Archive | July, 2010

Oh the Life I Lead!

30 Jul

Tomorrow is my last day in DC! I can’t believe it. The three months that I have been here have flown by. Sometimes people in similar situations feel like – I just got here! How am I leaving already? – but I don’t. Rather, I feel as though I’ve lived here forever and I’m leaving behind a second family. My boss has welcomed me not only into her work, but also into her life. I’ve had the opportunity to meet (and sometimes play with) many of her friends, people who for her are like family here. I never thought I would love my work so much, but I do!

Every week I’ve been here has been different from the last, but there is a general pattern to how my life looks. Most days I work independently, doing admin stuff for YWDEP or working on grant writing.

Kristen leading a workshop

Twice a week I go to the actual YWDEP workshops, on Thursday evenings and for most of Saturday. I’ve gotten to know the girls really well, there are about 12 of them and each one has a unique personality and skill; it’s been cool seeing them open up more to us and one another. On Thursdays we focus on drumming and on Saturdays we split our time between drumming and whoever our guest artist is for that day. We’ve had workshops on performance theatre, beatboxing, poetry writing, African and hip hop dance.

leading my first workshop

I don’t really know much about any of those fields, so I was learning right along with the girls. The drumming is of course my favourite part, and a couple times I’ve had the opportunity to actually lead those sessions! The first time I was really nervous, but everything turned out fine. My boss is really good at her job, and clearly observing her at workshops helped me learn a lot not only about drumming but also about teaching.

The first month I was here, in addition to the YWDEP sessions I accompanied my boss on several weekly drumming workshops, which was interesting because each group of people was different, from girl scouts to middle aged women. The second month was really intense, filled with rehearsals and performances.

Akoma rehearsal

I’m so grateful to have been allowed into the Akoma Drummers and the Bele Bele Rhythm Collective, the two traditional ensembles my boss leads. Along with the Akoma drummers, I’ve played everywhere, from a Farmer’s Market to a weekend event called Yoga on the Mall. Along with the Bele Bele women, I prepared for a big performance in Montgomery County (MD). We were featured as part of the concert series held by a community there. Being in Bele Bele was an incredible experience, every member is female and brings something different to our dynamic. Rehearsals were a lot of fun and the grand finale, our performance, went really well. I got to play two paint buckets! Hahaha I had a blast that day.

I’ve learned so much about drumming since I’ve been here. The kinds of drums my boss plays are not at all like the ones I learned on in Ghana (well except for one, but they play it differently). Mainly, I played the dununs, these double-headed drums that come in three sizes, small = kenkeni, medium = sangban and large = dununba, they go in stands and you hit them with sticks. I learned a bit about the djembe too, which is what most people want to learn. It’s a bright sounding drum with a goatskin head, and is the most popular West African drum. Actually probably the most popular/well known African drum. I love the way it sounds and wish I got to play it more, but my skills were needed on the dununs. Drumming is more than physical activity, it’s also an intellectual exercise; especially with traditional African ensembles, which utilise polyrhythms, making it more difficult to find the “1” and stay on the beat. I’ve enjoyed stretching my mind trying to find out where my rhythm fits in with everyone else’s, and comparing Guinean and Malinke forms of playing with the Ghanaian ones I learned in the fall. One of the Akoma drummers plays the congos, and I’m itching to start playing those. I absolutely love how they sound, if they were a food I imagine I would describe the taste as nutty, mmm, I love nuts! Hahaha. Anyways, I’m off to YWDEP! I have to hurry or I’ll be late ;)

jamming outside the Columbia Heights Metro

Advertisements

DAG! I’m … Dining Across the Globe :)

28 Jul

I didn’t really cook much this past week or weekend because I went out a couple times with friends. The places were completely different from one another, but the food was all delicious! First, on Wednesday, I went to a Thai restaurant for dinner.

