Monday, June 29, 2020


You might remember the old children’s joke: “How do you say hello in Turkey? Gobble, gobble.” There are probably a hundred dad jokes about turkey the bird vs Turkey the country. Speaking of the bird turkey, it’s one of the weirdest words when translated to other languages: it’s referred to as Hindi in Turkish (this reference to India or the city of Calicut [Kozhikode] is seen in at least a dozen other European languages); Greek, Khmer, and Scottish Gaelic refer to it as a “French bird or chicken”; Malay calls it a “Dutch chicken”; depending on the variety of Arabic, it can either be a “Greek, Roman, or Ethiopian rooster”; and Portuguese and Galician calls it a “Peru.” And the Japanese call it a “seven-faced bird,” which makes me wonder how much saké they were drinking before they named it.

The name Turkey (the country) came into English via Latin (Turquia or Turchia), which simply meant “land of the Turks.” Chaucer mentioned Turkye around the late 1360s. There were several various spellings over the next few centuries (as there were with a lot of words in English during this time) before finally coming up with the current spelling we have today. The Turkish name for their own country, Türkiye, wouldn’t be adopted until 1923.

Turkey is one of the few countries that spans across two continents: Europe and Asia in this case. About 97% of the country is in Asia, but there is one region called East Thrace that is in Europe. It’s surrounded by the countries of Greece and Bulgaria to the west; Ukraine and the Russia-controlled Crimean peninsula to the north directly across the Black Sea; Georgia, Armenia, the Azerbaijani region known as Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and Iran to the east; and Iraq, Syria, and the island of Cyprus to the south. The European side is separated from the Asian side by a series of waterways called the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus. (There is an excellent Turkish restaurant in Indianapolis called The Bosporus that is a favorite of ours.) These are also situated between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea as well. The country sits on top of a fault line that occasionally causes earthquakes in the area. While their climate kind of varies depending on the region, summers are generally hot and dry while winters are milder and wetter.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

This country is one of the oldest regions in the world; people started moving into the Anatolian peninsula around 12,000 years ago. Göblekli Tepe is the oldest manmade religious structure that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Hittites were the first to create an empire here, and the Assyrrians came in later and claimed their own areas. Aeolian and Ionian Greeks settled on the coastal areas and founded several cities that include Ephesus, Miletus, Smyrna (now Izmir) and Byzantium (now Istanbul). During the 6th century, the Persian Achaemenid Empire conquered much of Anatolia, and these Greek city states weren’t having it. It later fell to Alexander the Great, which basically made it more Greek. When Alex died, the Romans took over and brought Christianity with them. In 324, Constantine I chose Byzantium as the new HQ for the Eastern Roman Empire and renamed it after himself: Constantinople (later to become Istanbul when the Ottomans took over, and a great They Might Be Giants song about it). It became known as the Byzantine Empire, which would rule the area until about the end of the Middle Ages. There were several Christian councils that held meetings in what are now Turkish cities. The Seljuks from Persia started moving into Anatolia and brought with them Islam. After the Seljuks were eventually defeated by the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire would take their place. The Ottomans would expand their territory, often butting heads with European and Persian forces. During the 1700s and 1800s, the Ottomans would go to war with Russia a number of times, to be followed by the Balkan Wars. Only the end of WWI would see the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. Once they were officially declared a republic, Mustafa Kemal was donned the first president and later named Atatürk, or Father Turk. Although they remained neutral for most of WWII, they joined the Allies toward the end. Turkey went through a series of military coups, and during the 1970s, they invaded Cyprus and still have a Turkish side of the island that hardly anyone recognizes but themselves. Last year, Turkey also invaded Syria, and Amnesty International has reported war crimes and human rights violations were a result of the invasion.

Despite what some people may initially think, Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey--it’s the more centrally located city of Ankara. The capital city, which literally means “anchor” in Greek started out as the city of Angora, whose name is preserved in a few animal names like Angora cats, goats, and rabbits, all known for their fur. The city is a mix of ancient sites and modern buildings. There are nearly 50 museums throughout the city along with restaurants, theatres, shopping malls, universities, and sports venues.

