Monday, July 29, 2013


Certain holidays are celebrated by everyone with a day off (New Years, Easter, Labor Day, Independence Day, All Saint’s Day, and Christmas). The other days are generally recognized (and even other holidays that aren’t mentioned here), but if a business chooses to work on that day, it must pay its workers overtime to do so.

New Years Day (January 1): New Year’s Eve also coincides with Republic Day in this country.  Most people do the usual celebrations: meet up with family and friends for a special meal and drinks to bring in the new year. Everyone wishes everyone good prosperity and fortune for the upcoming year.

Easter (varies): Because this country is majority Christian, Easter is a widely-celebrated holiday all over.  Many people start their day off by attending special Easter services held at their church, followed by a special dinner and spending time with friends and family.

Easter Monday (varies): Government offices and schools are closed on this day, and people generally spend it resting and relaxing with family and friends.

Labor Day (May 1):  The Republic of the Congo celebrates Labor Day along with most of the rest of the world with a day off. It’s also a day where labor issues and jobs are discussed.  Some of the issues at hand include child labor (especially in rural areas and agricultural/fishing work environments), forced labor, work conditions, creating a minimum wage for agricultural workers, and weak unions causing prohibited worker demonstrations.

Ascension Day (varies, 40 days after Easter):  This is the Christian celebration based on the belief that 40 days after Jesus rose on Easter, he then finally ascended into heaven. 

Pentecost Sunday (varies, 7th Sundays after Easter): Many Christians believe that Pentecost is the “birthday” of the church itself. Before this, there were merely followers of Jesus, but it wasn’t organized. So this is beginning of the organized church as we sort of know it.

Reconciliation Day (June 10): There isn’t a lot of information on this holiday specifically.  All I found was that it’s the commemoration of 1991 Conference on National Sovereignty, which I also learned was basically the beginning of the transition between Congo as a one-party controlling state to Congo as a multi-party democratic state.

Independence Day (August 15): Also tied in with the Three Glorious Days, this holiday celebrates Congo Brazzaville’s independence from France in 1960.  The Three Glorious Days took place just prior to the declaration of independence and were the three days of rioting against then Prime Minister Youlou after he established a one-party state and one legal trade union. After those three days’ fighting, he and some of his main supporters were arrested by the military and forced out of participating in political affairs again.

All Saints Day (November 1): Because around 50% of the population is Catholic, many Congolese celebrate All Saints Day.  This celebration is for all saints, especially those who do not already have a specific feast day. 

Christmas Day (December 25): Christmas in the Republic of the Congo doesn’t quite have the same luster as it does in wealthier countries. For those who can afford it, Christmas is often celebrated with roast beef or mutton. Some people in the coastal city of Pointe-Noire receive gifts of fresh vegetables, exotic fruits and fresh catfish. (Who wouldn’t love THAT? That sounds like the best gift ever.) Special Christmas services are held at churches where children perform nativity skits. 

Up next: art and literature

Saturday, July 27, 2013


It’s a country known by several names: Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. Technically speaking, this probably should’ve went in the R section, but I put it in the Cs because I’ve always just called it Congo. I put its neighbor with a similar name, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the Ds section, so I think we’ll get to it in November.  

Located in central Africa on the Atlantic coast, this rain-forested country is surrounded by Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the small exclave of Angola called Cabinda. It lies in sub-Saharan Africa along the equator, but I’ve been watching the weather there this past week, and I’m amazed that their weather isn’t much different than ours in Indianapolis (although we’ve been having slightly unseasonably cool weather this week – it’s been gorgeous!): in the mid 60s at night, mid 70s-lower 80s during the day.