drunken noodles

I met up with a girl I know from my first apartment. She’s been such a blessing to me here! When I first arrived, she took me on a walk around our neighbourhood. For the month that we lived together, she helped me navigate the bus system (of which she is a big fan) take care of the apartment (since we seemed to be the only ones who cared about cleanliness) and just served as general company, which was nice since I didn’t know anyone. We both moved out of that apartment and into the area we’re in now, quite a coincidence. Anyway so we went to eat at this place called Thaitanic! Lol love the name. It was actually Thaitanic II, since the original is downtown. I got drunken noodles (which I’ve never had before), and she got chicken kra pow (which I’ve had there before).

chicken kra pow

My noodles were so delicious! Wow. Spicy and sweet and an interesting texture. I wasn’t sure about what I had chosen at first because I was torn between the noodles and red curry, but mmm! I’m going to order them again at some point I’m sure.

Walking back from the restaurant, my friend and I decided to go to Eastern Market for breakfast on Saturday morning since I’d never been there and it’s on my list “Things To Do in DC”. My friend raved about this particular place that serves blueberry buckwheat pancakes and so we made a date :) We met bright and early at the metro. It took about 30 minutes to get there, and then we had to stand on line for like 25 minutes before we could order. The place, called Market Lunch, serves breakfast and lunch and is very well known; “bluebucks” are their specialty. It’s got kind of a diner feel and was really cramped because of all the people; after getting our food we sat at the one long table in front of the cashier/kitchen with everyone else who ordered their breakfast ‘to stay’. The pancakes were pretty tasty and quite filling. I didn’t order any sides and they kept me full until dinner time – despite the fact that I couldn’t even finish them! After eating we walked around a bit. Eastern Market was built in 1873 and is DC’s oldest farmer’s market. I discovered that in addition to fresh food, there are flowers, crafts, jewellery and art on sale. It’s a pretty cool place and if every you’re in DC you should try and check it out.

Later that day I met up with another friend of mine who came down from Massachusetts for the weekend. Our original intention was to get Indian food. We wandered up and down U-Street with no success, but we saw about a thousand Ethiopian restaurants! We took it as a sign and went into one of those instead. We picked the perfect one, it was incredible! To quote a review in the Washington Post:

The low-ceilinged space is unlike its competitors. Here, patrons congregate on rustic wooden stools beneath what look like umbrellas made of twigs, each cluster of seats and tables separated by a see-through shade. A small gallery’s worth of imported arts and crafts practically warrants a guide.

The food was just as impressive as the décor. I had never had Ethiopian food before, and now I’m a believer!

mmmm!

I don’t remember the name of what I ate, but if I told you it probably wouldn’t mean much anyway. It was finely minced ground beef with onions, jalapeños and some special spices. My friend ordered beef ribs that were also very tasty. And the injera, the sour bread that the food is served on and eaten with, was really good too. I can’t wait for my next Ethiopian experience!

On Sunday I went up to the group house above my apartment because I couldn’t get onto the internet. I ended up staying there all afternoon and most of the evening too. We all hung out while different people came by to check out a couple of the rooms that are opening up over the next few weeks. There were about 6 of us in the front room chatting and joking; it was really nice, I haven’t had a hang out session like that…since before finals last semester. One of the guys’ had his girlfriend and their mutual friend over, and this friend, whose father is Jamaican, made a big pot of curry the night before and we all shared it for dinner!

So I had traditional Western (anyone know where pancakes originated?) Asian, African and West Indian food all in a matter of days! And I enjoyed it along with great company to boot. Oh the life I lead ;)

Peas, Beans and Lentils

23 Jul

For whatever reason, that phrase plays like a refrain in my head whenever I think of lentils, or vegetarians for that matter haha. I think it’s because I learned in Food and Nutrition class in high school that vegetarians need to eat lots of peas, beans and lentils to make up for the protein they aren’t getting from meat. It just stuck with me, I don’t know, our brains latch onto strange things sometimes. Until last week though, I had never had lentils before. They seemed like such a foreign food to me. I was inspired to buy a bag of them near the beginning of my summer though, because a friend told me they were high in protein and really cheap. Almost every week I would scour the internet for a recipe that used lentils…most of them were for soup, and I’m not the kind of person that can enjoy soup when it’s hot.

