conflicts over borders, especially concerning a few of the northern Indian states that border Nepal. The British East India Company certainly wasn’t happy about giving up those states, and a war ensued. The British completely underestimated the Nepali fighters. Starting in the mid-1800s and lasting well into the beginning of the 20th century, different factions in Nepal fought against each other over who should rule and how. Slavery was abolished in 1924, which led to certain social changes. In response to the tyrannical Rana government, pro-democracy groups popped up during the 1940s. Finally King Mahendra had had enough of it in 1959 and enacted a “partyless” system, which lasted until the people revolted in 1989 and forced a multiparty system in. In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal decided to stir up the pot by trying to get rid of the parliamentary system in lieu of a people’s republic. This led to a civil war where 12,000 were killed. Nepal finally moved to becoming a federal republic and secular state in 2006, losing its notoriety as a Hindu Kingdom while abolishing the monarchy. In October 2015, Nepal chose Bidhya Devi Bhandari as its first female president.  


The capital city is Kathmandu, located in the Kathmandu Valley. The city itself has about 1.4 million people, but there’s about 5 million in the metro area. The city is a multiethnic community with a mix of Hindu and Buddhist populations. Kathmandu, as well as Nepal in general, depends on the tourism industry. It has a thriving arts scene, casinos, hotels, museums, restaurants, and shopping areas that attract millions of people each year. In April 2015, an earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale devastated the city of Kathmandu. 


Nepal’s economy is still highly dependant upon agriculture. In fact, it employs nearly three-quarters of the people in some aspect. They still have to contend with a large number of unemployed and underemployed, though. The service sector seems to be increasing. Through many reasons and causes, Nepal struggles with poverty and receives aid from several countries. Its currency is tied with the Indian rupee.


Traditionally, Nepal has been a Hindu country with a smaller number of Buddhist followers (it’s said that Buddha was born in Nepal). The country is the site of the Lord Shiva temple, an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus all over the world. There are actually smaller numbers of Muslims, Christians, indigenous beliefs, and other religions followed there as well. However, the government declared the country a secular state in 2006.


Although Nepali is the main language spoken in Nepal, there are a number of other languages spoken here, along with four different sign languages! Nepali is often used as a lingua franca among different ethnic groups and is commonly written in the Devanagari script (the same one used for Hindi and Sanskrit). Tibetan is spoken in the regions near Tibet, and many people in government and commerce use Maithili. In larger cities like Kathmandu, many people understand English as well. 


Nepal is certainly remote and rugged and has its own set of cool features (no pun intended). The Nepali word for Mt. Everest is Sagarmatha, meaning “forehead of the sky.” (Lovely name. I think I know a guy who could go by that name, too.) The Nepalis are actually years ahead of us: according to the Nepali calendar, it’s 2074. Roughly 20% of 13-15 year olds smoke tobacco, which is probably why (among other reasons) their life expectancy is only 59 years old. However, Nepal is the #1 producer of mustard seeds and #3 producer of ginger, which probably means I’m going to love their food.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, January 1, 2017

NAURU: THE FOOD


Happy New Year! We can finally say that 2016 is behind us. We spent New Years Eve like we do every year: sitting at home, having a good meal (except this year, we didn’t do Brazilian feijoada since I’m cooking food from Nauru today), playing board games or card games, chilling, getting my drink on, and then we turn the TV on a little before midnight so that we can watch the giant ball drop in New York. This year, I tried some alcoholic strawberry crème that I sipped on all evening, so by the time midnight came along, I was pretty much ready to go to sleep. 

A bread to beat all bread.
And did I sleep in? Of course not. I woke up at 8am. Probably couldn’t wait to cook from Nauru today. The first thing I started out with was Banana Pineapple Bread. In a large bowl, I mixed together ½ c coconut oil, ¼ c sour cream, 2 eggs, 1 Tbsp vanilla extract, 1 c granulated (white) sugar, and ¼ c light brown sugar. I mixed it until everything was smooth. Then I put all my other dry ingredients in a different bowl: 2 c white flour (I used all-purpose), 1 tsp each of baking soda and baking powder, ½ tsp nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. I stirred this to mix it together and then poured it into my other bowl, stirring everything until it just comes together. This is where I folded in my 3 mashed bananas and 1 c of frozen diced pineapple. After making sure everything was mixed together well, I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan and baked this at 350ºF for 30 minutes. I lowered the temperature to 325ºF for 15 minutes before realizing that I was using a larger loaf pan instead of the two minipans the recipe suggested. So, I turned it back up to 350ºF for another 25 minutes until it was baked through, taking it out to cool. This was so good — of all the banana bread recipes I have come across, I liked this one the best so far. The pineapple was a wonderful addition to this tropical classic.