Originally inhabited by various Bantu-speaking tribes and Pygmy tribes, the Portuguese and then the French “discovered” the country while traveling down the Congo River, a major river system in this part of Africa and the second-longest in Africa itself.  Through colonization, the land went through many name changes: Congo Colony, French Congo, Middle Congo, French Equatorial Africa. They gained independence from France in 1960, taking the name of Republic of the Congo and quickly joined ranks as another one of the world’s socialist-leaning-into-communist countries (under the name People’s Republic of the Congo). While there were coups and shift changes in their politics, the Congolese wouldn’t fully come to the fight for democracy until the late 1990s.

The capital city is Brazzaville, which lies on the Congo River. Just across the river is Kinshasa, the capital city of Democratic Republic of the Congo. I wondered if these were the two closest world capital cities – coming in at nearly a mile apart – but I think Vatican City and Rome would actually be the closest, since one is inside the other. The city of Brazzaville is named after an Italian-French explorer by the name of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. It’s certainly the largest city, and only one of few other cities of any significant size. About 70% of Congolese live in urban areas. (It’s a sister city to Olathe, Kansas, by the way.)

Because the French controlled the area for so long, the national language is French, but they also utilize several local languages and dialects as well. Linguistically speaking, this country has around 62 languages that are spoken. The local languages of Lingala and Kituba are used as a lingua franca (both of which are related to Kikongo, the most widely spoken language). The Kongo are the largest ethnic group, making up nearly half of the population (whose namesake probably lends itself to the name of the river, which also is the basis for the name of the country). Pygmies only make up about 2% of the population, but remain a watch group as a victim of human rights violations. Another effect of the French can be seen in the fact that most of the Congolese are followers of Christianity, with nearly half the population Catholic and over 40% Protestant.

There are a lot of problems concerning the environment due to deforestation, water pollution (along with poor sanitation lead to greater spread of communicable diseases), and air pollution from vehicle emissions. Outside of the cities, farmers try to survive mostly on subsistence farming and some try their hand in the oil industry. It’s still not that much. Their economy and their government experience frequent fluctuation and widespread poverty, and rely on foreign aid for help. Infant and maternal mortality is a problem, as is AIDS and the high risk for diseases such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, malaria, African sleeping sickness, and rabies. There aren’t enough doctors, especially in the rural areas.  Their life expectancy is only 58 years old, which both of my parents have passed. Education is an ongoing problem. Children are required to attend until the age of 16, but there are always costs involved, especially for those who want their kids in a better school, and many cannot afford it. Teacher training is also insufficient in many cases, so kids don't always get the best education, especially for those who are poor. 

I think my own personal challenge in this is trying to do searches for Republic of the Congo and not come up with results for Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s been slightly frustrating so far. But not too bad. I did find some recipes, so I’m pretty excited about that (I did have to settle for a tart instead of an actual bread, but I’m certainly ok with that. Who complains about tarts?). I have a feeling this country will amaze me in a quiet way.

Up next: holidays and celebrations

Sunday, July 21, 2013


This was a culmination of some of my favorites: island food and African food.  We’ve been having some really hot weather here in the Midwest, our first 90 degree days of the summer, so I think it was appropriate for this meal. Actually, it’s been warmer here than it has been in Comoros. If there's one running theme in Comorian cuisine that I noticed is the heavy use of coconut milk. 