As a founding member of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the G20, Turkey has the 13th largest economy by PPP (purchasing power parity). They have a strong automotive industry as well as banking, oil refining and petrochemicals, mining, electronics and home appliances, and food products. Women in the workforce were slightly under 29% in 2018, even though they make up slightly under half the population. They ranked higher in the service industry but only make up 17% of any executive position, making them the lowest among OECD countries.

Although declared as a secular country, the vast majority of Turkish people are Muslim, with Sunni being the largest sect, followed by Shia and a small number of Quranist. About 1% of people are spiritual but not adhering to any particular religion, while Christians, Jews, and any other religion make up a fractional percentage of the population. For many decades, there was a ban on wearing the hijab since it was viewed as political, but in recent years that ban was lifted. The Erdogan administration has strong feelings toward the Islamization of the country and has caused a lot of problems for the non-religious crowd. However, in 2014 the first atheist organization in Turkey was established, and one poll reported that almost 3% of Turks are atheist.
Turkish is the official language of Turkey. (I’ve been going through some of the beginning lessons on Duolingo; it’s an interesting language.) It’s spoken by the majority (around 85%) of the people as a first language. The Kurdish dialect known as Kurmanji (sounds like a knock-off of Jumanji) is spoken by almost 12% of the people, mainly in the southeastern corner of the country along the Syrian, Iraqi, and Iranian borders. Arabic (in the south) and Zaza (in the east) are also spoken in Turkey along with a number of other languages, including quite a few endangered languages.

One of the world’s most famous buildings is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Originally built in 532 AD, it only took six years to finish it (compare that to Notre Dame in Paris, which took over a hundred). Through riot damage, fires, and bad design, its famous domed top had to be rebuilt a couple of times, but the final one has lasted nearly 1400 years (with a little tender loving care along the way). What started out as a cathedral was converted into a mosque as the Ottomans changed everything over to Islam. Today, it’s a museum and has been since 1934. I may not be religious, but I have a deep appreciation for the beautiful architectures and spaces that many religious buildings have.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, June 21, 2020


So, I finally got a new vehicle. I was afraid that my old one was having transmission issues and it was discontinued anyway. So, I ended up opting for a brand new vehicle. Like, it had 22 miles on it when I got home. I’ve never had a brand new one, just ones that are a few years old. I’m still in sticker shock, but now maybe we can go check out some state parks while staying away from people.

I thought this was a tasty sandwich, even worthy of breakfast.

But today is not that day. Today is Father’s Day for one, and today is also a day for making Tunisian food! I started out making Fricassee. I’ve always thought fricassee is a different kind of meal, but this is different. It starts out with stirring together 1 ½ packets of yeast, about ½ c of water, and 1 Tbsp of flour together and let it sit for about 10 minutes until it was frothy. Then I added in 3 ¼ c of flour, 1 egg, 3 Tbsp oil, and a little bit of salt. I mixed it together and after I got it to the right consistency (I had to add a little more water and flour), I formed it into small oval-shaped buns and let it rise until it was doubled in size (about an hour?). Then I heated some oil in a skillet and fried them until they were golden. Once they cooled, I slit them open lengthways and filled them with tuna, Israeli salad (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers, and feta cheese topped with a lemon juice/olive oil mixture with a bit of salt and pepper), hummus, and hard boiled eggs. I really liked this sandwich. My husband was sort of meh about it because he thought it would be better on a thinner bread. (But he loved the Israeli salad, though!) I thought it was like a fancy tuna salad sandwich, but the kids were also indifferent to it. Hm.

The green harissa sauce really made the dish. I love this stuff so much.

