Sunday, July 16, 2017

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: THE FOOD


I can’t believe it’s the middle of July, and I have to say that the summer is winding down. Who would’ve ever thought that the kids would go back to school in July? Sheesh. And when I got my daughter’s shots to enter kindergarten, it seemed like such a long time until the 6th grade shots booster. And yet, here we are. 

One giant loaf of banana bread. Basically.
So, this afternoon I’m not going to think about it. Thankfully, the soundtrack to HBO’s Big Little Lies on Spotify and cooking Papua New Guinean food is exactly what’s on my agenda today. (Followed by the new season of Game of Thrones tonight!) The first thing I made today was Papuan-style Banana Cake. In a large bowl, I mixed together ½ c softened butter (1 stick), ½ c sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla extract until it was well creamed. Then I slowly beat in 2 eggs and added in my 3 mashed bananas. Once I mixed this until it was consistent, I poured in 1/3 c of milk and 1 tsp of baking soda before folding in 1 ½ c of flour. After stirring everything together, I poured my batter into a cake pan and baked it for 45-50 minutes in a 350ºF oven.

This is my breakfast. Truth.
When it was done and completely cooled, I topped it with a pineapple-coconut cream. To make this, I mixed 2 c of milk and 2 Tbsp of cornstarch into a saucepan and heated it until it simmered and thickened to a cream (but I made mine thicker). I think I had my heat up too high or something because mine was a little bit lumpy, but I tried to work out most of them. I let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, and it thickened up quite nicely. (For once, something was going right, more or less. Knock on wood.) I gave it a good stir and added in 3 Tbsp of cream of coconut and 3 Tbsp of crushed pineapple, stirring it up and putting it on top of the cake. I thought the cake tasted like banana bread. Because I didn’t trust my round springform pans, I used a 13x9 rectangle pan instead, and it was a little flatter than I would’ve liked (and a little tougher, I think, too). But it was good with the cream on top. It turned out better than I thought it would.

I'm really beginning to like bok choy. Its flavor really enhances the dish that it's in.
My main dish today is Chicken with Bok Choy in Coconut Milk. I bought boneless skinless chicken breasts, so I cut them into smaller pieces and lightly browned them in a little coconut oil and minced garlic. Then I threw in some coconut milk, ginger, and some more garlic and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. While this was simmering, I cut some summer squash into cubes. After I added it to the chicken, I let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Then I threw in my chopped bok choy and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes until the greens were bright green and kind of wilted looking. I took it off the heat and seasoned it with a little salt and pepper and served this on rice. I liked this; I thought it was really good. The coconut milk kept the meat tender and the squash gave it a good flavor. The flavors were a little more subtle than I thought it was going to be.

Interesting, to say the least. I guess I'll be the one eating all the leftovers.
To go with this, I made Kaukau, or Papuan sweet potatoes. I wrapped four sweet potatoes in tin foil and baked them in a 400ºF oven for about 45 minutes, turning them over halfway through. They just need to be soft enough to pierce with a fork. (The recipe said 30 minutes, but mine took longer.) Once they were cool enough to handle, I took the tin off of them and cut them in half longways. I scooped out the potato and put it in a bowl, carefully leaving the skins for later. In a bowl, I mashed my potatoes and added in my coconut oil until it became a puree texture. Then I added in some coconut milk, finely chopped onions (in lieu of shallots), garlic and ginger and stirred. Once that was stirred in, I added in some orange juice (I actually used naranja agria), cinnamon, salt, and pepper and stirred again. Then I added a few spoonfuls back into the potato skins. Then I put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so. I actually added a step and garnished each potato boat with some chopped scallions. (I’m sure they won’t mind.) I’m used to eating sweet potatoes either plain or sweetened/candied. So, mixing it with onions was a little different for us, since it’s not what we’re used to. My husband wasn’t a fan, but I didn’t think it was that bad.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty tasty meal.
As I was doing the research on this, I couldn’t help but thinking of how much a place changes over time. Not just the landscape, or the number of people living there per se, but the culture. More often than not, you’ll find the colonizing culture become the dominant culture, and it’s often forced upon the native/indigenous peoples there. And with modern technology and land development, their own culture changes along the way. I always find it interesting which parts of their traditional culture that remains because to me, that is the beacon to what the crucial parts of their society are. I mean, I could be entirely wrong about all of this. But it was just something I was thinking about.