There are couple of other blogs out there that are generally doing the same thing that I am. I usually take a look and see which dishes they chose, and for the most part, I try to do something different. Just so readers can get a more rounded look at the cuisine and culture. However, I couldn’t find any true bread recipes for Comoros. I thought I finally hit a roadblock. I did run across both of these other blogs, and realized I think they both used the same bread: mkatra foutra. So, I broke my own unwritten made-up rules and used this recipe too. It’s a yeast-based bread, which uses coconut milk as the liquid in this. It does call for it to rest for an hour, but it was still a really sticky dough. I had to use a lot more flour in it to work with it at all. My hands were truly a mess, a preschool kid’s dream. After the dough rests, I made a patty-like shape out of the dough and put it in the skillet with melted butter until it turns a golden color.  When I first laid it in the skillet, I then sprinkled sesame seeds on it and again when I turned it.  These were very good, and they were even better with a little caramel syrup on them!
Lightly fried bread, sweetened with coconut milk, complimented with toasted sesame seeds. Goes perfect with coffee.  
 The main dish I made was Comorian chicken curry, or poulet à l’Indienne. Much of Comorian cuisine is influenced by Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines as well as other pan-African cuisines. This starts with browning the chicken then removing it from the skillet. In the same skillet, I sautéed onions, a poblano pepper (in lieu of chilies), and minced garlic, and then added cardamom and cloves. The recipe actually called for whole cloves and cardamom pods, but I didn’t get them since I had the ground spices at home already. (After a $2300 repair bill for my transmission and rental car expenses, I’m trying to save as much as I can where I can.) Then I added the chicken back in and a can of diced tomatoes. While that was simmering, I mixed some cumin and saffron into some Greek yogurt and layered it on top of the chicken mix in the skillet. Adding a final touch of salt and pepper, I let it simmer for an hour. Most of the time, people think of curry as being spicy, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be spicy, as much as it’s spice-ful (if that’s a word). The smell was absolutely wonderful, a spicy and sweet aroma that filled every corner of my kitchen. My husband complained that it was a little “too bold” but I have no idea what he was talking about. I just nod and smile when I don’t understand him.
The final meal: chicken curry, coconut rice, and mkatra foutra bread. 
To go with this, I made riz au lait de coco de Comores, or what I call Comorian coconut rice. It was fairly easy to make; it’s essentially the same way I make steamed rice, but instead of water, I used coconut milk. But I think using the coconut milk makes it a little harder. It boiled a lot faster than I imagined, and I think it didn’t take nearly as long as the recipe called for. I think it may have contributed to the fact that the rice got a little scorched on the bottom of the pan.  But it still went well with the chicken curry. 

To go with all of this, I made a drink for myself. All of the island countries have some of the best drinks. I found a recipe for a drink called Punch Coco. (I’m sure Coco Chanel might have suggested a different name.)  It sounded wonderful, mixing coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, lime juice, white rum (I used a vanilla rum), with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg as garnish. Well, it called to mix all of this in a shaker with ice then add the garnish (and a vanilla pod, but I didn’t feel like paying $7 for just two pods). I don’t have a shaker (I should get one though), so I just mixed it in a glass and stirred. It wasn’t quite the same: the lime juice caused the coconut milk to break up, and it became clumpy. What I should’ve done was put it in my blender to break up the ice and mix it lightly. It tasted good at first, but I found that mixing the vanilla rum in pre-made mocha iced coffee was a far better drink.
Rich, frothy, thick -- the vanilla rum was a good idea. 
For a country that I knew very little about, and most people I know haven’t even heard of, this turned out to be a very interesting country. And it falls into the category of countries that I wish were more stable so that I could go visit them (assuming I ever have a time when my kids aren’t sucking every last dime out of me). Tourism in this country is still struggling because of the instability of the government, but I’m hoping that they will gain some governmental and economic stability in the future, not only for its own citizens, but for people who want to visit this tiny gem in the Indian Ocean. I liked the music and the food, and it sort of prides me that I now know some random facts about a place most people didn’t realize exist. Who knew this small group of islands had so much to offer?

Up next: Congo 

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Most of the traditional music coming of out the Comoros Islands and Mayotte is heavily influenced by the music of Madagascar, the Middle East and eastern Africa.  One style that is popular and probably the most influential to other musical styles in Comoros is called twarab, a Comorian version of the taarab genre of Zanzibar (part of Tanzania).
The oud. 
Musical instruments that are commonly used in traditional music are the oud (a type of pear-shaped lute), the violin (often used in twarab music), and the gabusi (another type of fretless lute with 12 strings). 

