Saturday, May 26, 2018


My pay schedule is different than what it used to be, so there was a weird extra week in my São Tomé and Príncipe segment. But that’s ok: it’s a three-day weekend for Memorial Day, and if you’re a race fan or from Indiana, it’s also Indy 500 weekend (which is a holiday in and of itself here). And it’s also the end of the school year for many (my kids still have 2 weeks to go), and for that, everyone is grateful: parents, students, and teachers alike. 

I'm not sure there will be many left to save for breakfast.
So, to start off this holiday weekend, we’re making food from São Tomé and Príncipe. The dish I’m counting as a “bread”(only because it has flour in it) is something that I had when I was in Brazil (or at least something seemingly similar—it was a long time ago in 2003). In São Tomé and Príncipe, they’re called Sonhos de Banana. In a medium bowl, I mashed four bananas with a fork and then added in 1 c flour and 2 Tbsp sugar. I whisked together a ½ c of milk and 1 egg and poured it into the banana mixture. Then I mixed everything together until it formed to a batter consistency. After I heated some oil in a skillet, I spooned in bits of the batter and fried it. Once it was brown on one side, I flipped it until it was golden on the other side. After I let these fritters drain on a paper towel, I sprinkled a bit of cinnamon sugar on top. These were so good – and they went fast! We actually tried them with a bit of Nutella on them (which were fantastic!) and with some strawberry jelly (which were ok). 

Carnitas makes everything better. This was very quick and easy. I'll be doing this again.
And this one is kind of odd because I seemingly picked two main courses. The first one I made was Boiled Pork. I used carnitas to make it easier, and it has good flavor. Since my carnitas was already fully cooked, I cooked it according to the package (otherwise, boil your pork in salted water until it’s cooked and chop into small pieces). In a pot, I sautéed some chopped onions, minced garlic, a can of diced tomatoes and added in a bay leaf. Once the onions became soft, I seasoned the whole thing with some salt and pepper and added the pork to the mixture. I added in a couple handfuls of spinach leaves to the pot, and added in a little water, letting it simmer for about 20 minutes. I thought this was good. Using the fully cooked carnitas was a good idea because it saved some time and added a nice flavor. The recipe suggested to serve this with fried plantains, but since we were having the banana fritters, I thought it would be ok. Not quite the same flavor, but it was a nice contrast to say the least.  

You know what? I was slightly skeptical, but this was actually pretty good.
The second main dish I made is Matata. I heated my olive oil in a large sauce pan and added in my chopped onions to sauté. When my onions were done sautéing, I took two cans of minced clams and emptied them (juice and all) into the pot along with ½ c of port wine (it calls for 1 c, but with my experience, most recipes call for way more wine than necessary; besides, that leaves more for me to drink later). I brought this to a boil, then lowered the heat to a simmer. After a few minutes, I added in the chopped peanuts (I crushed mine with a mortar and pestle), a can of diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper and let it simmer for about a half hour. In the last 5 minutes, I added in some spinach and covered it until the leaves were just wilted. I served this over white rice. This was actually pretty good. The clams didn’t really have a strong “fishy” flavor; perhaps the port wine helped with that. And the peanuts really added a nice complementary flavor and texture.

Long overdue, but definitely well-received.
While I was cooking, I needed a bowl to mix the batter for the fritters and one to put the pork dish in. Then I remembered that I had received several pieces of glass bakeware and serving bowls from my grandmother who had passed away last month. Part of me was reluctant to use them, in case anything happened to them. But another part of me wondered what the point of having them if I never used them. My grandmother was known for her desserts, even though I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen her eat them. At least, not more than a few bites. So, in essence, by using her bowls, I feel like I’m keeping her memory alive.

Up next: Saudi Arabia

Monday, May 21, 2018


The music of São Tomé and Príncipe tells the story of its history. It’s highly rooted in musical traditions of various regions of Africa, but it’s also mixed with Portuguese styles as well. And to add to this, they developed their own rhythms and styles on top of all of this. 


Rhythm is at the heart of most African music. In São Tomé, the ússua and socopé rhythms dominate much of their traditional-style music. However, the musicians on Príncipe are known for their creation of the dêxa beat. Other African styles, especially from other Portuguese-speaking countries like Angola, are equally as popular in the islands. Kizomba (related to zouk music) is like an Angolan-style pop music that’s often heard here.

