Culinary Diplomacy

cooking making plantain bread

cooking cleaning rice

eating plantain

meal

This is the first post in a semi-regular series called Culinary Diplomacy. Sam Chapple-Sokol, a culinary diplomat, defines Culinary Diplomacy as  “the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation.” Sam was involved in the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership as an organizer for the Club of Chefs of Heads of State held in the U.S. in 2013. He, and a gentleman by the name of Paul Rockower (a gastronomist) are responsible for introducing me to the field.

At its best, food is about rituals and beliefs being passed on from generation to generation. People in places where there is a strong food culture (like Italy or Vietnam) identify with who they are and what they are greatly through food.

For last summer’s Kneading Conference,  I organized the panel “Culinary Diplomacy: Culture Defined Around the Table.” Through that process I learned a lot more about what Culinary Diplomacy means to different people – how food and drink have shaped some people’s perceptions of the world and defined how they look at foreign cultures.

(I hope to interview Sam and Paul, and each of the panelists from that KC event for this series).

You might think with a last name like “Kitchens” I know something about food. I do, but man is the road of learning long – and tasty – and I have miles and miles to travel.

Growing up my father traveled a lot to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. He brought his love of the dishes he tried home and thus I grew up eating a lot of Asian and Lebanese food.  Somewhere along the way he introduced me to Ethiopian food, a favorite – do you know how amazing it is how few people in America realize what an extraordinary food culture there is Ethiopia?? DE-licious! Anyhow, I have always been aware of the beauty of different cultures, because – most likely – of food.

When you travel you realize how intimately related history, geography, and food are.

When I first visited Kinshasa and Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two urbanized areas along the Congo River, I discovered them through food…

Last spring sitting close to the dirt, no more than 20 meters from the Congo River, sharing a home cooked meal with a Congolese fisherman I learned details about the region’s history you don’t find in news articles and books. I didn’t have an agenda, I was just curious about his life and about the food his wife was preparing. The yellow of the plantains, the crimson red palm oil in the stew, his hands, her strong arms, the glow of pride and love in his eyes when he looked at his wife and youngest son.  I was noticing everything around me and sharing in an extraordinarily unique and intimate experience created around eating.

When his wife lowered a basin of water and handed me a bar of soap I used it, passed it on, and washed my hands – wiping the water off on my pants. I followed the others, tearing off a piece of the thick chewy yellow bread and scooping up mouthfuls of the rich fish stew.

He saw my sincerity and welcomed my interest and let me “in” responding frankly to my questions. We were simply having a conversation while the meal was prepared. An everyday thing that takes place everywhere. I learned more about the region and his tribe in those hours than I could ever have imagined. The meal we ate with out hands was rich and unforgettable.

Honeybee Update

A few photographs from the super quick hive check.

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What you are seeing:

Honeybees can eat through their food stores (honey!) by early March if not sooner and will starve if not fed.  That’s where candyboards come in – a sugar syrup that is made into a fondant and sits inside the top of the hive. The idea being if the bees eat their way to the top (through the frames of honey) there’s the board. I had to start feeding a couple hives beginning of February because of the warm fall (the bees were active = eating).

p.s. from Brown’s Bee Farm:
“Candy boards can be a messy job in the kitchen. Boiling, checking temperatures, getting it just right so it will set up solid in your board, then you also have to pour that hot sticky liquid and contain it so it doesn’t end up on thef loor. For years now I have used a simple method that doesn’t require cooking. I mix one ounce of water to each pound of sugar, this gets the sugar damp. I put this damp sugar in my candy boards which are made from equipment I already have in my apiary, no need to purchase a specially designed board or to boil sugar and water.”