Finally, I found a recipe that was simple and seemed like it could be delicious. I boiled the lentils for 20 minutes (they smelled really funny btw :s ) and I chopped up a ton of onions and browned them in butter; I also shook in some cayenne pepper and a little cinnamon.  Next I added a few of the onions to the pot of lentils, along with some rice, and let that cook

lentils and onions

until the rice was done, i.e. all the water was absorbed. Meanwhile, the rest of the onions were still going, because I was caramelising them. When the onions were finished, I added them to the pot of rice and lentils. To be honest, it looked really ugly, everything was all brown. I chopped up some tomatoes to add colour and freshness, sprinkled on some salt and pepper and I was good to go.

It tasted pretty good and I would make it again, but I don’t think it’s going to be a favourite comfort food or anything, the way some of the recipe reviewers described it. The next time I make it I’m going to add garlic and hopefully I’ll have sour cream because I think that’s supposed to help too. I’m happiest because I finally used some lentils! Now that I’ve cooked them once, I’m less intimidated by the idea of using them again, and being creative with them. Another tool for my cooking box ;)

look, it matches the bowl!

Another dish I made that I’m a lot more excited about is homemade hamburgers! (Clearly I’m not cut out to be a vegetarian.) I’d never made them before but I had ground beef and some eggs to get rid of, so I thought why not? It was really simple. I added onions, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and eggs to the beef (in stages) mixed it all together, and finished it off with squirts of ketchup since (sadly) I have no Worcestershire sauce! hahaha.

I left it overnight because I wasn’t ready to cook it when I prepared the meat, and I think that helped the flavours really get into the meat. Whether or not that’s true…I don’t know, I didn’t have a control and I’m not aware of people marinating ground beef…but when I made little patties and cooked them the next day they were delicious! Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the finished burgers, I forgot to take them. I served it with freshly mashed potatoes, that also had parsley in them. What’s with all the parsley you ask? I’ve got the hugest bunch you’ve ever seen in my fridge. It’s outrageous. I have it because of the rice I made for YWDEP. Anyway, so whatever I can possibly add parsley to, I do. I can’t believe it’s lasted this long! However, I still doubt I’ll be able to use it all before it goes off. But back to the burgers, they were good hot and cold :) I wish I had a picnic to have taken them on! That’s ok though, I know for next time :)

giant hamburger patty

A weekend with the J-Man

20 Jul

My family came up to visit a few weeks ago! I was so happy to see them. We didn’t do anything spectacular but I had a great time just hanging out with them. They stayed at the home of a family friend, and so it was nice to reconnect with her and her family as well. On Saturday we went to take one of my brothers, my sister and my cousin to a camp at UVA. This left just my mother and littlest brother to celebrate my first 4th of July in the US with me.

mid-assembly

One of my favourite parts of that day was this dessert we created from these foodstore-bought mini-cakes, strawberries and whipped cream. It wasn’t my idea, but I was in charge of assembling them. First I had to prep the strawberries, I cleaned and sliced them, then left them covered in sugar while we ate dinner.

my brother, the whipped cream monster!

Later, when were ready for something sweet, I put the strawberries in the  depression in the middle of the cakes and artfully sprayed whipped cream on top. They were so delicious! The cake was just a plain vanilla flavour but it was nice and spongy. The strawberries were really fresh and then you add the whipped cream you get an interesting mix of flavours and textures in your mouth :)

The next day I tagged along on the mothers-and-their-youngest sons trip to the national zoo. You would think that seeing as how I live within walking distance from said zoo I would have visited already, but I’m (only somewhat) ashamed to report that that wasn’t the case. It was so hot. :| oh my goodness.

so cute!