One of the larger celebrations in Comoros is on the island of Mohéli called Grand Mariage (meaning the “great wedding”). It usually takes place in July or August. Comorians like to have a lot of food when they are celebrating, and they also like a lot of music and dance. This festival is known for dancing, and there are a few traditional dances that are performed. Some of the more common types of dances are the wadaha (a type of women’s dance), the chigoma (danced by men), and the diridji (a dance where the men dance around a table). 

I have found several musicians from Comoros on Spotify and iTunes. One that I like is Abou and Baba Chihaby. Abou is the composer of the Comorian national anthem. Outside of that, their style is an African-influenced reggae-tinged style. I like it a lot. I listened to the album Islands on Fire over and over again. In a cynical way, I like the song “Mrs. Smith.” Maybe because I’ve known several Mrs. Smiths in my life. But I’m also a huge fan of this style.

I also discovered Maalesh who I’ve come to like a lot as well. I’ve listened to the album Yelela (Afrique de soleil lavant) many times, and I like it. The accompaniment is mostly acoustic guitar and simplistic melody lines, but it’s done very well. It’s also available on iTunes. He, like many other musicians are influenced by other pan-African and Caribbean styles such as reggae, zouk, and soukous. This particular video shows a lot of scenes from in and around Comoros. 

A couple of other musicians I discovered are Salim Ali Amir whose music has little tinges of jazz/blues in it, overlaid with other pan-African styles. Although I have to say, there are times when his music sounds a little bit like grocery store music. But it’s all good. I once heard They Might Be Giants in a grocery store, so it’s not all bad. In fact, that’s pretty awesome. This song is good, I like this one. 

Another musician I came across is Nawal. Her music definitely has far more of an Arabic or even an Indian influence on it. The songs utilize instruments that would be native of those regions from I can hear. She’s internationally known, and sings in Comorian, French, Arabic, and English.

Up next: the food!

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Traditionally, the types of arts that have been popular in Comoros since early times are many of the same types that you’ll find in other nearby regions and countries. Basket weaving and woodcarving are two types that are quite common, especially when used in the homes, such as carved furniture and doorways. Arabian-influenced architecture is prominent throughout the islands, especially in mosque design, but it also lends itself to other types of buildings as well.

Textile work, especially intricate and ornate embroidery work is something many Comorians do. It’s common on clothing and hats. I used to do embroidery when I was in 4-H as a kid, so I know how hard to do by hand (at least it was for someone who’s not domesticated, like me, and if you’re trying to do it so it looks good.). I was even using a pattern, and I still wasn’t all that great. I forget all of the different kinds of stitches now. But it’s something that I’ve always admired and wish I could do better.
This piece happens to be American-made, but it's a great example of silver filigree.
Comorians are also known for their jewelry making, using gold and silver filigree.  Filigree (a new term for me), is when you take small beads or twisted metal threads or both and solder them together or to another surface to create a lace-like appearance. Many of these filigree pieces become either jewelry – earrings, necklace pendants, bracelets – or pieces designed to sit around.

These days, street art and graffiti art have slowly started to emerge as an art form in Comoros. Some artists, like Socrome, use graffiti art as a means of cultural expression, and it often brings together both French and Comorian cultures. It’s not something widely thought of in Comoros, but it’s starting to be seen more often, especially in urban areas, in both French and Arabic. I’ve always been fascinated at street art and graffiti, especially when in foreign countries. And I had always wanted to get a picture of the few pieces I saw in Japan and Brazil.  I guess one day, I’ll travel the world just taking pictures and collecting music and eating and then writing about it all.

Early Comorian literature is mostly a collection of folk tales mixed with historical accounts.  A lot of these stories were influenced by Arabian stories, written down by the upper crust of society: princes and other members of the aristocracy.  Of course, a lot of these stories have been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. One type of common folk tale is called hali and usually ends in a moral, like a fable. A lot of literature is written in Comorian, but also in French and Arabic.

