Monday, June 5, 2017

Unexpected India (1-4 June 2017)

When Ray and I flew back to Singapore to visit Jenny et al we didn't plan on any additional trips until we leave at the end of June for our next adventure. But an opportunity arose shortly before we left the US. Jenny had a work trip to New Delhi the week after we arrived in Singapore.

She asked me if I wanted to join her at the end of the work week for a few days of mother/daughter adventure. I had just enough time to apply and wait the 7 working days to get my India visa (I had 4 days to spare).


I flew into New Delhi on Thursday morning, getting into town a bit before noon. I had booked a food tour through Viator before I left to start things off until Jenny was done with her work meetings.

The tour's meeting point was a Metro stop near the Delhi University. The Metro maps online were not very helpful, their interactive map was still being developed, so I really had know idea about distances. It turned out to be a 1+ hour ride from our hotel. I had read the Metro was easy to navigate so I got directions from the hotel to the closest station stop Guru Bronacharya.

It took me about 10 minutes to walk to it and another 15 minutes to find the ATM machine and an additional 10 minutes to buy a token for the ride. I went through security at least 3 times before I had everything I needed to board the train.

It indeed is easy to navigate and the very first train car is reserved for women only. There are loads of pink signs pointing to the first car. I felt comfortable there but I was the only non-Indian person in the car. The colors of the saris and the pajamas worn by the younger women were vibrant and exciting. I would say only about 30% wore western clothing.

My tour started at 4pm with my guide Alan. He walked me through the college neighborhood and took me for a petal cab ride which was breathtakingly scary at times.

We walked and ate for 2 hours, nibbling all kinds of good stuff. At our last stop Alan wrote out a list of all I sampled.

Here are a few of the things I ate:

Shawarma Paneer
Bhel Puri

Dahi Puri - my favorite
By the time I got back to the Metro station it was about 6:30 and the line to get into the station and go through security was long, long, long. By this time Jenny was finished with work and texted me to see where I was. She met me at the Metro station with her JLL assigned driver, Shaman. This saved me a walk back to the hotel along dirt roads filled with honking bikes, cars and motorcycles.
Friday morning I enjoyed the goat herds out our hotel window. We were staying right on the border of the city and the country so our window view showed both.

After breakfast Shaman drove us to the city of Agra which is the home of the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world. Built with exacting symmetry, it is a wonderful building to behold.
The city of Agra is small and purposely not industrialized to keep the Taj as clean and safe from pollutants as possible. The streets are filled with people and many street cows, the cows that are no longer useful on the farms but are honored in the Hindu religion and live freely among the people.

The other amazing structure in Agra is the Agra Fort, a huge red marble fort that dominates the city skyline. We enjoyed the fort tour very much. Only about 25% of the fort interior was tour-able but what we could see was fascinating. The interior was designed to capture as much of the breeze as possible





Around sunset we went to the grounds of the Black Taj which was supposed to be built across the river from the Taj, as the burial site of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal in memory and as the burial site of his wife Mumtaz. The black taj was never built so the Shah is buried next to his wife in the Taj Mahal - the only non symmetrical spot in the site.





I was up early the next morning to visit the Taj at sunrise. Jenny got a bit of the Delhi Belly, probably the small salad she had for lunch. Read more about the Taj here.

Seeing the Taj from up close is just as impressive. The white marble is full of swirls and clear crystals, making it shine in the sunlight. We toured the Taj a second time later in the morning when Jenny felt better. Because of it being the hot season, the crowds were minimal. The temps got up around 115 °F. It's a "dry heat" but it's still hot.

We headed back to New Delhi, passing the F1 Buddh Circuit race track along the road. We also saw many tall thin chimneys used for brick making.

Early Sunday morning we met our last guide, Jimmy Sharma for an Old Delhi/New Delhi tour. The temp got to 116 °F so we did not spend too much time walking around. We had one great bike/cab tour through the old city's market seeing the electric wire jumbles, food stalls and spice shops. Without street signs it's a wonder people find their way around.