Up next: Paraguay

Saturday, July 15, 2017

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: MUSIC AND DANCE


Before Papua New Guinea’s independence, music from this island nation was relatively unknown. 


They’re known for a type of celebration called sing-sing. This almost festival-like ordeal includes singing, dancing, gift-giving, and plenty of good food to go around. Dancers wear colorful costumes that represent their particular culture. One of the styles of music that is performed during this is a polyphonic form between a leader and a chorus, creating a fugue-like effect. 

 
During the latter part of the 1800s, Gregorian chanting and Christian hymns were introduced by both the British and the Germans. Australians coming over during the Gold Rush introduced the mouth organ to the Papua New Guineans. Of course other Polynesian music was slowly integrated with their own as well. By the time the 20th century rolled around, work songs, hymns, and other recorded examples of Western music became quite popular. After the World Wars, instruments like the ukulele and string bands were introduced to the islands.


After the country gained its independence, a few other Western styles were introduced, including pop, reggae, and hip-hop. George Telek was one of the first musicians to merge his native Toloi musical traditions with Western rock and reggae styles. He was among the first musicians to gain any kind of notoriety outside of the country. His first solo album actually won an Australian award for Best World Album in 1997.


Ansolm Nakikus is a prominent reggae musician from Papua New Guinea. Although he has a couple of solo albums out, he often collaborates with other musicians from around the South Pacific islands. I would say that although he’s known for his reggae, it sometimes sounds like a different style of reggae than the Caribbean variety that I’m more familiar with.


Probably one of the more popular musicians is reggae/hip-hop artist known as O-shen. He was actually born in the US but moved to Papua New Guinea when he was little and was raised there, so many of his songs are in Tok Pisin. He currently lives in Hawaii. I like his music; it kind of reminds me of a Jamaican “lovers rock” style, like Beres Hammond and others.


I also came across Justin Wellington. His music is definitely reggae but it’s closer to the dancehall style than anything, I suppose. At least on some songs. I listened to his album Reign of Morobe, and I really liked what I heard. I was quite impressed. Definitely the kind of stuff you’d find in a “summer” playlist.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: ART AND LITERATURE


One art form dominates when it comes to the art of Papua New Guinea: wood carving. Like in Africa, where the original people of this country came from, carved wooden masks are also commonly made here as well. These masks are tied to a number of religious purposes including masks designed for/against certain deities and ancestors.

The tongue sticking out just gets me.
Storyboards, like the ones I mentioned when I covered Palau, are an artistic way to depict the folklore and stories of the Papua New Guinean tribes. However, in other similar carvings, they make use of colors and decorate it with other natural elements like beads, feathers, grass twine, and shells. They also carve designs into their canoes as decoration.


One thing that binds much of their art is nature and the land around them. A variety of plants and animals are important representations in their indigenous religious beliefs. And since they have hundreds of ethnic groups and languages, there are hundreds of religious and artistic variations as well. The Sepik River Valley is one of the main areas in the country that has very deep traditional arts customs.
 
by Mathias Kauage
As far as modern artists go, there are several who have been quite successful in their field: Larry Santana (painter), Timothy Akis (batik, pen/ink drawings), and Mathias Kauage (woodcuts, drawing, painting; awarded Order of the British Empire for his contributions to Papua New Guinean art).
 
by Timothy Akis
Literature in Papua New Guinea on a whole really didn’t take off until the 1960s. The large part of literature up until the 20th century was of an oral tradition. With colonization and the introduction/establishment of English, it began to also be included as a language of communication. However, most writers write in both English and one of the many local languages spoken here.
 