And we wandered in search of animals for 4 hours! By the end we were all beat. My brother was such a trooper though! I could tell he was tired but he didn’t let this affect his attitude.

I never asked him which, of all the animals we saw, was his favourite…but I think mine was the elephant! There was only one baby one, and we saw it on our way out of the zoo. We were all a bit disappointed because we didn’t get to see any cheetahs or pandas, nor could we find the elephants, but, how fortuitous, they had moved them (or maybe just that one) to an area we passed as we were leaving.

hahaha :)

There were a crowd of people and I went to go check out what they were watching and wow! Hahaha. I’ve never seen a live elephant before, despite the semester I spent in Ghana last year and the visit my group made to Mole National Park…whose symbol is an elephant lol. I’ve always wanted to get close to one of those huge creatures. Truthfully, I want to ride one! I think they’re fascinating, the way they are so intelligent, and have some sort of family system and an emotional connection with their loved ones. Hopefully while I’m in  India or Thailand I’ll find  a way to have my wish fulfilled. I can’t wait! And oh the food! I’m sure I’ll be rendered speechless by both experiences. Indian and Thai cuisine are among my absolute favourites :) Of course, I still have to get all the details out of the way first…pesky matters of financing, dates and purpose, but don’t worry, they’ll soon be all sorted!

Contentment from Scratch

13 Jul

Making sweet things was my first kitchen love, and I’ve tried not to neglect my relationship with sugar since I’ve been here. Apart from rice pudding, I’ve made two batches of pancakes.

The first was from the crate of produce from my landlord. We had no time to eat them because the frozen fish was on top of them and they turned immediately.The second batch was because I bought some organic bananas, and I learned that they ripen a lot faster than regular ones, I guess because they’re not pumped with chemicals. I love banana pancakes even more than regular ones, especially the way my grandmother makes them – with crispy edges and lots of sugar so you don’t need syrup (I think she started making them that way because my granddad doesn’t like syrup, but I’m not sure).  Well I found out from an aunt a while ago that you can get the crispy effect by frying the pancakes in butter rather than oil. But another characteristic of my grandmother’s pancakes is that they’re very flat.

I had no idea how they came out like that until I was looking up recipes to get the ratios right and realised that I had no kind of leavener (baking soda or powder) I was like well, I guess I’m going to have to go without!  And voila, came out just like my grandmother’s! hahaha. I don’t know if the lack of leavener was a result of her not having any / not thinking it was necessary / absentmindedness, but I really like it.  People might find it strange that I prefer my pancakes sweet, doughy and cold (!), but hey, to each his own right? Plus, can you think of a better way for a poor college student to stretch her pocket and be as satisfied with the results? These pancakes right here are a twofer,  sentimental value and singing tastebuds :)

Something I did make normally was a batch of cookies. I went to visit a friend of mine in Northern VA, and it was quite an ordeal to get there.

fun times :)

I was supposed to meet her for an early breakfast but ended up getting there at lunch time :| We had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with watermelon and raspberries at her poolside though, which was lovely. To help kill time and put me in an even better mood, I suggested we make cookies. From scratch? My friend wondered. Of course! This is me we’re talking about. We ended up creating the oatmeal, coconut and pecan cookie, which is delicious if I may say so.

Speaking of cookies, just last night my apartment-mate made a batch of her own, with a delicious secret ingredient that I won’t reveal here because I’m going to steal it! Muahahahaha! Anyways, they were chocolate chip with almonds on top.

chocolate almond cookies

She made about 4 batches (they were to take to her office) and had a little problem with some of them regarding consistency (some were a little softer than she would have liked) appearance (a couple batches spread more than she would have liked) and one batch had a taste glitch. But even though she was frustrated that they weren’t perfect little plump and round cookies, I found them quite yummy.