One famous poet is Aboubacar Said Salim. It was hard to find information about him in English, but I did find a biography about him in French. He studied in France, but he returned to Comoros to teach French. He was the president of the Club Kalam, an organization for Comorian writers. 
Abdou Salam Baco

Abdou Salam Baco is actually from Mayotte. He did his studies in Saint-Etienne in central France and returned to Mayotte as a Doctor of Economic History. He’s written three novels in the meantime and is also a musician.

Up next: music and dance 

Monday, July 15, 2013


Because Comoros is a primarily Muslim country, most of their holidays are religious in nature.

Birth of the Prophet (varies/February): Comoros is one of 25 countries in Africa, which has declared the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday as a national holiday. It’s also known as Mawlid. Many Muslims believe that this isn’t just merely the birth of the Prophet but also the birth of Islam. People decorate their houses, streets, and buildings; it’s a time for a lot of food to be made with the purpose of giving some of it to the poor and those in need. Stories of the Prophet’s life and teachings are read aloud to the children, and special prayers are held at mosques.

Anniversary of the Death of President Said Mohamed Cheikh (March 18): Said Mohamed Cheikh was the President of Comoros from 1962-1970. He was born in Comoros but did much of his education in Madagascar, studying in medicine. He was Comoros’ first doctor when he returned to the island nation. He died of a heart attack in 1970 while in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Labor Day (May 1): Celebrating Labor Day on the same day as much of the rest of the world, it’s a day to spend with friends and family.  It’s also a day of discussions of how to strength the Comorian economy through commerce and trade relations, as well as discussing improvements to general labor issues that faces the country’s workers.

Anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (May 25): The Organization of African Unity was replaced by the African Union in 2002. Their most important duties are to create unity and solidarity among all African countries, keeps a watch on human rights, promotes peace, and works to stabilize the political and socio-economic states in Africa. 

Anniversary of the Death of President Ali Soilih (May 29): Ali Soilih was born and raised in Madagascar, but later moved to Comoros to work in agriculture. He later turned to politics and eventually became president. His politics were heavily influenced by Mao Zedong’s philosophies, and soon started implementing changes, like telling the youth they don’t need to study history anymore.  He also created the Moissey, a revolutionary militia. It was like their version of the Cultural Revolution. In 1978, he was thrown out of office by a European mercenary unit. A couple of weeks afterwards, he was shot and killed; the official word was that he was trying to escape house arrest.

Independence Day (July 6): Comoros declared its freedom from France in 1975. On this day, Comorians decorate their homes and towns with the colors of the flag, draping flags and national symbols everywhere. The day usually parades, special food, music, dancing, and spending time with friends and family. Members of government offices – both local and national – usually give speeches and talk about the future of the country on this day.

Eid al-Fitr (varies/August): This holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting practiced in Islam. After fasting for a month, this celebration involves sharing a large, elaborate meal with friends and family. Special prayer services are also held on this day.

Eid al Adha (varies/October-November): Also known as Feast of the Sacrifice, this holiday is based on the story of Abraham faced with God’s request to have him sacrifice his only son, but then stops him in the end. One tradition for this holiday is to slaughter an animal and keep a third of the meat, give a third of the meat to family and give a third of the meat to the poor. In modern times, many people may just make charitable donations and that sort of thing.

Anniversary of the Death of President Ahmed Abdallah (November 26): Born on the island of Anjouan, Abdallah became the first president of Comoros. He was ousted in a coup in 1975 and was exiled to France.  While in France, he hooked up with a mercenary and staged a coup against Soilih, retaking the presidency until his death in 1989. Soilih’s half-brother shot Abdallah and took over. The story of another coup…

Muharram (Islamic New Year) (varies/November): Since 98% of Comorians are Muslim, Muharram, or Islamic New Year, is an important holiday. Some people choose to fast during this time since it’s considered to be the holiest of months.  Muharram lasts ten days and is also called a month of mourning and remembrance.