Back to the hotel and off to the airport for a late flight back to Singapore. I've never had so many touristy photos taken of me. Thank you Jenny!


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Discovering Molas in Panama

I read about molas in our Lonely Planet guide so was on the lookout for them. Panama is different in lots of ways from many tourist destinations. They do not promote crafts and souvenirs quite the same way as most countries. So it took a trip out of Panama City to a local village market square in the Anson Valley area to find the molas I was looking for.

OK, what is a mola?

The mola or molas, forms part of the traditional outfit of a Kuna woman in Panama, two mola panels being incorporated as front and back panels in a blouse. The full costume traditionally includes a patterned wrapped skirt (saburet), a red and yellow headscarf (musue), arm and leg beads (wini), a gold nose ring (olasu) and earrings in addition to the mola blouse.

In Dulegaya, the Kuna's native language, "mola" means "shirt" or "clothing". The mola originated with the tradition of Kuna women painting their bodies with geometrical designs, using available natural colors; in later years these same designs were woven in cotton, and later still, sewn using cloth bought from the European settlers of Panama.

Molas have their origin in body painting. Only after colonization of Panama by the Spanish and contact with missionaries did the Kuna, an indigenous people of Panama and Colombia, start to transfer their traditional geometric designs on fabric, first by painting directly on the fabric and later by using the technique of reverse application. It is not known for certain when this technique was first used. It is assumed that the oldest molas are between 150 and 170 years old.

As an inspiration for their designs, the Kuna first used the geometrical patterns which have been used for body painting before. In the past 50 years, they also started to depict realistic and abstract designs of flowers, sea animals and birds.

Depending on the tradition of each island, Kuna women begin crafting of molas either after they reach puberty, some even at a much younger age.

After the attempt of the Panamanian government to "westernize" the Kuna in the beginning of the 20th century by forbidding their customs, their language and their traditional dress, a huge wave of resistance arose. This resistance movement culminated in the Kuna revolution of 1925 where, after heavy battles, the Panamanian government had to make the concession of giving the Kuna people the right to govern their own territory autonomously.

Molas are handmade using a reverse applique technique. Several layers (usually two to seven) of different-colored cloth (usually cotton) are sewn together; the design is then formed by cutting away parts of each layer. The edges of the layers are then turned under and sewn down. Often, the stitches are nearly invisible. This is achieved by using a thread the same color as the layer being sewn, sewing blind stitches, and sewing tiny stitches. The finest molas have extremely fine stitching, made using tiny needles.

So, enough of the history lesson. I bought two panels - one for me and one for Nicki my daughter-in-law in FL. I hope she doesn't see this blog before I give it to her but here is what I bought:

See below for some close up shots.























The variety of molas I examined were amazing and no matter what the skill level, they are beautiful works of art. 

We did find a temporary craft market in Panama City that had more molas but not quite as well made as these. I'm glad I found them and hope Nicki likes it as much as I do.




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Panama (February 2017)

Our flight to Panama, left Charlotte on February 7. This is the first time we have ever cashed in credit card points for a flight. The only problem with this: the tickets were not up-gradable, so we were stuck in basic economy. For a 4-hour flight, it wasn't a real problem.

Our hotel reservation at the Hyatt Place Panama City/Downtown, were made through booking.com. We arrived there about 11:30 PM and immediately went to bed.

The view from our room that greeted us the first morning.

February 8 (Wednesday)

For our first full day here in Panama City we did what we usually do when we get to a new place - we walk around, exploring, until we exhausted ourselves.

After a good breakfast at the hotel, we started walking toward the waterfront, with Casco Viejo (old quarter), our intended destination. Along the way, we got a great view of some interesting building, the water front and a great view of the city.