Baking just makes me so happy; I don’t even have to eat whatever it is I’ve made. In fact, half of the fun is in giving the results away! It doesn’t matter what mood I’m in to begin with, I cream, fold, whip and knead all my frustration away, and watch as right before my eyes powdery, fatty and liquid substances come together to make something altogether unexpected. The final product never fails to make me smile, even if it’s an epic fail, I can laugh about it. From start to finish, the exercise brings me contentment :)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What Do You Do When You Can’t Do Anything?

12 Jul

Did you know bedbugs were real? I didn’t. Of course I knew the saying “good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite”, but I thought it was more of a joke than anything else. Well I recently discovered that there are such things as bedbugs, and in the worst way possible – I had them. My housemate and I were in denial for about a week about what these bites that kept appearing on us every day were. But eventually I got fed up and looked up bedbugs, only to be horrified that the little creatures I saw on the screen matched exactly what I had seen on my apartment-mate’s bed! After trying to get in touch with our landlord for days, we sent a strongly worded email to him and within 20 minutes he called me to discuss the issue. Long story short, he organised for this cheap, disreputable company to come and fog our bedrooms. It was such a hassle! Pray you never get bedbugs. All our clothes and linens had to be washed, everything swept and vacuumed, books shaken out and furniture turned over. Then everything (except for furniture) had to be put into plastic bags. Everything seemed to be ok, but then the apartment was overrun by flies! They were everywhere. I was hardly home that weekend but for a few hours each day and to sleep and I must have killed at least 100 of them :| It was crazy. And then, one night I was up late and this creepy bug crawled up the wall of my bedroom. I was horrified. I sat frozen staring at the wall wondering – Does this mean there are more of them? Is it dangerous? Ahhh I don’t want this to be happening!! And I don’t want to get near it! Why does this keep happening? – But I had to kill it or go to sleep with the fear that it would make its way to my bed. Imagine me throwing my sandal at the wall at 2 in the morning, leaping away and as far away as possible, then dragging the plastic bag it fell onto to the front door, all while trying to be quiet and muffle my yelps because my apartment-mate was asleep :s I haven’t seen any more of those critters, but a few days later, surprise surprise, my apartment-mate reported more bedbug bites. So the company had to come back and since I had prematurely unpacked my plastic bags I had to try and stuff some things back into protective coverings.

It’s been a week now and it seems as though we’ll be fine in the bedbug department, but I literally just found out (as I’m writing this) that my landlord has filed for bankruptcy. *sigh* Now I’m worried about getting my security deposit back because he’s incredibly hard to get a hold of and he’s not very trustworthy. As in, he knew about the bedbugs from an incident with prior tenants and didn’t say anything! And I’m supposed to be living in a furnished apartment but I sleep on a futon and had to find my own bureau :s And there are holes in 2 walls (one in my bedroom) and several on the kitchen floor that he has done nothing about. What is that saying about things going wrong? If they can, they will? Well I’m kind of fed up with this whole apartment situation now. It’s the one thing about my life here that has caused me grief. I left my last apartment because my roommate was disgustingly messy and one of the other girls (there were 4 of us) wasn’t any better, which meant either I had to live with the mess or clean up after everyone, which was not cool. Plus I was far from where I needed to be so it just seemed like a logical thing to move. It’s really frustrating because I do everything that I can to ensure that things go smoothly i.e. communicate my intentions, pay my bills, speak up when something is bothering me, but it doesn’t seem to matter! In both situations, the things that have gone wrong have been out of my control, as have their resolutions. Well, I guess it’s not possible that everything go perfectly for me this summer, and to balance out all the amazingness of drumming I have to deal with this apartment drama. A small part of me can’t to leave so that I can be done with all this negative stuff, sleep in a real bed and see the sun in the morning (there are no windows in my room), but most of me hates the thought of having to leave because I love what I’m doing so much, and there’s so much else that I want to see/learn about this city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Little Veggies Go A Long Way