The main dish today is Tunisian Tagine, Couscous, and Green Harissa Sauce. This dish was originally made with chicken, but I opted for the vegetarian version today. In a large pot, I heated a bit of oil and added in two cans of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, it’s the same thing) and some cauliflower that I broke up into small pieces. I sauteed them for a few minutes and then sprinkled it with a bit of salt, pepper, chili powder and sauteed it for another minute. Then I added in some diagonally sliced carrots and onions to the pot and let it saute until the onions were soft before adding in some minced garlic and ginger (I had to use ground). I kept sauteeing this for a few minutes. Then it came time to add in my spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and caraway seeds. After they have sauteed for a minute, it was time for the salt, sugar, diced fire-roasted tomatoes, some chopped dried apricots, and a bit more water. I brought it all to a simmer and stirred it a bit. Once it was simmering, I stirred in the couscous and mixed it into the vegetables and spices. Because I had instant couscous on hand, I skipped putting it in the oven for 15 minutes, I just kept it on the stove for about 10 minutes (which I forgot to turn my heat down and the bottom scorched a bit). While that was simmering, I made the harissa sauce. I placed some fresh parsley, garlic, and a jalapeño (with seeds removed for a milder heat level) into a blender and blended it until it was well processed (I added a bit of water, but then I realized I added a bit too much). I placed this into a bowl and added in a bit of plain yogurt along with a bit of paprika, ground coriander, and salt and stirred well. Once it was done simmering, I took it off the heat, garnished it with mint leaves, and served with the green harissa sauce. I actually thought this was really tasty and filling, a great vegetarian dish full of flavor. No one else had the same opinion. It ranged from “I don’t like the chickpeas” to “It was alright” to “Bye.” Everyone’s a critic.

I think I drank too much of this. So, so good.

Finally, I made a drink called Tunisian Citronnade that is perfect for this hot summer day. I peeled and deseeded about five lemons, sliced them into quarters and put them in a large bowl with a bunch of sugar and let it sit in the fridge for 4-6 hours. Then I took some of those lemons (with some of that syrup that formed) in a couple batches and blended them with some water and strained it into a pitcher. Then I took the juice of half an orange (in lieu of orange blossom water) and muddled a handful of mint leaves in it a bit. I added the orange juice and mint leaves to the lemonade and stirred everything together. The second batch didn’t get quite as blended as the first, so it was a little pulpy over all. I couldn’t taste the orange at all, but the mint was a nice addition. (Imma bout to add some tequila to it in a bit.)

I thought this was fantastic, even if I was in the minority on that opinion.

So, I was thinking about today’s youth while I was chopping vegetables. I wrote about how Tunisian youth are setting up their own radio programs to address issues that affect them. They’re taking control of things they can, and effecting change where they can. They’re voicing their opinions and learning the art of defending their position. Last night I read how a bunch of teens reserved tickets for the Trump rally today, but they had no intentions of going. There were huge sections filled with empty seats, and the venue was only about a third full to hear his racist rhetoric. Teens and twenty-somethings are going to take over this world and are determined to be heard. So, here’s a high-five to the tech-savvy teens out there making the world listen, fighting to good fight, and bringing us all together. I see you.

Up next: Turkey


The thing about the musical style called malouf (also spelled ma’luf) is that even though it’s best known throughout Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, it actually originated in the Andalusia region of Spain. But it’s not so crazy if you remember that at one time Spain was under the same jurisdiction as most of northern Africa. So, you know, what’s mine is yours. However, what was played back then is different now because of the influences from Berber and Turkish music and other local styles that has led it to gaining the status of being a sense of national identity in Tunisia. Today, malouf is performed at wedding ceremonies and circumcision ceremonies (I bet those are really awkward and weird).

Like other places in north Africa and the Middle East, the oud is also a staple of Tunisian music. There have been some minor differences in design over the centuries, such as the makers branding their name to the instrument, which was a practice that really only started in the 20th century and mainly in Tunisia. Anouar Brahem was a famous 20th century Tunisian oud player.

Besides malouf, a few other musical styles have made their way into Tunisian traditions. Mezwed uses traditional Tunisian drums called darbouka and a type of bagpipe called the mizwad. The lyrics are usually on themes of family and love but also controversial topics like racism and immigration. Another style of music that’s also tied with their national identity is salhi. This style has its roots in ancient Berber music.