You know what? This would make some great fish tacos.
My main dish for today is Coconut Crusted Fish. Although the recipe suggested either Pacific Ocean Rockfish or Pacific Ocean Perch, I went with some Flounder filets that I found at Aldi. In a bowl, I mixed together the shredded coconut flakes and breadcrumbs. In a separate bowl, I whisked my eggs until they were frothy (sort of). Once my filets were thawed, I sprinkled salt and pepper on both sides of them. I dipped both sides of the fish in the egg and then dipped them into the breadcrumb mix (making sure to coat it on there). Once I’ve got the filets nicely coated, I fried it in my skillet of hot coconut oil for about 3 minutes on both sides until the coating is golden. I enjoyed this very much. The fish cooked up well, and the coconut flavor really came through, but it wasn’t completely overpowering. I’ll have to repeat this one: it makes for a lighter meal, even though it was fried.

The best way to eat Spam.
To go with the fish, I made Spam Fried Rice. I read that Spam is weirdly popular in many of the island countries of the South Pacific. To be honest, I haven’t had Spam since I was a kid. It’s kind of got a reputation for being one of the ultimate “processed” mystery foods out there. I read through the ingredients, and it seems no different than a hot dog, I guess. (And there’s no MSG, oddly enough.) The first thing I did was cook the rice and set to the side when it was done. Then I scrambled 2 eggs and removed them to cool, and I fried some minced garlic and diced Spam in the same skillet until it looked golden brown. Once the meat was browned, I added in a cup of frozen peas & carrots along with a ½ c of frozen corn, stirring for a couple of minutes until the vegetables were soft and tender. At this point, I threw in my cooked rice into the skillet with the meat and veggies and stirred everything together. I added in a little sesame oil, soy sauce, and pepper. (I left out the fish sauce. It smells like hot booty, and I threw out the entire bottle just because of that.) Lastly, I added the eggs back in along with some chopped green onions. Next time, I want to add some sriracha sauce on top. My son loved this. I thought it went well with the fish. The Spam actually wasn’t so bad when it was fried up and included in the fried rice. In fact, I liked it this better way.

A surprising flavorful, most fabulous meal to start off my 2017.
Overall, this meal was an A+. Everything turned out delicious, and I actually didn’t screw up cooking it. And for such a tiny country I’ve barely heard of, I’ve learned a lot about it. With each country I cover, I learn a little more world history and piece it together with the history of the other countries I’ve covered. I feel that I missed out on whole segments of history when I was in school. Granted, world history is a vast subject, but I feel I could’ve used more than one year of it as a high school student and a couple years in middle school. Regardless, my hope from this blog is that more people are aware that tiny countries like Nauru even exist and learn something about it — and there are more countries out there waiting to be explored.

Up next: Nepal

Saturday, December 31, 2016

NAURU: MUSIC AND DANCE


The musical traditions of Nauru are similar to that of other Micronesian traditions. However, many of these traditions have been lost over the centuries, and few songs have been recorded. Radio Nauru has made a push to try to record some of the music from the older generations, but even the older generations don’t understand the context of some of these songs. Part of this was due to the fact that the Germans banned much of the traditional music and dance after they annexed the island in 1888. And to follow this, the forced move of over a thousand Nauruans during the Japanese occupation contributed to much of their cultural arts to be lost. 

 
Nauruans are known for their rhythmic singing performed at certain ceremonies and celebrations. I’ve tried to find more information about their traditional reigen music, but all I’ve come across is the same mentions on a handful of articles.


Dancing to traditional music is still regarded as one of the more popular art forms. Like other Micronesian dance traditions, their dances tend to be about their daily life. One dance was called the “dance of the fish” to celebrate their catch (I’m guessing). Because Nauru is an island, fishing is an integral part of their society. After the dance, they would eat the fish. Other forms of dance that is popular throughout the Pacific Islands, like hula dancing, is also performed. Dances can either be dances female only, male only, or mixed.


As far as pop music goes, I’m going to venture to say that they more than likely are influenced by and listen to Australian music. For their own styles, it is a mix of their own traditional styles that are popular throughout the South Pacific and Western styles like pop/rock. I didn’t really find anything on Spotify, but there were a few clips on YouTube. Their traditional-style pop music is typically sung in Nauruan, although I did find one song in English. I didn’t really come across any rock bands, but I did find one rap video from a Syrian-born Nauruan who calls himself MCAK (aka Ali Kharsa) that is sung in English. I thought it was pretty good, even though his accent was still thick in places. But kudos for rapping in a second language. That’s not easy to do.

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