Iglesia del Carmen (just around the block from the hotel)

A pretty apartment building

The owner of this home appears to have some money

A small sampling of the buildings we passed

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Charlotte Foraging #3:- Bayberries (Myrica cerfera)

Not one of my best photos but you get the idea, right?
Gathering bayberry berries is not as easy as picking apples off of a tree. These berries really cling to their branches plus they are really tiny.

Botanists refer to the bayberry berry as a "drupe" which in the botany world is a fruit in which the outer fleshy part surrounds a shell with a seed inside. Other types of drupes are peaches, plums, olives, etc.

Enough of the botany talk, we were interested in experimenting with the wax properties of the drupes. So two large bayberry trees and 5+ cups of berries later we had sore hands and enough boiled off wax for one tea candle that sputtered more than it burned.

The flame didn't last much past the this photo shot.
While my foraging buddy Marty and I were pulling the drupes off of the branches, we wondered how many people would be curious about what we were doing. Many people passed by without a glance or comment but finally several groups did ask and seemed interested.

Somehow I think the photo to the left makes the candle look lots more impressive then it was in actuality.

I've done some googling and found out there are lots of medical uses for parts of the bayberry bush. Somewhere I read that the bayberry leaves can be used like bay leaves for stews and soups. They certainly look the same.

I have located several other bayberry bushes around Charlotte for possible harvesting next year if we want to try to make bayberry candles again.

Maybe.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Charlotte Foraging #2 - American Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana)

I had a run in with an American persimmon a few years ago in late summer. Fool that I am I picked one off the tree, googled it on my iphone and discovered what it was. That's not too foolish but the foolish part was tasting it BEFORE reading farther to find out that this fruit has to be almost mushy and pulpy before eating. Needless to say I had a huge mouthful of dry. Drinking water was not helpful, I just went "Mmmmhh" for quite awhile. Ray enjoyed himself immensely at my expense. 

We saw large Asian persimmons while in Singapore fruit markets but the American cousin is way smaller. Because of the above adventure in foolish eating, I stayed away from them.


American Persimmons (not my photo)
Several weeks ago, I spotted a tree on the Greenway, took a photo and asked Marty, my brother-in-foraging, what it was. He said persimmon which immediately gave me flashbacks to my earlier experience.

But reading up on it, I discovered it's an old time American fruit that was very popular for desserts, puddings and jellies. It is not a cooperative fruit to work with. The time to gather them is after they have fallen off the tree and are ready to rot are allowed to ripen in a paper bag with an apple (my method of choice).



I patiently waited over two weeks with the paper bag getting in the way on the kitchen counter. Things started to get a bit mushy today so I thought I'd try pulping them and making a pie (recipe below). Some were really soft and mushy and the pulp was tasty but some were softening up but tasting these left me with that old dry mouth again. So back in the bag they went.


My 4 T of pulp
I did get to strain a dozen or so and got about 4T of pulp and a bunch of seeds. Somewhere I read that these seeds were used for buttons. It must have been during the time buttons were not readily available because I tried about 5 minutes to get one seed out of the pulp. Not a great use of time nowadays.


This is what the "buttons" look like.














Anyway, I will try to be patient and wait for the rest to ripen. Then I will try out the following pie recipe. Kind of sounds a little like a pumpkin pie.





PERSIMMON PIE

1 C persimmon pulp
2 eggs
1/4 Tsp salt
1 T butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix ingredients and pour into a single pie crust. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the center of the pie is firm.

Next up - bayberries.



Charlotte Foraging #1 - Part 2, still Chestnuts

I was hoping to try another batch of candied chestnuts or even Marty's soup recipe but I left my last batch of chestnuts still in their spiky covering on our patio. We went out of town for a few days and came back to chestnut husks scattered all over. I don't know how the squirrels or chipmunks can handle the spiky stuff but I figured "more power to them" if they really want them that badly.