Many of these musical styles also have dances that accompany them; dance plays an important part of their culture. The dance that goes with the mezwed style of music can sometimes send people into a trance. (What’s in that drink anyway?) Another type of traditional dance is called Nuba. This dance uses acrobats or sometimes jars of water. Of course, belly dancing is also seen in Tunisia as well.

F. R. David

One Tunisian musician hit the international stage. F.R. David’s 1982 song “Words” became a hit throughout Tunisia and Europe. It’s quite on point for 1982; it did fairly well on quite a few charts and was even used in a movie.

Saber Rebai

I listened to Saber Rebai. Unfortunately for me, I can’t read Arabic, so I don’t know the album title or any of the song titles. But what I listened to almost sounded like dance music. He’s a Tunisian of Yemeni descent and has won numerous awards for his participation in several international music festivals.

Latifa is a pop singer, and I listened to her album Aqwa Wahda. I really like her music. I can sometimes sense a bit of Western melody line, but it’s quite catchy and quite mixed with traditional vocal styles. It also seems like dance music to me.

Checkpoint 303 is a collaboration between Tunisian SC Mocha and Palestinian SC Yosh, producing their music on a nonprofit motive. It’s kind of an underground, avant-garde, activist-driven musical documentary, so to speak. The one I listened to was called The Iqrit Files.

In a completely different genre, I switched over the Myrath. Think: glam folk metal. I really like them. From what I’ve heard from their Live in Carthage album, I bet they’d be pretty awesome to see live. The band Ymyrgar is a pagan folk metal band, the first of its kind in Tunisia. They base their band name and musical style off of old Norse mythology. I plan on exploring both of them more.

When it comes to rock music, Sabri Mosbah should definitely be on the list. As both a singer and guitarist, he certainly adds a bit of rock, a bit of blues, and more than a touch of Tunisian vocal stylings to his music.

I did find a couple of hip-hop musicians. Balti was the first I listened to. I thought he had good background music, and his vocals were tight. I think Arabic lends itself to sounding good when rapped. Looks like some of his song titles are in French, English, and Arabic. Klay BBJ is another rapper I listened to. I really liked what I heard; in fact, some of it sounded like something I’d hear on the radio if it were in English. Apparently, he’s had some trouble with the police by voicing his unsavory opinion of police in some of his songs (one in particular was called “The Police are Dogs”). Another rapper who’s been at odds with the media over his promotion of Islamism is Psyco-M. I like his use of piano in his music. I’m always a sucker for a piano.

Up next: the food

Thursday, June 18, 2020


It’s no surprise that Tunisia, a land that is surrounded by rocks and desert, should have rock art. Archaeologists found evidence of these ancient rock drawings in areas around the Saharan regions of southern Tunisia. These ancient peoples around the town of Bou Salem also left behind some dolmens, a type of large stone structure that serves as a tomb. The Romans, Greeks, and Carthagians left a lot of artistic styles and architecture throughout Tunisia.

Because of Tunisia’s location, quite a bit of the types of art and particular styles have been based on their history and influences from other areas. Spain, Persia, and even China has had their influence on Tunisian art. The country’s older art forms use these influences to create a style called Arabesque. It’s a type of surface decoration that consists of scrolling, intertwined vines, tendrils, foliage, or sometimes just lines with other elements to it. Sometimes it can be created as a tile, and the tile is replicated (I suppose somewhat like a partial tessellation, perhaps?). Because Islamic art forbids creating any likeness to people, it will often employ these arabesque-style artforms, incorporating geometric patterns with it. It creates for a very complicated, beautiful look.

Tunisia is also known for its mosaics and pottery. Mosaic art is one of my favorite styles of art: taking smaller pieces of ceramic or glass usually (or both perhaps) and creating a picture out of the pieces. They use a variety of bright colors to make these designs, mostly seen on walls or floor patterns. You can see this style of art used in a lot of buildings and in architecture, and many times, mosaics are cut to create geometric shapes and even accented in gold or other metals.