Several kinds of dances are integrated into music and theatre. Two types that combine these elements are tchiloli and danço-congo. While both may seem similar, tchiloli typically tells a story (most commonly, a dramatic one). The Portuguese introduced ballroom dancing to the islanders here, which may have also played a part in their musical development of their own rhythms and styles to match some of the movements in the dances.

During the 1960s, other musical styles infiltrated São Toméan music: Cuban, American, Congolese, and others. Musicians here borrowed from all of these styles to create something new. Today there are several of these musicians who are now based out of Lisbon. I did find a few musicians listed on Spotify. One group I listened to is Africa Negra. To me, their sound has a very distinctive African sound to it, carried by whatever you call that higher-pitched guitar. Some of their rhythms remind me of certain Caribbean rhythms as well.

Camilo Domingos is another musician I sampled. What I like is that there are rich blended harmonies that accent the melody lines. Although there is certainly a pull from African and local rhythms and musical styles, they also merge it with some modern Western styles as well. Traditionally, his music incorporates zouk, kizomba, and rumba styles. Some place him as one of the most prominent musicians of the islands.

Another musician I listened to is Filipe Santo. The music I sampled has somewhat of a softer, more melodic side to it at times, I think. With the way he carries the melody line, I can see why he’s also often considered one of the greatest musicians from São Tomé and Príncipe. 

I think there’s probably a smaller, more independent rap scene in São Tomé and Príncipe. When searching YouTube, I found a couple of pretty good videos, and it’s evident that, for the most part, there are some talented people here with an unfortunate seemingly limited exposure. This is a video by Edsong Key Money.

Up next: the food

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Although the arts are generally supported by the people of São Tomé and Príncipe, there isn’t much financial support from the government available for it. Folk scenes are a common theme for many artists from these islands. José de Almada Negreiros was born in São Tomé and had a hand in many of the arts. Not only was he a talented artist (mainly in painting, stained glass and azulejo, mosaic, tapestry, murals, engraving, and caricature), he was also a gifted writer and even created ballet choreographies.
by José de Almada Negreiros
Another prominent painter from São Tomé was Pascoal Viegas Vilhete (also known as Canarim). He often painted the land around him, capturing scenes that depicted life as it was happening, showing the people in motion. Sometimes revered as one of the greater national painters, his style was more 2D rather than 3D, anamorphic I suppose.
by Pascoal Viegas Vilhete
There are a number of different kinds of handicrafts produced on the islands. Some of these trace back many centuries and have their roots from various areas of mainland Africa. Most of them are created using materials that are readily available on the islands, such as different woods, shells, palms, and reeds. Wood carving and jewelry making are common handicrafts that support the local shops and tourist mementos.

One of the most prolific writers from São Tomé and Príncipe is Francisco José Tenreiro. By trade, he was a geographer and teacher, but he was also a poet. He worked in Cape Verde where he started a journal publishing articles on nationalism and anti-colonialism. Tenreiro is thought of as one of the most influential writers in the nation. In fact, they named a literary prize and special wings of the National Library after him.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, May 13, 2018


As a long-time off-and-on-again student of Portuguese, I’m quite familiar with the Lusosphere (countries that speak Portuguese). And one small island nation in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa is included in that. It’s not a country many people (i.e. Americans) are aware even exists, but I’ve taken it upon myself to tell everyone about all of these really cool countries “no one’s ever heard of.” Besides what’s not to love about a country where practically every word has an accent mark in it? 

Although the dates of discovery by Portuguese sailors are somewhat disputed, the names of these two islands were roughly named for the dates they arrived. São Tomé was discovered on or around December 21 (1471), which is St Thomas’ Day. The island of Príncipe was originally named Santo Antão after they landed there on January 17 (1472), which is St Anthony’s Day. A few decades later, its name was changed to Ilha do Príncipe after the Prince of Portugal – gotta keep the boss man happy.