Weekend Reading and Photographer Friday

great cluck egg farm

all the snow

basil

buying the fabric

pillows

Just when I was beginning to think I had fallen victim to the magic troll-mirror, trapped in a snowy kingdom where everything seems ugly and depressing, the sun came out, it stopped snowing, and we had a couple days with temps above freezing. Even the gals of Great Cluck Egg Farm have seemed happier recently – they have been clucking away in the barn unable to romp around outside and somehow on the warmer days they seem more content – as if they know what I do – the snow is slowly very slowly melting. My Tuesday trip earlier this week to The Holy Donut for a Fresh Lemon Donut might have helped my mood a bit. So did the productive evening I had last week when I made a couple pillow covers from the brightly colored fabric I purchased in the Democratic Republic of Congo last spring. And then, there is the pot of basil on the dining room table by the one bouquet of pretty cut flowers I allow myself each week. Anything to brighten up the place!

Sunday I will visit the beehives out back and give them enough candyboard to keep them fed and presumably happy till they can begin foraging. The bees always cheer me up. They remind me of the promise of warmer weather and with it gardening and long days full of light spent hands and sometimes feet in the dirt. On the bright side, on one of the warmish days I cleared a path out to the hives (wish I had taken a photo of the feathered gals lined up in the doorway looking at me and all the snow anxiously wanting so badly to go out). No wading through thigh high snow to get to them. Yay!

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sift article

Better Late Than Never
King Arthur Flour introduced Sift Magazine this week. It has recipes (hot cross buns!), beautiful images, and an article by my friend Monica Michael Willis “At the Middle Eastern Table” – hello Pita Bread with Baba Ghanoush accompanied by a glass of Pomegranate Punch. I also love the article on Jeffrey Hamelman – Master Baker and a beekeeper!

Kenya

As someone who loves East Africa I encourage you to read this article in The New York Times on how international terror/travel warnings are ruining Kenya’s coastal tourism industry.  If you adhere to every warning the U.S. State Department puts out well you might just never go anywhere outside and maybe not even to Western Europe. American officials are fear mongers.  Nairobi has a reputation for security issues – robbery, petty theft, and armed carjacking – and the police for being corrupt. That said, if you use common sense (don’t flash money, dress like a tourist, walk around at night by yourself, or protect your money…in crowded markets) and/or travel with an established tour agency chances are you will be fine. I sure hope to go in the next year!  After that it would seem between Islamic militants and our own government it may not be that safe a place to travel to. Heck, while I was in Uganda folks were telling me how friends of theirs cancelled their safari tours to Kenya and Tanzania because of Ebola. Ebola! Seriously, that’s like a case being reported in Maine and someone from Africa not traveling to California because of it. Seriously.

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bookends

Living Mindfully
Looking for ways to give back? The book A Path Appears by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn shines a light on ways individuals and organizations can help transform lives. Biggest takeaway from the book – the idea of creating a giving circle that meets once every month to explore ways to make a difference – donating money, organizing an event, helping out at a local food bank… I met with a friend yesterday regarding starting one up – maybe combining it with a book club.

I have also approached a couple organizations – one in Rwanda, one in Uganda – about my holding a marketplace this summer or next holiday season – selling their beautiful handmade goods (think wooden bookends of giraffes or lions) and returning 100% of the profit to them to support their educational/craft… programs for women.

photo friday

Photographer Friday
Doris Ulmann beautifully and gracefully photographed the southeastern United States around the turn of the 19th century. Her images of the farmers’ wife, a fruit-stand owner, a blacksmith, grandmothers, grandfathers, and great-grandsons transport the viewer back in time into the rural valleys of Tennessee and North Carolina.

Get Lost: Learning a foreign language

fumbua cutting at market

getting braided

For some, like me, learning a foreign language is no easy task. I have found the idea of it exciting over and over – the times I tried learning Arabic (twice – a few years ago I signed up for back-to-back introductory courses – the second time I was so discouraged I stalled out midway) and French (university and more recently) and Spanish (high school) and Swahili (one of those Rosetta Stone kits for the car). I think I might have attempted Italian and maybe even some Russian in there, but not formally. I love the idea of speaking multiple languages, but have only been able to grasp phrases when on the ground – my success rate is 75% based on immersion. This post is about the why you should learn a foreign language – the benefits – and the how (what has worked for me – laying the foundation – the “other 25%”).