I still have a bowlful that I hope to keep until Thanksgiving. But in the mean time here is the soup recipe Marty made. Really good:

Chestnut Soup
We had a lot of ideas about how to play around with this soup. Instead of brandy, you could use sherry or fruit brandy. You could add milk to give it some creaminess and lighten the color. You could garnish it with creme fraiche (as much as I love using Greek yogurt as a garnish, the creme fraiche would be just right in this particular case). Speaking of garnish, the chopped chestnuts that turn crispy from a quick saute are delicious, so don't skip that step!
Adapted from this recipe by Alex Urena for Food & Wine magazine

3 tablespoons canola oil
2 1/2 cups of roasted chestnuts
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons honey
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth (or vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Serves 4 as a first course

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 7 of the chestnuts and cook until crisp and browned, stirring often [this take awhile]. Remove from pan and cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Add the onion and leeks to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the honey and stir well. Add the broth and remaining chestnuts, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.


Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Taste for seasoning. May be covered and refrigerated at this point for 24 hours. To serve, return soup to the pot and reheat. Add the brandy or Cognac, and garnish with reserved chopped chestnuts and parsley.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Charlotte Foraging #1: Chestnuts (Castanea dentata)

I've written posts about my shell and sea glass collecting, which I dearly love to do. Before we left for Singapore I was known to gather morels, bitter oranges, smooth river rocks, acorns, etc. Now that we are back in Charlotte, NC, and with my foraging buddy, Marty, we have been busy gathering for the winter, like all the squirrels around town. I thought I'd post a few of our adventures along with some recipes. 


Photo from Wikipedia
We are chestnut nuts, indeed. You have to be brave to gather chestnuts while still in their outer green spiky jackets. Nasty, nasty sharp - but you need get them before the critters do. Not sure what kind of heavy gloves they wear but they forage efficiently and quickly.

A lot of time and effort go into chestnut preparation, that's why they cost what they do in the grocery store. They put up a mighty fight all the way. Even with heavy leather gloves and long handled tongs we still got pinched and scratched.


From our initial batch Marty cooked up a great chestnut soup. The second batch went into a complex candying process. Two separate recipes and two different outcomes. See below for the combined recipe - the best of both worlds.


Leftovers still to be shelled.
Candied chestnuts after days of work. Yum.

CANDIED CHESTNUTS – THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
(better known as "kestane şekeri" (kes-tahn-EH' sheh-keyr-EE' or Marrons Glacé).

INGREDIENTS

1 kilogram/2.5 pounds large, fresh chestnuts
5 cups sugar
5 cups water
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

PREPARATION

Cut a shallow X in the flat side of each nut with a sharp knife – spread out nuts, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 425F degree oven for 15 minutes, turn nuts and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Let nuts cool and peal outer shell off carefully.

Place shelled chestnuts in a large pan with just enough water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and cook the chestnuts for 10 minutes. After they have cooled, rub any additional thin skin off.

In another saucepan, combine the water, sugar and optional vanilla. Bring to a boil and stir constantly until the sugar melts. Add the peeled chestnuts and stir until the whole mixture returns to a boil. Continue cooking the chestnuts, frequently stirring, for 10 minutes.

Pour the candied chestnuts, along with the vanilla sugar syrup into a large container, and loosely cover it. Allow the chestnuts to soak in the syrup for 12 to 18 hours.

Add the chestnuts and syrup to a clean pan and repeat the process; this time boiling them for 2 minutes, and then soaking the mixture, loosely covered, for 18 to 24 hours.

Repeat the entire process a total of 3 to 4 times, until the sugar syrup has been absorbed by the chestnuts. Be patient, these steps are important.

Preheat an oven to 250F and arrange the candied chestnuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet into the oven and turn off the heat. Allow the chestnuts to dry in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until they have firmed up and the surface of the nuts are dry. Store the chestnuts in an airtight tin. Enjoy!

Charlotte Foraging #2: Persimmons - coming soon...