São Tomé and Príncipe are located on the Atlantic side of Africa (actually in the Gulf of Guinea). The island of São Tomé is just off the coast of Gabon, while Príncipe, a much smaller island, is located off of the coast of mainland Equatorial Guinea. One of the smaller islands that belong to Equatorial Guinea, Annobón, is located to the southwest of São Tomé, while Bioko (also belonging to Equatorial Guinea) is northeast of Príncipe. The islands have a tropical climate with a rainy season (October to May) and a dry season (June to September).

Unlike most other countries, this was one country that was not inhabited at the time Europeans arrived. The Portuguese were the ones who arrived first and took this for themselves. They quickly established these two islands as a place for sugarcane plantations, and sent the people they really didn’t like (mostly Jews) to man the farms. (Great work, guys. Way to handle your discrimination.) However, by the early 1500s, the Portuguese started using these islands as a staging center for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. They started pulling Africans from all over the mainland, and consequently, they also became a huge producer of sugar. By the early 1800s, coffee and cocoa were added to the mix of exports. Because the soil here is rich from volcanic ash, it makes for prime agriculture, and mega plantations were created to handle the demand. These mega plantations (called roças) run by the Portuguese led to absolute power and the abuse of that power. Although slavery was officially abolished in 1876, there were documented cases that it was still in effect some 30 years later. As many African countries were demanding their independence during the 1960s, São Tomé and Príncipe was no exception. Their independence was finally granted in 1975. During the 1990s, they had several reforms and peaceful elections, although they had some difficulties during the early 2000s dealing with corruption building up to an attempted coup in 2009.  

The capital and largest city is the City of São Tomé, which is located on the island of… São Tomé. (Were you expecting something else?) It’s the center of government, education, commerce, transportation, and media. The city was founded in 1485 and has served as an important port for centuries. There’s actually a weekly ferry that goes to Cape Verde (oh, I’m sorry, it’s Cabo Verde now), but that seems to me like it would be a very long trip.

It should come to no surprise, knowing the islands’ history, that their largest economic driver is agriculture. Cocoa is now their largest crop, representing roughly 95% of their crop exports. They also depend on copra, coffee, fishing, and palm kernels. They are also making plans to try to development more tourism in the country. São Tomé and Príncipe often struggles financially, but they have an agreement with Nigeria to jointly explore the Niger Delta Basin as part of a petroleum exploration. So, hopefully that’s working out for them.

Because of their ties to Portugal, the majority religion is Roman Catholicism. However, there are a few other denominations and religions represented here as well. A number of smaller followings of Protestant denominations such as Seventh-Day Adventists and other evangelical sects are spread throughout the islands. There is also a small number of Muslims.

I picked this because in 2003, I went to Porto Alegre, Brazil. I think they should be sister cities.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Portuguese is the official language of São Tomé and Príncipe. The vast majority of the people know it as their first language since it’s been around these parts since the 1400s. However, there are also a number of Portuguese-based creoles spoken here: Forro, Cape Verdan Creole, Angolar, and Principense. As far as foreign languages that are taught in school, the most popular ones are French and English (for obvious reasons—these are used most often as a lingua franca in many areas of Africa).

Probably one of the oddest things I’ve seen is on the island of São Tomé: the Pico Cão Grande (or Great Dog Peak). It’s a volcanic plug located on the southern end of the island. Volcanic plugs are formed when magma solidifies in a vent on a volcano, and it just builds up in a tower. To me, it looks like a giant finger sticking out of the ground. (Maybe it belongs to the Easter Island heads?) Although it’s very difficult to climb, two teams of climber have managed to do this impossible feat. There are apparently a crap ton of snakes up there, so that’s a huge no thanks from me.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, May 6, 2018


Once again, it’s the month of May in Indianapolis, and things are FINALLY starting to warm up. That means one thing: it’s sandal weather! And the festivities are already starting. School is starting to wind down a bit; the primary elections are on Tuesday; work is going well; the Indy 500 is turning everything black and white checkered across the city; and everyone on the interstates thinks they are practicing for the race.
It may be from San Marino, but it's colors almost looks Italian.