Sure English is pretty widely spoken, but while exploring a foreign city do you want to be that stereotype of an ugly American speaking loudly and slowly in E-N-G-L-I-S-H? Not me and I sure as heck don’t want to be anywhere near you.

Benefits:
1. Elevate your travel experience – Your ability to participate in what is happening around you – discovering a new culture and developing friendships – is reliant upon you at least knowing a few phrases of the local dialect.
2. Confidence booster – This is more while traveling – nothing makes me feel less comfortable than not knowing what the heck is being said to or around me in a language I do not understand. Imagine how much easier food shopping or even trinket shopping would be if you could use a few phrases.
3. Cool way to spend your time – Way better for you than that rerun of the reality show we could do all without (unless it is the British one about sewing or baking). Try it in the car, on the treadmill, sitting around the house.
4. Improve your employability – So many companies big and small are looking for folks who can speak Japanese, Spanish, Arabic. Speaking at least two languages shows your commitment to learning, to bettering yourself – what employer wouldn’t want that?
5. Improve your social life – Be that person who can communicate with the security guard at the museum, the taxi driver, the ivy league speaker, the award-winning photographer, the mountain climber, the restaurant owner, the friends visiting your sibling from Paris – the anyone who is bi-lingual.

Laying the foundation:
1. Purchase a dictionary of the language you want to learn. Do this no matter what. Preferably paperback, something you can carry with you. I ordered my French one through Longfellow.
2. If the CD thing works for you great, or maybe try a tutor – average price per hour might be around $30, or sign up for a class (sadly there are no foreign language learning opportunities for anyone not in school full-time in Maine).
3. Watch films or TV programs in the language you want to learn. Netflix has a lot of options.
Examples: French (Amelie, The Intouchables), Spanish (Strawberry and Chocolate, Y Tu Mama Tambien), Italian (Il Postino: The Postman), Russian (Burnt by the Sun – one of my all-time favorite films!!), Arabic (Paradise Now). If you are fortunate enough to live near an independent video shop where the staff are hip on foreign language films try there. Miramax Films released some very good French and Spanish films in the 1990s. I would recommend all or most of those.
4. If available listen to the radio station in the language you want to learn – easier if German, French, Spanish…
5. Ask around for someone who speaks the language you want to learn and see if he/she will be willing to meet you for an hour a week for a cup of coffee. This one is probably for those who already have a working knowledge of the language and want to brush up/preserve.

Pics by me from DR Congo (top), and Rwanda (bottom).

What do you think?

This isn’t a new series, just a question I might post on occasion – asking what do you think about something. A few weeks ago I got into a bit of a lengthy discussion with friends regarding some of the pros and mostly cons of Anthropologie. I know, right what’s the big deal about this chain? Well, lot’s – some details of which I cannot get into right here and now about how the board of directors of the company is advising and negatively effecting certain companies I respect(ed) taking them from small handmade influences to machine made factories of tchotchkes. It’s just how the world is today. Every day we lose battleground in the handmade world. People walk around talking about the environment and the importance of gluten-free baked goods (latter is lost on me!) while wearing garments made in China or worse. Some magazines talk about stitching parties, profile the beautiful buckle maker in Wyoming, the crafty guy in Tulsa…but a lot more tote the company line with ten perfect outfits for Sunday brunch brought to you by the Gap.

So, Anthropologie. We have one coming to Portland. Since their sister store Urban Outfitters arrived here over a year ago I have purchased one pair of sneakers there. That’s it. When I was in my 20s I was obsessed with their stuff, same with Anthropologie. While in Boston last week I ventured into the Anthropologie’s Newbury location and recounting what my friends had said about it – that they have a reputation for stealing ideas from independent craftspeople on Etsy for instance – I looked around and touched things. The glassware, the pottery it’s mostly cheap and has no –  as my friend Charlie would say – humanness. I would rather wait till I travel somewhere and invest in pieces made by local artists. The clothes are pretty expensive for what they are and look a lot better online than in person. I don’t think the interior decorators who tried to recreate an African setting in the shop – or the designers who put safari animals all over some clothes – have ever been to Africa. It was an idea of Africa, but about as accurate as a Tarzan film. The prints were nowhere near as bold or beautiful as those I saw in the DRC, Uganda, or Rwanda. …

