Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Homebody Travels - Chile


Chile is a narrow strip of land fringed by the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains.  It's diverse geography includes grazing lands, desert, mountains, lakes, fjords, and forests.  Chile was under Inca rule until colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century.  It was also under a military dictatorship (1973-1990) which left over 3,000 people dead or missing.

Finally a few interesting factoids:
  • Chile has one of the longest recorded dry spells in world history: it did not rain in the Atacama Desert for 40 years.
  • There are over 1300 volcanoes in Chile, many which are active.
  • Punta Arenas it is the southern most city on a continent in the world.
  • The meaning of the word Chile in native tongue means “Where the land Ends.”
Cumbia is popular throughout Hispanic America, including Chile.  The genre is a cultural African and Spanish music/dance influences.  It was originally an African courtship dance, but was then mixed with European instrumentation.  In Chile, cumbia is one of the more popular dance/music types, common at celebrations and parties.  La Noche was a popular group from the 2000s which performed a more traditional form of Chilean cumbia...if you should happen to want a listen.

It was oddly difficult to find Chilean recipes that were authentically and exclusively Chilean and not also or more prevalently Argentinian or Peruvian.  Anyways, after much researching we decide to make postre (dessert), called turron de vino (wine meringue) that we found on a blog, which featured a picture of a Chilean abuela (grandmother) making the dish.  Seemed pretty legit.

(we cut down the version slightly to serve 2)

1. Combine 3/4 cup sugar and the 1/4 cup red wine in a saucepan over moderate heat and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and make a syrup. Simmer uncovered until reduced in volume by about half.

2. Meanwhile, beat 2 egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff form. Add the wine mixture into the bowl slowly as you beat them.

3. Chill until you serve

Not every culinary venture can be a success, and if it is...well then you simply aren't taking enough risks.  We tried to like it, approached it with an open mind...but well, we just couldn't honestly say we were enjoying it. So a few spoonfuls was enough ;)

We chose Motorcycle Diaries for our Chilean-set cinematic experience.  Much of the film takes place in Chile, giving a good amount of screen time to the natural beauty of the landscape and also featured bits of the music (several scenes featured community dances).  The film really gives good perspective on the diverse geography and topography of the region, including scenes in the Atacama Desert and the lake region of the country.  Not to mention it's just a great film, poetic, and historically insightful (showing the early biography of Che Guevara.    
Finding the read for this week was easy since the infamous Pablo Neruda was Chilean.  Among other accolades, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.  "Ode to the Artichoke" is one of my personal favorites, but he is perhaps more known for his romantic poetry, a passage of one such poem is included below (it is more beautiful in it's original language):

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, 'The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her void. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Homebody Travels - Morocco


Morocco is about the same geographical size as California, bordering the Meditteranean sea to the north west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north east.  It is composed of fertile plains, a Mediterranean coastline, and the Atlas Mountains (near the Algerian border).  The Berbers were (more or less) the nations original inhabitants, but throughout its history Morocco has been annexed by the Roman Empire (AD 46), invaded by Arabs (circa 685, which brought in Islam), and were at colonized by the French and Spanish in the early 19th century.  The nation finally gained in dependence in 1956.

In an interesting, non-historically related factoid: in Moroccan culture the liver, not the heart, is considered the symbol of love.

I will admit that before we selected "Morocco" from our little bowl of paper slips with countries on them, I knew little to nothing about Moroccan music. I can't say that I 'know' much now, but it is something slightly more than "nothing."  I did however eventually stumble upon a (likely over generalized) synopsis of various Moroccan music types.  I think what I found most intriguing about Moroccan music is the combination of spoken poetry with folk instrumentation, which may include: lutes, symbols, fiddles, zithers, and goblet drums.

When researching Moroccan cuisine, various versions of stew came up quite frequently, so that is what we settled on to cook.  The recipe we found seemed hearty, quick to make, and had chickpeas (and who doesn't like chickpeas or at least like saying the word "chickpeas").

Soups and stews somewhat make themselves but here are the steps spelled out just the same (our version served 4)

1. Saute half an onion in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
2. add in: 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, salt and pepper to taste (if you see the recipe hyper-linked above, it calls for cumin & cayenne pepper...we just were fresh out...)
2. Add in 3 cups of water, 1 chopped medium-sized potato, 2 chopped large carrots, 2 chopped roma tomatoes.

3. Bring to a boil
4. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender
5. Add in 1 chopped (1-inch pieces) zucchini and 1 (15 oz) can of chickpeas.  Return to boil.
6. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5-8 minutes or until all vegetables are tender

By chopping all vegetables in large pieces, this gives the stew a sort of chili-like composition and is very sustaining (not to mention it plates pretty).  We were curious about how the cinnamon would work out in a soup, but we are both sold on the idea now.  Cinnamon, while often used in desserts, adapts itself well to savory stews...and makes the whole house smell amazing.  We agreed that it was the key ingredient to this culinary success.

There were a few choices of films that feature scenes shot in Morocco...and we selected Gladiator.  The opening scenes aren't shot there, but most of the Roman empire portions were filmed on sets in Morocco.  The dessert caravan scenes especially played to what we imagine much of Morocco would be like, so it suited the bill...and it's a great movie anyway: history, action, and an awesome score to boot.

what we do in life
echoes in eternity

I had a hard time finding Moroccan poetry in translation online for some reason (I blame the Wikipedia labyrinth).  I am sure there is a wealth of it somewhere, I just got lost when being linked from one link to the next.  However, I found the lyrics to the Moroccan national anthem to be insightful to the culture and people, as most anthems are I suppose.  But, given it's Mediterranean climate and it's (primarily) Islamic composition, the emphasis on the sublime and light seem an accurate encapsulation of imagery that would often appear in Moroccan poetry (had I succeeded in finding more to read):

Fountain of Freedom, Source of Light
Where sovereignty and safety meet,
Safety and sovereignty May you ever combine!
You have lived among nations With title sublime,
Filling each heart, Sung by each tongue,
Your champion has risen And answered your call.
In my mouth And in my blood
Your breezes have stirred Both light and fire.
Up! my brethren, Strive for the highest.
We call to the world That we are here ready.
We salute as our emblem
God, Homeland, and King.