Normal people would be spending the day outside, but I never claimed to be normal. Instead, I’m going to make some amazing food today. I’m starting with Piadina Romagnola. In a large bowl, I combined 4 c of all-purpose flour and 1 tsp salt. Then I mixed in 1 1/4 c of milk, 4 Tbsp of olive oil, and 2 tsp baking powder. I kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes until it was smooth and soft. I formed it into a ball and covered it in plastic wrap, letting it rest for about a half hour at room temperature. Then I divided it into 8 balls and let my son flatten them out into disks that were about ¼” thick or so. Some were circles, some were ovals, but it was all good. In a heated skillet on medium-heat, I cooked each disk until it started to brown on one side and flipped it to cook the same on the other. Once they were cooled, I folded it in half kind of like a pita, and filled it with ricotta chese, sopressata, and arugula. This was really good. It was almost like a street food or a quick lunch kind of thing. I could eat a couple of these for lunch and be good.

Definitely a meat-lovers version of pasta.
My main dish is Sammarinese Ragú Bolognese, and it certainly took the most time. I heated butter and oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Then I added in my chopped chicken livers, ground pork, and ground beef until all the meat was browned. I strained the meat into a bowl, and then dumped half of the drippings. I poured the other half of the drippings back into the pot and added in some chopped onion, garlic, diced celery, shredded carrots, 4 cans of diced tomatoes, chopped sage leaves, and red pepper flakes. I let it cook for about 10 minutes until they were soft but not browned. At that point, I added my meat back into the pot along with some milk, red wine, chicken stock, and bay leaves. I brought everything to a boil before reducing the heat and set the lid ajar for steam to escape. The recipe said to let this cook for 3 hours, but I let mine only cook for about 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. During the last half hour when the sauce was thickened, I added in a cup of heavy whipping cream, a little bit of soy sauce, some Worcestershire sauce, a little basil and parsley, salt and pepper. After I let this all simmer for another 20 minutes, I served this over linguine. I really enjoyed this, albeit it seemed a little oily. I think the wine flavor and the livers in the sauce kind of turned off my son, who normally likes spaghetti with marinara sauce, but my daughter ate all of hers.

This is the best kind of salad I can think of.
To go with this, I made Nutty Rocket Salad. Apparently, rocket is another word for arugula (I had never heard the term rocket). To mix the salad itself, I mixed together some arugula and baby spinach and sliced radishes. In a separate bowl, I mixed together my pecans and walnut pieces along with some pomegranate seeds and a little bit of cayenne pepper, tossing everything together. I added the nut mix to the greens and added in some feta cheese and some sopressata (that I had lightly sautéed to make crispy). I tossed everything together. For the vinaigrette, I heated my oil in a small saucepan and added in my garlic. Once it was browned, I removed it from the heat. Then I slowly added in balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. I put it back on the heat and stirred everything together for just about a minute or so, just enough to blend the flavors. I took it off the heat again and let it cool before drizzling it on the salad. I really enjoyed this. I think pomegranates and feta cheese were meant for each other. And the nuts in it went well with the arugula.

What's not to love about this? It was amazing. I kind of wish I ate a whole one instead of sharing with my daughter.
And finally I made my own version of Torta Tre Monti. From what I gathered, it’s most famously made by one bakery in San Marino. However, I bought some pizzelle waffle wafers and coated one side with a thin layer of Nutella. I added another layer and did the same thing. Then I added on more layer on top (so that I had 3 layers total). Then I coated the outer edges with Nutella as well. It has been pretty warm and humid today, so it was a little melty, but it was tasty nonetheless. I should have laid them on some wax paper and put them in the refrigerator to cool and harden the Nutella a bit. But I ate it way to quickly to think about doing something like that.

Overall, this was a fantastic meal!
One of the things that I saw San Marino was known for was their wine production. I didn’t make it over to my local wine shop to see if they had any, but it’s probably ok that I didn’t. I read later on that most wine from San Marino doesn’t get exported out, even to Italy! One day, I’d love to drink my way around the world. Instead, I’ll just have to drink and read books on my couch instead.