But, here’s the thing –  I did find a pair of PJ pants on the sale rack I love – best fitting ever – and then gulp I paid full price for a dress. I really liked it, did not think the price was bad and at the time and now the purchases feel like a craving I fed. After exiting the shop, I walked out and called my friend S, one of the folks who had shared with me her strong anti-Anthropologie feelings, and said that is it for me. I will check out the Portland shop, but I would much rather support the independent stores with their incredible customer service like Bliss Boutique on Exchange Street.

The dress, my one and only Anthropologie purchase (I will pair with my tan Birkenstocks and ankle Frye boots). What do you think – about the shop, about losing handmade to industry?

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Weekend Reading

Not much to say from Maine this week – snow, more snow, negative temps. I’ve been stuck at home or not far from it for the past few days. Aside from short trips into Portland where my itinerary is also pretty limited I am stuck in Maine. And, I am in a bit of a rut about it all. The multicolored map of the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries posted on my office wall taunts me. I want to be somewhere hot with large open markets where there are stalls stacked with fish and avocados and palm oil burning here and there, a city of rusty rooftops with rural villages not far away – square mud-block houses along the side of the idea of a road. Folks, my wanderlust may just get the better of me before June. I don’t think I can make it that long. Heck, I’d take a Russian icebreaker en route to Antartica. Just something of an adventure!

By April I will be starting seeds indoors. That should cheer me up.

OH, and I have finally caught on to the craze that is Netflix streaming. Hello. There is a lot on there I can catch up on during this “I want to pretend it is green and blue and sunny outside” faze. This “if I have to rake the snow off my roof one more time and then shovel it atop the mounds that line my walkway I might have a fit” faze. Actually, the raking thing is a pretty good workout and I am sure anyone who saw me in my previous life of Hollywood glamour (kidding, but not) would laugh his/her tuckus off.

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Above – Old, pretty pictures from Maine. I took these during a trip north almost to the border from a scalloping boat. That was a fun day. Looking back I think the town appears a lot like the setting for the Syfy TV series “Haven” – the first few seasons were really good. Below – Now, well recently.

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Living Mindfully
Take a stand and join millions on Earth Hour – Saturday, March 28 at 8:30 p.m. – by turning off your lights. Light some candles, put on the mood music, and relax knowing you are making a serious statement about tackling climate change.

On the environmental note – here’s a fun quirky fact – the average amount of toilet paper used by Americans per capita in a year? 30 LBS! The US is the world’s biggest buyer of toilet paper. Believe it or not this usage affects hundreds of bird and mammal species. Deforestation is a very serious issue. Get educated with WWF.

Boston Day Trip

cafe

In lieu of the weekly Thursday Weekend Reading and Friday Photographer posts, I’m posting on my day trip to Boston.

I am writing this from aboard an Amtrak train, which is sitting in the station, where we just found out the train has been delayed 40 minutes due to mechanical (aka weather) problems has finally left the station and is slowly (no exaggeration) edging it’s way north home.

Bonus, the wireless service kept going in and out (mostly out – as in for an hour, flickered back on for a couple minutes and then off for the duration of the trip).

Have you traveled by train? It is not the most reliable mode of transportation, but then what is when traveling “great” distances?

I have been wanting to go down to Boston – and specifically the Museum of Fine Arts – for a few weeks, since the exhibition “Gordon Parks, Back to Fort Scott”  was announced. If you read this blog on any sort of a regular occurrence you will know I greatly appreciate fine photography. In 1948, Gordon Parks (1912–2006) became the first African American photographer to be hired full time by LIFE magazine. Two years later he returned to his home state of Kansas to document racial discrimination/school segregation (note, this was four years before the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education). His pictures are of family, neighbors, and childhood classmates. The stories are entertaining and the images soulful and telling.
Open thru September 13, 2015.

ceramics

Afterwards, while wandering around the museum I came across the exhibition “Nature, Sculpture, Abstraction, and Clay: 100 Years of American Ceramics” featuring ceramic art from the late 1800s to today.
Open thru January 3, 2016.