by Ammar Farhat

Early on, painting wasn’t quite something that Tunisians engaged much in since Islam forbids painting humans. By the time the French arrived and took over, painting extended itself from a European artform to one that Tunisians took up as well. Art schools popped up, especially in Tunis, and students began learning skills and techniques from all over Europe, Asia, and other places. A group of painters led by Moses Levy, Ammar Farhat, Abdelaziz Gorgi, Yahia Turki and others encouraged native themes and rejected some other foreign influences in a way to promote their country. It ended up bringing people of different backgrounds together. As Tunisia gained its independence, artists started going off on their own, incorporating their own national flair into other genres, like abstract, expressionist, fantasy, calligraphy, and other styles. And as much as Tunisians went abroad to study art, other artists trekked to Tunisia for the same thing, most notably Alexander Roubtzoff, Paul Klee, and August Macke.

Aboul-Qacem Echebbi

Tunisian literature is either published in Arabic or in French. Clearly, there’s more literature written in Arabic than French, mostly because the French influence didn’t come until 1881. Poetry has long been an artform among the Arabic-speaking countries, and Tunisian poetry is included. However, Tunisian poetry is also known for stretching the rules, doing their own thing through nonconformity, and creating their own through innovation. One poet who represents this well is Aboul-Qacem Echebbi--most famously known for writing the last two verses of the current national anthem. The sad thing is that he died at age 25 from heart problems, but his poetry has been revived to a degree in recent years.

Albert Memmi

French literature in comparison was seen as a critical approach to writing. In fact, one French-Tunisian writer, Albert Memmi, who just passed away last month, didn’t have high hopes for Tunisian literature. He essentially alluded to the idea that it just simply wouldn’t go anywhere, a fad that will fade. But that’s completely contrary to what other Tunisian authors have done by traveling abroad. Authors like Hélé Béji (author, educator), Abdelwahab Meddeb (professor, poet, novelist, translator, radio producer), and Mustapha Tlili (novelist, worked at the UN) brought themes of traveling, wandering, heartbreak, and exile to the forefront.

Radio also had a huge influence on storytelling (both fiction and nonfiction), especially during the early 20th century. Telling stories on the radio during that time was popular all over the world because it was a fairly new technology that allowed you to reach massive audiences. Douagi Ali was one of these writers, producing over 150 of these radio stories, not to mention over 500 poems and folksongs, and about 15 plays as well. Even today, radio is still being used by youth as a medium for telling journalistic stories that commercial and government stations wouldn’t begin to think of airing. These youth have even rejected the idea that there are some subjects (as directed by some older people) that should be taboo, like politics, religion, and sexuality. But they’re pushing forward and creating more of these youth-led radio stations across the country.

Up next: music and dance

Monday, June 15, 2020


When I was in high school, I was part of the concert band. French horn had been my instrument since middle school, but I also played piano as well. But then I discovered we also had a jazz band. Jazz was cool to me, and I couldn’t get enough. The problem was that the French horn wasn’t a jazz instrument, and they already had enough piano players. So, I listened from the sidelines, taking note of composers, musicians, and songs I liked so that I could immerse myself into this new world of jazz. There were three pieces that stuck out as my “Top 3 songs that never get old”: “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington, “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck, and of course: “A Night in Tunisia” by Dizzy Gillespie.

The name of the country Tunisia takes its name from its capital city of Tunis. It may be related to the Berber root word for “to lay down” or “encampment” and may also be related to the ancient city of Tynes. Before this area became known as Tunisia, it was known as Ifriqiya, which lent its name to the word Africa, that the whole continent is now known.

Tunisia is located in northern Africa, nestled in between Algeria to the west and Libya to the east. It also has a coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. Directly north of it is the Italian island of Sardinia, and to the northeast is the Italian island of Sicily and the country of Malta. The eastern end of the Atlas Mountains touch Tunisia as does the northern edge of the Sahara Desert. However, much of the country is on fertile land. So, even though it’s not that large of a country, compared to other north African countries, it’s quite diverse in its environment. Tunisia and Algeria have some salt lakes called chotts that run along the northern edge of the Sahara; the largest one is in Tunisia and called Chott el Djerid.

