It’s true. I love being in the kitchen. Baking, cooking, stewing, brewing, you name- I love it! I love creating new things and morphing traditional recipes (I cannot remember the last time I followed a recipe strictly…). I think it is a comfort thing- I can remember the kitchen being the gathering area in both mom and dad’s house. Whether munching, preparing for the holidays, or just talking over wine, kitchens bring me home.
Being in a new environment (in every meaning of the word) has sparked my creativity and I am fortunate enough to have a host family who have both encouraged me to use local and fresh ingredients, and who have not minded being guinea pigs every Tuesday night- and when homemade cookies make their way into the gas oven ;) I think cooking with a family in a new culture is one of the best ways to integrate and really get a taste (sorry about that pun…) of local life. I have had the pleasure of being in a few international kitchens, and have always felt more comfortable in the location afterwards. From cooking with a Tuscan-nonna over a holiday while abroad, to an amazing German kitchen with some of my favorite people, and a three stone technique in a hillside slum just out of Kampala with beautiful and multi-talented women… cooking is learning- about self, others, life, and creation.
In the Caribbean, one can imagine the abundant array of nature’s harvest. You name it, it can (or probably does!) grow here. St. Vincent, in particular, is blessed with fertile volcanic soil which I am told yields beautiful fruits and veggies! Cooking-wise, this is going to be a great two years! I have big plans for a personal garden in my yard, as well as a community garden at the clubhouse. Seeds from the states are most welcomed ;) (wink, wink!)
So far, I have become a fan of the following new wonders (and integrate them into my diet as frequently as I can):
- Sorrel (aka Roselle): I use this for juice (with a splash of fresh ginger, sugar (which I will eventually substitute for honey, once I can afford.) Similar in taste to a cranberry (with the same UTI preventing goodness), these little crimson flowers are in the hibiscus family and have also been linked to reducing hypertension.
- Soursop: This fruit looks crazy, and tastes like tropical fruit flavored starburst! I slice it open, peal off the alien green bumpy skin, and blend it with soy milk, banana, fresh cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean, and voilà – yummy antioxidant smoothie! Not to mention, I save the seeds for my rasta friend, “Rainbow” who uses natural goods (cocoa pods, other indigenous seeds, hemp, etc.) to create amazing pieces of jewelry in town. If anyone wants any for the Holidays, put your orders in now! This guys is great!
- Breadfruit: Not really a fruit, I would argue, but more like a potato (in taste and consistency). This one is growing on me… At first, not being the biggest advocate for filler-uppers like the starchy potato, I did not appreciate breadfruit. However, my host dad prepares it by roasting it over/ inside a homemade fire pit in the backyard- and OMG!- it is so good. It obviously tastes smoked, but it is softer- creamier if you will- than the average Idaho-ian export. Cut up and mixed with shredded carrots, raisins, cabbage, celery, and a little mayo (I know, I know… but there is no Veganaise out in these parts people and a girl needs her breadfruit) it is delicious! Not sure if I can re-create the fire pit action at my place in a few weeks, but hey, I though Peace Corps was supposed to be about all that- making fire to cook your food and hand washing soot out later…
- Plantains: If it looks like a banana, grows like a banana… it must be a plantain (or of course, unless it is a banana). Plantains are less sugary than bananas (or dessert bananas), but I enjoy them grilled in the skillet with some cinnamon sprinkled on top. They taste better sliced at a sharp angle… not sure why:)
- Christophene: Looks like nothing I have seen before, but tastes like a squash. Good with seasoning and a main dish.
There are so many new things I am trying thanks to a host family who loves to expose their peace corps volunteers to some interesting local dishes. Although they know that meat (of every sort) is not quite my cup of tea, I have learned that Vincentians like a pig’s foot stew once in a while, “black fish”, or locally caught porpoise, mutton (goat), and of course fish! Although I do not plan to eat these items while in SVG, I can appreciate the default local food movement here. I am also learning that almost every part of the animal is used once it is slaughtered. While I do not think my body can process flesh anymore, the reason I became a vegetarian was not that I did not enjoy eating meat. Rather, for the ag-business to have one less customer forever due to my disagreement with the lack of respect given to living creatures; namely, the mass production of animals and the non-compassionate way in which they are slaughtered. Of course, I do not wish animals were killed in general, for any reason, but I do not think global vegetarianism is going to happen in my lifetime. So, I can appreciate the village life- where although meat is consumed, the animal went to thorough use and is not over-hunted.
Back to the kitchen!
Tonight I am making pad thai with the following (vegetarian and locally grown) ingredients:
- chives (pronounced “sivves” here)
- bok choy
- cilantro/ basil/ parsley/ celery leaves
- coconut milk
- local peanuts
- chunks (referring to an earlier blog; chunks are a staple in the widely present Rastafarian population in SVG. Rastas, are strict vegetarians- if not mostly vegan, and chunks are textured vegetable protein “chunks” that are added into many plates here. I guess it can be most linked with tempeh. Sounds weird- but it tastes good. Variety is the spice of life, eh?
- ginger (so cheap here, and delish!)
- peanut butter (okay, okay, it is the ONLY thing that could be slightly unhealthy in this batch).
- maybe an egg or two from the neighbor’s chicken
The funny thing about my Tuesday night cook-ups is that I never cook this stuff in America. I have never made pad thai in my life, have made pizza maybe once (and did it from scratch last week!), never made tacos, and make lasagna like once or twice in winter. But here, at least at my host fam’s casa, Tuesday nights are Kiersten’s kitchen creations!
I made these yummy banana/ chocolate/ oatmeal cookies last week. From a batch of roughly 48: half went to school, half stayed home and were gone by the time I got home the following day after training. I had two, but they were (indeed) a favorite ;)
I am looking forward to moving into my own place on April 2nd, and breaking my new kitchen in. We will be together for the next two years, and need to become acquainted:)
If you would like any recipes, or have any questions on suggested substitutions, please let me know:) For instance, no sorrel in your neighborhood Whole Foods? Try dried hibiscus or even fresh cranberries… I also welcome your suggestions for tropical-inspired recipes. I am thinking this might become a favorite ;)
I think I am going to have to start writing these down, but (yet) another personal goal I have while in Peace Corps is to write my own cookbook. For one, it will force me to write down the “how to” of my concoctions, and secondly, if I can get it published, I would like to use the money to fund an animal shelter/ welfare center for St. Vincent… we shall see!
Living to eat,