Egypt

ancient near east

bottle with chickens

Later, I explored the Ancient World collection. In addition to coins, mummies, coffins (two in one), and jewelry – I saw beautiful sandstone walls from an ancient Egyptian burial chamber (1550 – 1293 B.C.) and alabaster reliefs from an Assyrian palace (883 – 859 B.C.). The silver vessel in the photo above with “cocks and flowering plants “ (cocks = chickens) from Persia (224 – 651 A.D.) is a favorite.

All images are mine from MFA (where they graciously allow photography w/ no flash).

Get Lost: Haven in Paris

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My images of the apartment I rented in the Pigalle neighborhood. For more and to see the agency’s pics go here.

During my most recent trip to Paris, I rented an apartment through Haven in Paris, a boutique, luxury, vacation rental agency. I have been to Paris a number of times, the first time being while in university and spending a semester studying in Strasbourg, France. Aside from an early stay at a hotel – more hostel – I have stayed with my best friend who moved to Paris not long after we graduated university. She has great taste, is a fantastic cook, and well of course we stay up to all hours talking and she is the best tour guide – I am always learning things from her about the art and architecture in the city, where to get the best coffee or Vietnamese food… However, now that she has a serious boyfriend and they live together (he is amazing, yay!), and because I knew I would be exhausted coming off of nearly four weeks in East Africa, I wanted to rent an apartment in the city where I could spread out. Several years ago I read about Haven in Paris and dreamed of staying in one of their gorgeous apartments and living like a Parisian – if only for a week and only sort of.  This trip I wanted the authentic Paris experience and I got it!!

Having my own kitchen where I could make soup at night and put out a spread of French cheeses and where I could toast a baguette in the morning and slather with French jam. Divine. I shopped at markets, learned about boar pate – delicious – bought little tarts and still every day made my way to a cafe somewhere in the city for a cup of coffee – or a bowl of hot chocolate. Haven in Paris provides a greeter to give you the lay of the land of the apartment and neighborhood. Mine turned me onto a fantastic boulangerie a couple blocks away.

I never had to think about someone coming to clean the apartment. If I wanted to return mid-day there was no housekeeping staff whose way I would be in.

The balcony and view – the light in the morning and at night – a sort of burnt yellow or pink was incredible and even though it was too cold for me to sit outside I was able to open up the doors during the mornings for a couple hours to let in some fresh air and the sounds of the city. No way could I have afforded as nice a hotel room as this space!

Plus, bonus, I had wireless service and calls to the U.S. for no extra charge. After not hearing friends voices for a month that was a very welcome service.

Next time I travel anywhere for a month – where I am actually based in one town – I am definitely renting an apartment. The hotel experience is so impersonal.

Erica Berman, the creator of  Haven in Paris, took time to answer a few questions I had about Paris – tips I hope those of you considering traveling there will find useful.

When did you first feel the pull of Paris?

After college when I went to France, and when I got to Paris I stayed there rather than traveling around Europe.

Describe the moment you knew you would be forever drawn to Paris.

Sitting in a café near the Luxembourg Gardens.

When did you decide you wanted to maintain rental apartments there?

(Erica described this as a twist of circumstances.) My parents came to Paris and stayed in a friend’s apartment and loved it so much. No one was doing it. That was 1994.

What keeps you going back (to Paris) now?

I love it, have friends there, and visit our properties.

Which season makes Paris feel most alive?

All of them. They are all wonderful in different ways.

What do you miss most about Paris when you are away?

The light and the food probably. There is a very particular light in Paris that is beautiful.

Where are your favorite places to go (in Paris) with friends?