Ashura (varies/December): This is closely related to Muharram, since it’s the tenth day of Muharram.  Ashura literally means “tenth” in Arabic. It’s also held in reverence as a remembrance for the martyr death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.

Christmas (December 25): It seems slightly odd that a Muslim country could celebrate Christmas, but don’t forget the French controlled the islands for over a century. And it’s funny how most sites that give a list of holidays in Comoros list Christmas as a holiday, but I couldn’t find hardly any more information other than that. No traditions listed, no one blogged about it (and if they did, it wasn’t in the first 2-3 pages of a Google search). So, this sort of remains a mystery, especially if it was on pages 4-15,000.

Up next: art and literature

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Once an important stop in the trade route, the Comoros Islands lie just north of the island of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa in the Mozambique Channel (closest to the mainland country of Mozambique). Consisting of three main islands now – Grand Comore (or Ngazidja), Mohéli (or Mwali), and Anjouan (or Nzwani) – the country used to be four islands. When they were deliberating on declaring their independence from France, only the island of Mayotte abstained, which is why it’s still a dependent of France. Although I think Comoros still claims them.

The word Comoros is based on the Arabic word qamar, which means moon. The native peoples, probably from a larger extension of the Bantu expansion mixed with migrants from other Asian and Middle Eastern regions, highly valued the nature all around them. According to Comorian myth, a spirit dropped a jewel into the ocean, which created the Karthala volcano and subsequently the islands of Comoros. (Mt. Karthala was last active back in 2006.) Omani sailors once referred to this area as the Perfume Islands, which is one of the reasons why it was such an important stop in the trade route. Comoros is the leading producer of ylang-ylang, a flower whose essential oil goes into many perfumes to give it a flowery smell, like in Chanel No. 5. It’s also used as a remedy for high blood pressure, certain skin problems, and as part of aromatherapy, and as an aphrodisiac. (And as a popular ice cream flavor in nearby Madagascar. Would that make it a health food? I think it would in my book.) Besides ylang-ylang, Comoros is also known for its production of coconuts, vanilla (the second largest exporter in the world, behind Madagascar), coffee, and the cocoa bean. – All of my favorites. See, I knew I would like this country.
Ylang-ylang flower
The capital city of Moroni lies on the largest island of Grande Comore. With a population of about 60,000, it’s one of the major ports in Comoros. It was founded by Arab settlers as a sister port for commercial trade with Zanzibar (Tanzania). A little known fact – how I could have forgotten this is beyond comprehension – is that Moroni is mentioned in the game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  That was my favorite game when I was in middle school.

Because of its proximity and influences from the Middle East, Comoros is a primarily Muslim nation, with the exception of Mayotte, which still has a large Roman Catholic following. While the entire country has less than a million people (about the population of my city, Indianapolis, IN), it is one of the most densely populated. Most Comorians speak Comorian (sometimes called Shikomor), which is a language that is based on Swahili that is heavily influenced by Arabic. The two languages share many common words anyway, so this would be similar to a sort of hybrid, I suppose. (My son’s name is Swahili: Jabari; and his middle name is Arabic: Malik.) The interesting thing about the Comorian language is that there isn’t any established written script. Comorian words are either written in Latin or Arabic script. French and Arabic are also official languages of Comoros because of its history: French being the primary language of educational instruction and Arabic being the primary language of religious instruction.

Since its independence from France in 1975, there have been roughly 20 coups. The government situation at any given time is relatively unstable. This is more or less one of the causes that most of its people live on less than $1.25 a day. Another reason is that the land isn’t very good at producing a variety of vegetables and other food products, so besides what can be grown and caught in the ocean locally, many products have to be imported in which directly impacts their economy.  But despite their political and economic situation, Comorians have found through their food and music and arts – as diverse and regionally influenced as it is – that these are the things to help you move forward in life. And I completely agree. It all sounds amazing to me so far.