Ancient Berbers were the first ones to live and farm in this area. The Phoenicians then settled here and set up the city of Carthage in the 9th century BC. It would become a major city in the Western Mediterranean. They were engaged in wars with Greek-run Sicily, and then Carthage (under the guidance of Hannibal) attacked Rome in a series of wars called the Punic Wars. There was a lot of prosperity during this time as an exporter of olive oil and cereal grains. During the Middle Ages, the Arabs expanded their territory across northern Africa. It took a while to convert all the people (ya think?), but one of the first Islamic cities was Kairouan, home to one of the oldest mosques in this area, the Mosque of Uqba. By the 1500s, the Ottomans were on the move and the areas around the Mediterranean were in its sights. They took over Tunis, and after they endured fighting with European forces, Tunisia lost a lot of its territory and was in a lot of debt. So, now enters France, who took it under its wing as a protectorate. French people (as well as Italians) started moving into Tunisia. During WWII, Vichy Tunisia was occupied by Nazi Germany briefly and was the site of a series of battles. Tunisia finally declared its independence from France in 1956 and announced itself as a republic a year later. In many ways, Tunisia was one of the more modern countries, yet there were many ways in that it was quite repressive to its citizens. Extremely unhappy with then-President Ben Ali over corruption, mismanagement, human rights issues against political adversaries, lack of free speech, high unemployment, and inflation, Tunisians led a revolt and revolution in 2011. It took awhile for things to settle down, and there was quite a shift in leadership and how things were done after that.

The capital city is the northern port city of Tunis. The ancient city of Carthage is a suburb of Tunis. Originally a Berber settlement, evidence of Tunis as a city dates back to the 4th century BC. The city’s ancient medina is listed as a World Heritage Site. As old as this city is and has preserved many of its oldest landmarks, it’s also quite a modern city. With museums, parks, universities, sports venues, restaurants and nightlife, it’s no wonder why Tunis is often the site for international festivals and conventions.

Tunisia is known for having a diverse economy from agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, petroleum, and some mining. Several years ago, they were ranked the most competitive economy in Africa, and today they have several multinational companies with offices in Tunisia. However, they are mainly an export country, with strong partnerships with the EU. Right now, there’s a lot of growth happening with several big building projects on the horizon.

Nearly 98% of Tunisians are Muslim (mostly Sunni), with the remaining 2% being Christian, Jewish, or some other religion. They’re generally fairly tolerant of people being of other religions, as long as you follow the rules of Ramadan. A few years ago, several men were arrested and handed a month-long jail sentence for eating in public. Sheesh.

Arabic is the official language of Tunisia, but more specifically, Tunisian Arabic (also called Tounsi). And because Tunisia was originally Berber land, there are smaller numbers of people who speak some Berber languages, known collectively as Jebbali or Shelha (not sure why there are two names). Although it’s not an official language, French is often used in education, business, and the media, not to mention that many signs are written in both Arabic and French. Since there has been a small Italian population for a long time, there are also pockets of people who speak Italian.

Tataouine from Star Wars is a real city in Tunisia of the same name.

Tunisia has long been involved in the film industry. When the Lumière brothers first created their famous camera and started filming, Tunis was one of the places he showcased his films and animation. And it wasn’t long before their landscape became the backdrop for other films to create their worlds, like Star Wars (including Episode 1: The Phantom Menace and Episode II: Attack of the Clones), The English Patient, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Little Prince, and Where To Invade Next. The place I can’t wait to invade is my kitchen when I make Tunisian food soon.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, June 7, 2020


It’s been a stressful last couple of weeks. I keep thinking of that line in the Hamilton musical, “The world is upside down.” The good news is that the kids are finally out of school, and I’m officially the parent of a new 9th grader and a 6th grader. However, the murder of George Floyd has sparked outrage across the world, including in my own city. People are getting caught up in the riots and looting and forgetting WHY the black community is so livid. My husband is African-American and our kids are biracial, so this is personal to me. In 2020, we shouldn't have to still be teaching white people that black people are exactly that: people. We should’ve never had to have that conversation, period. I’m going to need to have decent white people start stepping up and holding racist trash accountable. I can’t stress enough that we need to educate ourselves and LISTEN. So, perhaps it’s fitting that I’m making food from Trinidad and Tobago today.