Favorite restaurant - Verjus
Le Bon Georges (in the 9th)

Jardins du Palais Royal

Neighborhoods off the beaten path

Belleville/Menilmontant and the markets and shops there

Canal St Martin

Goutte D’Or (and its morning African market bi-weekly)

Coffee
Le Bal Cafe (love the food too)
Kooka Boora
Telescope

Hidden Garden in Montmartre:

Jardin Burq 18th

Garden in Marais on rue Payenne

Love – HolyBelly (amazing breakfast along with coffee)

Spots in Montmartre

For more on Paris check out the agency’s helpful blog here.

Photographer Friday: Eugene Richards

Eugene Richards has been a photojournalist since the 1970s. His images both personal and on assignment for magazines including National Geographic and The New Yorker are some of the most disturbing and gentle. This incredibly talented man is a poet with a camera. His eyes see things no one else does and to view one of his images is to be in the room – whether a psychiatric hospital in Mexico or in a gym in St. Louis, Illinois. His subjects range from drug addiction to child abuse to child birth and everyday life in Brooklyn, NY – where he lives now – and Dorchester, MA – where he was born and grew up. A student of the legendary Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he carries on the gift of instilling this extraordinary sense of intimacy in the darkest and brightest of days.

Following are images from the Phaedon 55 book on Eugene Richards and his work.

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(Above) Grandmother, Brooklyn, New York, 1993.  (Below) The Son He Abandoned, East New York, 1992.

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Return from Prison, New York City, 1986. and (Richards writes) the crack is in the air, he’s just gotten out of the joint, you snap the picture and that night she disappears for ever

 

Weekend Reading

azizi life

Photo Me w/ Alice – my host for a day when I participated in the Azizi Life Experience in Rwanda, a program I am supporting by purchasing Rwandan made crafts they sell and donating images. Simple, small things I hope will lead to bigger giving opportunities.

 

In keeping with the theme of yesterday’s post and the fact that it is snowing here again, today’s Weekend Reading post has the international theme.

Living Mindfully – Take Action
You cannot save the world, but that does not mean you shouldn’t try or support those who are trying. Help those who cannot help themselves and your life will be better. Remain practical, but patient and determined. Individuals and institutions motivated to help make the world a better place come up against the cold facts of corrupt governments, politics – not just the country’s but sometime the organization’s inner workings, militias, cultural divides – all of which prevent very real challenges that in many cases cannot be overcome. I am in awe of the people who continue on – working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) and the brave/intelligent photographer/storytellers like Marcus Bleasdale who try to influence political policy with photography.

While seeking out ways to help in a more hands-on way abroad, I give as a Field Partner with MSF. Each month my contribution is transferred from my bank account to MSF. Simple! $30/month (about $1/day) provides a surgical kit containing essential instruments to carry out emergency examinations and basic surgery in the field.

This post from the MSF blog “Pre-departure” by a British doctor heading to Uzbekistan for nine months. Really helps you get in the mindset of one of the exceptional human beings who make up MSF’s field teams.

I thought this might make an interesting comparison to my post yesterday on essentials for a month in Africa: from the MSF blog “What do you take with you on an MSF Mission?”

Better Late Than Never – links to travel sites…
A quasi travel/take action/live mindfully item – Tough Mudder is a program designed by British Special Forces that advertises itself as the toughest event on the planet. I would love to try and do this and help raise money for Wounded Warrior Project, a frequent benefactor of TM. Find an event.

Week in New York – Because in my opinion nothing goes as well with cocktails as deep-fried Jersey-style franks (except maybe the tasty flavored popcorn at my local fave Portland Hunt & Alpine Club in Portland, Maine) I give you the oh so trendy PDT. And where I’ll go to recover after a night of hot dogs and cocktails – Ancient Baths of course #New York  for a thermal bath with aromatherapy.

I want to go to one or more of these – Marrakesh’s best hotels with spas

This one is for my best friend who because of weather didn’t get to take her boyfriend on a hot-air balloon ride while in Burma this past fall. Bummer.

Because although I don’t feel the draw to go to Iceland (come on, I live in Maine….so give me Africa!), I am obsessed with the new television show Fortitude …

about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.

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