Up next: São Tomé and Principe

Saturday, May 5, 2018


San Marino joins three other countries in a unique category: countries that have national anthems with no lyrics. (The other three, incidentally, are Kosovo, Bosnia & Herzogovina, and Spain.) Because their previous anthem was so close to Italy’s, Italian composer Frederico Consolo (who studied composition under Franz Liszt no less) stepped in to fix that. He decided to take a chorale from the 10th century and rework it to become their national anthem. While there are no official lyrics per se, the composer used lyrics written by Giosuè Carducci (I swear, everyone knew this guy. I mean, I know he was awarded a Nobel Prize and all). 

Although San Marino is fairly small, there are two classical composers with ties to the country. One was a composer of the late 1600s named Francesco Maria Marini da Pesaro, and the other was a 20th century composer named Cesare Franchini Tassini. 

Some of San Marino’s traditional dances have been performed since the Medieval times. There really isn’t a lot of information on their dance traditions. I found a couple of YouTube videos: one showing two rows of women facing each other in a folk dance, and another of a kid doing some kind of whip dance of sorts, except there really wasn’t much dancing. There might be some others out there.

Probably one of the most famous names to come out of San Marino is Little Tony. He formed a rock group in the late 1950s along with his two brothers, calling themselves Little Tony & His Brothers (how original). They got their break in the UK where they got signed, charted, and began showing up on TV. Their music definitely has an early rock feel that was quite typical of that time period. They make use of acoustic instruments like the saxophone and horn lines. I kind of like their music. He was actually active as a musician from 1957 to 2013 when he passed away from lung cancer.

Valentina Monetta is San Marino’s tribute to the Eurovision singing contest. She’s actually participated eight times, making it into the finals in 2014. Her music is kind of a pop style. But from what I’ve listened to from several contestants in the Eurovision Song Contest over the years, they really like the pop ballad. 

I also found a metal band called Necrofilia. There are several metal bands with the same name, but the one whose album Crush Test is the one from San Marino. I think their instrumentals are pretty clean with driving. But for me, one of the key factors in what I look for in the type of metal I enjoy is the vocals. I like a good melodic line, and a little bit of screaming every now and then is ok. But there has to be some kind of semblance of singing involved, and these guys have it. I am fairly impressed with them and look forward to listening to more of these guys this week.

Up next: the food

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


The arts have long been supported by the government and enjoyed by the people of San Marino. Their artistic styles were often intertwined with those of Italian art movements.
Traditional arts include a number of crafts like ceramics and stone carving. Some of these arts art still flourishing mainly for the tourists (hey, tourists are good for something). 

Like Italy, sculptures are also an important part of art. And in many cities, their public spaces and buildings are decorated with sculptures depicting San Marino’s history, important people, and their culture.

Although painting has been popular since the Renaissance, it’s still a prevalent art form. There have been several art shows and awards handed out throughout the years. Some of these shows have drawn many visitors to San Marino to witness the best of the art world. However, it’s hard to find a list of painters or sculptors from San Marino. I either kept coming up with San Marino, California or different Italian artists.

Much of Sammarinese literature is written in Italian. One of the challenges small countries face is that many aspects of their culture gets swallowed up by the larger countries around them. For the most part, the same is true for San Marino in regards to its proximity to Italian culture.

Eugenio Montale -- my honorary author
And I’m also finding out that even though San Marino has held arts and literary competitions in the past, the entrants are not necessarily from San Marino. For example, they held the San Marino Literary Prize in 1950 (the only year for this prize apparently), and the honored recipient was Italian poet Eugenio Montale. He was certainly qualified (he went on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 25 years later), but he wasn’t from San Marino. But I’m surprised there aren’t many authors or artists specifically mentioned as being from San Marino.

But alas, I did find a few. Kind of. Giovanni Battista Belluzzi was an architect and engineer who designed many fortifications during the mid-1500s. He also authored a book on military architecture (I didn’t even know there was such as thing).

Another author was Pietro Franciosi. He grew up in San Marino but wrote at the University of Bologna where one of his teachers was Giosuè Carducci (an Italian writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1906 – the seventh recipient ever!). He was a history and geography teacher until he was later ousted for incorporating his socialist and anti-fascist views into his teaching. 

But I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggled with finding Sammarinese authors. Another blogger whose blog I’ve read several times (especially if it’s a challenging country – I let her do the leg work for them) had the same struggles. She did find one to mention that you can read about here.

Up next: music and dance