All the right stuff.
The first thing I made was Easy Trinidad Hops Bread. I got a large bowl out and mixed together my dry ingredients: 2 c flour, 2 ¼ tsp sugar, 1 ¼ tsp salt, 1 ¼ tsp of yeast, and 2 ¼ tsp of butter. I cut my butter into the dry ingredients as much as I could. Then I added in about ¾ c water to it and mixed well, letting it rest until it was twice its size (about an hour). Then I punched down the dough and formed it into balls about the size of golf balls. On a greased baking sheet, I laid out these dough balls with some space between them and covered them with a damp towel and let rest again for about 20-30 minutes. I baked these at 400ºF for about 20 minutes until they were golden brown on top. When I served them, I sliced them open part way while they were still hot and put a bit of shredded cheese in it so that it melted. My daughter was a huge fan of this. I think it’s normally eaten plain, but I saw a note that the author’s mom used to put a bit of cheese in it, and I thought that sounded fantastic. Who’s gonna argue with mom?

The fresh parsley really brings out the flavors and makes it pretty.
I have two main meals today, it seems. The first one is Trinidadian Chicken Stew. In a large saucepan, I heated my oil over high heat and added in some brown sugar and cooked until it turned dark brown. Then I added in my chicken pieces, ginger, salt, and pepper and stirred until my chicken was browned. Once that was done, I added in two cans of diced tomatoes, thyme, fresh parsley, diced carrots, diced potatoes, and enough hot water to cover it. With the lid on, I let it simmer for about 40-45 minutes until all the veggies were tender. You can adjust the seasoning with a little more salt and pepper at the end and garnish it with more parsley before serving. This was fantastic. I loved how the flavors all melded together -- and it was quite tasty with the bread!

I wanna try this one again because I think it's probably really super good.
The other main dish I made was Trinidad Macaroni Pie. I picked this especially for my son who is a huge macaroni and cheese fan, but he’s been sick to his stomach all weekend (that’s what ¾ lb of blueberries will do to you). I took my elbow macaroni and boiled it in salted water just like normal. When it was done, I drained it and put it back in the pot but set it off the heat to cool. I was supposed to caramelize some onions that were going to be added in the macaroni, but I apparently used my last onion and didn’t realize it. So, in another bowl, I beat some eggs until they were fluffy and then added in some onion powder to make up for it (narrator: it didn’t), some evaporated milk (my husband only bought me one can, so I had to use some whole milk with it), salt, pepper, garlic powder, dry mustard (I had to use a little regular mustard since I didn’t have any dry), dried thyme, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Once I stirred all that together, I poured it over the macaroni and mixed everything together until it was well coated. Now comes for the good part: I stirred in 3c of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. In my greased 9x11 baking dish, I poured all of the cheesy macaroni mix and spread it out, topping it with a bit more cheese, about 1/2c. I baked this dish at 350ºF for about 35-40 minutes until it was golden on top. The important thing to remember is to let it rest about 10 minutes before eating it. I actually thought it was a little bland. I don’t know if I just needed some of my spices, or that I didn’t have the caramelized onions in it. But it also wasn’t terrible. I liked it ok.

Spicy fruit. S P I C Y.
And finally, I made Trinidadian Pineapple Chow. I was happy that my husband was able to find an actual pineapple. I think grocery stores are a little better stocked by now, with the exception of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Anyway, I chopped up a bit of fresh pineapple and put it in a bowl. Then I added in a bit of minced garlic, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper, and a bit of lime juice. Now for the interesting part: I added a bit of hot sauce. You can either serve this right away, or put it in the fridge for 30 minutes to let the flavors mesh. I opted to let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. This one surprised me. It was unexpectedly good and spicier than I thought.