Up next: holidays and celebrations

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Today was a great day. I finally passed level 65 on Candy Crush! I’ve been on that stupid level for nearly a month. It was also a great day because I got to make Colombian food today. As with almost all of the other countries, I’ve been looking forward to making this meal for about a week and a half, especially the bread. And as usual, it seemed more like a comedy of errors at times.
I actually started out making the marinade for the carne asada, since I realized at 1pm that I should’ve had it marinating since last night. I let it sit for about 3-4 hours in the refrigerator marinating, hoping this will be ok.  For the meat, I used a flank steak; I chose the largest one they had – about 1 1/3 lb. I had all of the best intentions of having my husband teach me how to grill. Mostly because the last time I grilled something, I think it was when we were cooking for Azerbaijan last summer. But, it was far easier pawning this job off on my husband, who did an excellent job. I like to have my meat well-done, and he got it to the perfect level of done-ness without over drying it.
Who can resist charred flesh? Well, vegetarians maybe. 
The bread was one that I had been lusting after since I found it. It’s called roscón de arequipe, a ring-shaped bread filled with arequipe or dulce de leche. I had to ask some Colombians who I work with if arequipe and dulce de leche are different or the same because most recipes I found lists they are pretty much the same thing. They are indeed actually different, but what I found by La Lechera listed the can as “dulce de leche,” but underneath it listed “arequipe.” So that’s what I used. The dough is a yeast-based dough – and you know it’s going to be good when there’s a half-cup of butter (melted) and a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract involved. After much kneading and resting, it’s divided in two and stretched into a long rope, then rolled out to make a rectangle. I took the dulce de leche and spread it rather thickly on the dough, leaving a slight gap around the edges. Rolling the sides in and pressing them together (like you’re making a tube with the dulce de leche inside), I then flipped it over so the seam is down and looped it together to make a ring. The recipe called to make some kind of cuts in the top of the dough with scissors, but it just wasn’t working for me, so I stopped before I completely screwed it up. And of course I remembered at the last minute that I was supposed to brush it with an egg-melted butter mix. And THEN, because I was doing a million other things at the same time, I left it in the oven for about 8 minutes longer than the recipe called for, but you know what? After sprinkling sugar on top, I think it turned out just perfect. What do recipes know anyway?
The best part of the meal; the crème de la crème. 
So, at the same time I was making the bread, I was also trying to make papas rellenas, or stuffed potatoes. I boiled my potatoes whole for 45 minutes then let them cool.  I made a beef mixture of green onions, tomatoes, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, ground beef, potato, and white rice. After cutting the potatoes in half, I scooped out the middle (where the potato comes from in the mixture) and filled it with my beef mixture. Then I made this really thick batter of eggs, butter and flour and poured it on top and coated the potatoes and fried it. This was the part that kept me thinking, “I really have no idea what I’m doing here; it doesn’t seem right, but I’m going to pretend that this is how it goes.” It was pretty messy, and it took a while for the batter to fry up. Or perhaps I was just really impatient at this point.  (More than likely.)  Even though they weren’t beautiful to look at, they tasted really good. I wished I had a little salsa to pour on top, though. I think that might’ve made them better.  But still, my finicky four-year-old ate it all up.
Stuffed with goodness and then fried. My mouth told the rest of my body to shut up and enjoy. 
A few meals (well, ok, we’ve had more than a few) and breads go into my husband’s file of “we HAVE to do this one again.” This was one of those meals. My daughter was happy that we did Colombia since she goes to a Spanish-immersion school, and I used this as practice so she won’t forget her basic Spanish over summer break. And while parts of the meal may not have had that authenticity or picture-perfect magazine quality, it was a rather tasty meal. And really, what family really eats the foods that are in the 5-star restaurants? (Ok, I’m sure there are some…) This blog project was never about that. It’s about the comedy of errors that happens when you take a non-chef who just likes to eat trying to serve their family a new meal that might possibly be a new favorite. It’s about maybe finding a recipe for something that the kids will eat. I can’t take them to see the world, but I can bring it to them. As long as they eat something on their plate; as long as they ask me for more of something; as long as they keep asking questions about the world around them, then I’m winning.
One of the best meals I've made. Ok, minus me actually grilling the meat, but I totally rocked it on the marinade. 
Up next: Comoros