11 Jul

Remember a while back, when my landlord, aka sketchball/douchebag, gave my housemate and I a crate of market produce?  (Is douchebag necessary you ask? Don’t worry, all will be revealed) Well I had to figure out what to do with an eggplant, artichoke, corn and a couple of sweet potatoes. Here’s the breakdown:

Eggplant
By the time I got around to dealing with the eggplant, it was overripe. There were actually two to begin with, but I gave one to my boss because I knew there was no way I could eat both of them. Too late I discovered, making a dish with one small eggplant and not much else isn’t really possible :| Apart from the purple veg, I had half an onion, 4 mushrooms, a couple overripe tomatoes, and some old celery. Sadness, I know, but I hadn’t been grocery shopping! I also had a loaf of bread. The same loaf from ages ago. Still! I know. So I was looking up recipes and realised none of them would really work since I only had 1 of the ingredients, an eggplant :| Finally I found one for a casserole type thing. I used the basic idea of layering the browned eggplant with other veggies. I just threw everything I had into the pan. Then I threw on some salsa for good measure, and squeezed on some ketchup. I also toasted the bread and scraped it over the top, to make breadcrumbs. Lastly, I sprinkled the little bits of mozzarella, cheddar and provolone cheese that I had. Then I put it in the oven for about 30 minutes, and voila! It was pretty yummy if I do say so myself :) And a great way to get rid of basically everything I had left in my fridge hahaha. After that dish though, I really had to go to the foodstore.

Artichoke
This isn’t as happy a tale. I had to do a lot of research into artichoke preparation since we never ate them growing up and I had no idea what to do. Basically I read that you clip off the sharp ends of the leaves and then steam the whole artichoke till the leaves are tender. Then you peel it apart and eat it with a sauce of your choosing like mayo or olive oil. I didn’t try that snack type method right away because I wanted to see if I could find a way to incorporate it into a larger meal, but alas, even though I found some recipes they weren’t practical for my situation. So by the time I ended up cooking the artichoke it was really old and didn’t come out very well at all. I made a sauce with olive oil, salt and pepper to dip it in, but it was just not good. I took it apart just to see what the centre was like, but I didn’t really eat any of it and ended up throwing it away. No pictures of that sad snack. Sorry! Hahaha you’re not missing anything trust me.

Sweet Potatoes
These were delicious!! Ahhh just the memory of them makes me smile :) I boiled them and mashed them, then added butter, salt, a little brown sugar and cayenne. BAM! Hahaha they were so good. And so easy! Foolproof. Go make them now! You won’t regret it.

Corn
I cooked this the same time as the sweet potatoes. I just wrapped the husks in foil and put them in the oven, although the foil probably wasn’t necessary. I left them in there like 30 minutes then took them out and added salt and butter. I wish I could have grilled them, because I love that smokey, charred kind of flavour of grilled corn, but these were pretty good too.

Oh yea! I just remembered that a friend of mine here gave me a giant bunch of chard. Chard? Exactly, I had no idea what it was either. I had to look up what it was before I could even cook it haha. It’s a dark, leafy green veggie that’s kind of like a cross between romaine lettuce and spinach…but not really. Haha. Anyways, I had no idea what to do with it! I ended up chopping it up and sauteéing it with butter and onions. Then I remembered I had bacon left over from the peas n rice and so I threw that in for good measure. After sprinkling it with salt and pepper it was good to go! And it was pretty good too. Kind of bitter, I don’t know how I can fix that in the future, maybe include less of the stalk? Anyway, it shrank right down, the way spinach does, and so I ended up cooking all of it at once.

So that’s the end of my veggie tales. Hahaha!! You know the kids series? Anyway, except for the corn, I ate each of these dishes on their own as a meal for either lunch or dinner, so they served me all well. Errr, except for the artichoke, which was a fail.

the eggplant dish before cooking

and after cooking