Really good. Especially if you're a fan of cheese.
Whenever I read about Caribbean history, it’s a humbling experience. And I add those lessons to the “things I didn’t learn in high school” folder of my mind. Perhaps we should raise expectations on how our history is taught. Stop watering down events and experiences. There is always a way to teach something in an age-appropriate manner that doesn’t take away from what actually happened. But if teachers aren’t being taught that when they’re going through school themselves, then what do you have? It’s all about educating yourself and learning about experiences that don’t have to do with you. Bottom line: listen and learn.

Up next: Tunisia

Saturday, June 6, 2020


If there’s one thing Trinidad and Tobago is known for, it’s their music. The music from these islands is a mix of African, Caribbean, French, and other European styles. I’d say the most well-known style to come from these islands is calypso. The origins trace back to West African kaiso music that evolved into calypso music as the French planters arrived on the islands during the 18th century. In its early days, it was sung in French Creole but later changed to English. It eventually spread from Trinidad and Tobago across the Caribbean as well as into Venezuela.

Calypso isn’t the only musical genre that’s popular here. Soca is a style that mixes calypso with Indian music and is usually used as dance music. Chutney and Chutney Soca are also related styles that use of Indian music. Pichakaree is a style often used as social commentary and sung in both English and Trinidadian Hindustani.

Social commentary is also used in rapso, a style that started in the 1970s and 1980s out of a mix of calypso, soca, and American hip-hop. Parang is a folk music style that developed in the island’s Hispanic neighborhoods. Steelbands developed after WWII and slowly grew in popularity. These steel pans (or steel drums) are concave toned metal drums that were developed in the African communities. Ok, it’s not actually a drum, but rather an idiophone.

One dance that is commonly performed is the Bélé. This dance was introduced by the French (known as “belle aire”). It’s actually a dance that’s performed with variations across the Caribbean, but in Trinidad and Tobago, the dancers tend to be women. It’s thought that it stems from the times slave women would dance for the masters there. The women still wear dresses that look like dresses from that era during the dance. And then there’s calinda, a type of choreographed stick-fighting. (Reminds me a little of capoeira?) Carnival in Trinidad is a super popular ordeal with tons of music and dancing as well as calinda, which is said to have its origins as a martial art in the Kingdom of Kongo.

So, I found quite a few Trinidadian musicians on Spotify. The first one I listened to is Lord Kitchener, one of the most famous calypso musicians. He rose to international fame in the time he got started singing calypso in the late 1930s to the time he retired in the 1990s. I really enjoyed listening to his music with its harmonics and rhythmic guitars and percussion. And in quite a few songs, it really reminds me of the jazz bands of the 1930s-1960s, especially Latin jazz in some cases. Lord Melody is another calypso musician of a similar style and era.

Lancelot Layne was often considered the father of Rapso music. Popular in the 1970s and 1980s, it was his song “Blown Away” that put this genre on the map. It was a genre that grew out of social issues like the Black Power movement and labor unions. Cheryl Byron is another rapso musician.

David Rudder is another famous calypsonian. I listened to the album Trinidad Stories, and it had a more modern feel to it. He also performs soca style music as well. There’s one thing I can say is that it always seems like it’s happy music.

When it comes to Chutney music, Sundar Popo is credited as the creator of this genre that developed out of Bhojpuri music of India. He got started in the late 1960s. It definitely sounded more like Indian music to me, but I can also hear some of the Caribbean rhythms behind some of the songs.

Machel Montano
Machel Montano is a soca musician who has performed with quite a few reggae and dancehall musicians around the Caribbean. I think his music is pretty catchy. One soca band I listened to was Kes. They also bring in bits of rock, calypso, and reggae in their music as well. And I even found a female soca singer: Destra Garcia, who often just goes by Destra. I liked her style. It was kind of upbeat like dancehall. I also listened to Bunji Garlin, a ragga soca musician. Ragga is related to dancehall and reggae. I thought it was fairly catchy, but I’m also a fan of dancehall and reggae.

Nicki Minaj
And of course, one of the biggest names in hip-hop is Nicki Minaj. She probably needs no introduction, but she was born in Trinidad and raised in Queens, New York. I think she can be a little raunchy at times and certainly brings the drama at times, but she’s entertaining. And she can certainly rap fast, which always impresses me.

Up next: the food