Colombia’s diversity is a direct impact on the diverse influences of its music. Each region has it’s own styles and variations even among the styles that are popular throughout the entire country and other areas in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Overall, Colombian music tends to be a mix of African, American, indigenous traditions, Caribbean (mostly Cuban and Jamaican), and European (mostly Spanish).

Cumbia is one of the most popular forms from Colombia (even though for years, I thought it came from Mexico). With its roots from the Atlantic side of Colombia, it originally just consisted of percussion and vocals, but later added saxes, brass (trumpets, trombones), and keyboards. Some musicologists have their theories that it may be related to a dance called the cumbe from Guinea in West Africa. This dance is characterized by wearing shackles on the dancer’s ankles which represent slavery. Cumbia actually hit a peak of popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. 

Vallenato is another musical form that shares its origins on the Atlantic coast side of Colombia. According to tradition, its roots are stemmed from a music contest where Francisco el Hombre defeated Satan. (Um, sounds a lot like Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia” to me.) Vallenato bands consist of accordions, guacharacas (like a stick with notches carved in it and scraped with a metal fork-like device), and the caja vallenata (a larger version of the bongo drum). I found this video that gives an excellent explanation as to what vallenato is, what it stands for, and the inspirations behind it. 

Dancing is very important to Colombian society, with several different types of dance that have become popular. Besides the cumbia and vallenato dances that accompany the styles mentioned above, salsa dancing, merengue, and bambuco were also common dances in Colombia.

I guess I had been a fan of Colombian music for a while and didn’t know it. Years ago, my sister gave me a CD of Carlos Vives, and I absolutely loved it (except that I thought he was from Chile for some reason). I recently borrowed a copy of the El Rock de Mi Pueblo album, and I absolutely love it. I REALLY like it. In fact, I made a copy for my sister who’s been really sick lately.  I’ve become a huge fan of accordion music as I got into my 30s, and Colombian music makes good use of it.

My kids love Fanny Lu, who does more pop music. I copied the CD Dos from the library, but I also liked the album Felicidad y Perpetua. I think she looks like the chick from that British group The Ting Tings. We’ve known about Shakira for over a decade here in the US – she’s known all over the world. I’ve liked some of her songs, but her voice quality always threw me off. Occasionally, it sounds like she closes her throat while singing, and as a former music major and voice principle when I was in college, closing your throat is a no-no. But my kids like her. I’ll spare them lectures in correct vocal techniques.

I also came across the Afro-Colombian hip-hop group called ChocQuibTown. I found the album Oro at the library and have listened to it for the past three days straight. It’s a little bit Latin, a little bit funk, a little bit hip-hop – and it’s put together really well. Everything I love. I may end up buying their album Eso Es Lo Que Hay because my husband liked a few songs off of that album too.

Several years ago, a friend of mine had somehow received a copy of the 2001 Latin Grammy nominees CD, something I wouldn’t think he would normally listen to. On the winner list was Juanes for the album Fijate Bien for winning best rock solo vocal album of the year. So, I knew of him, but didn’t realize he was Colombian (I see a running theme here…).

I was also fairly impressed with a couple of other groups that I found along the way. I liked Palenke Soundtribe and Sidesteppers whose styles were closer to a mix of house music and Colombian traditional styles. I found a couple of rock/punk bands that I added in my playlist: Doctor Krápula and La Pestilencia. For some reason, I’m always fascinated by two music styles in other countries: hip-hop and punk/ska, and I was really happy that Colombia had something to offer here for my collection. 

Up next: the food