Ulli Beier
Ulli Beier, a Jewish German writer and academic, helped establish creative writing courses and promote (or encourage, rather) Papua New Guinean literature. (He actually worked quite a bit doing similar literary projects in Nigeria.) Besides teaching at the university level and setting up a small poet society, he also helped establish the literary magazine Kovave. This magazine made it easier for up-and-coming writers to get noticed and published, like writer John Kasaipwalova (known for his satirical plays).



Other writers include Vincent Eri (famous for his 1970 novel The Crocodile; it was the first novel published in Papua New Guinea), Albert Maori Kiki (famous for his autobiography Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime), Nora Vagi Brash (teacher, best known as a playwright), and Ignatius Kilage (4th Governor-General of PNG; famous for his novel My Mother Calls Me Yaltep).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, July 9, 2017

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Papua New Guinea, at least for the things I end up reading, always seems to wind up on the strangest of lists. There have been several times when I’ve come across this country on lists of weird, bad, or dangerous things. Or really remote one-of-a-kind kind of lists, which aren’t quite as bad. I’m really hoping there’s more to this country than the scary human rights issues I’ve read about and poisonous animals. So, my mission is to find out what things are really like here and what kind of secrets I don’t know about yet. 


The name of the country as we know it didn’t come about until the 19th century. The first part, Papua, is derived from the Malay term that refers to the frizzy hair of the people, especially anyone who’s from the Melanesian Islands. The second part, New Guinea, was named by the Spanish since they thought the people reminded them of the Africans they met in and around the country of Guinea. 



The country occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, which is located just north of Australia and is part of the broader Melanesian Islands. The western half consists of the Indonesian provinces of West Papua and Papua. Its easternmost island, Bougainville Island, is essentially on the northwestern end of the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Sea separates the main island of New Guinea from the Solomon Islands to the east while the Bismarck Sea lies to the north in the midst of the Bismarck Archipelago. If you go even farther north, you’ll run into Palau, Guam, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Because the country is on the Pacific Ring of Fire, it has several active volcanoes and experiences frequent earthquakes (sometimes leading to tsunamis). There are several rivers, highland areas, and rainforest areas while coral reefs surround the islands. Deforestation remains to be a problem for the country. Papua New Guinea lies just below the equator and is one of the few equatorial countries to also have snow (in the higher elevations).  
 
WWII plane in its final resting place in the waters of PNG
The first people arrived in Papua New Guinea as a result of one of the first human migrations in the world. Africans arrived in the islands somewhere around 45,000 years ago, and they developed agriculture in the highlands. Another wave of migration took place around 500 BC from various other tribes around the Southeast Pacific Islands. Portuguese and Spanish traders arrived during the 16-18th centuries and introduced several vegetables, including the sweet potato, which significantly enhanced their agriculture. Many of them were after the plumes of the bird of paradise. The southern half of the island was handled by the UK and called British New Guinea. In 1905, the British handed that control over to Australia who renamed it Territory of Papua, but technically, on the books, it was still a possession of the UK. During the end of the 1800s, Germany controlled the northern side of the island, calling it German New Guinea; however, Australia captured and controlled it during WWI. During WWII, the Japanese, Australians, and the US fought a major battle where almost a quarter-million people died. After WWII, the two sides were united and referred to as Papua New Guinea. They gained their independence from Australia in 1975, although they do remain part of the British Commonwealth. In 1988, miners in Bougainville created an uprising concerning the fact that they were bearing the brunt of the down side to mining (illnesses, environmental issues), yet they weren’t compensated with a fair share of the profits in this. Even today, there has been some discussion as to Bougainville’s autonomy.


Port Moresby is located along the southern coast on the Papuan Peninsula. The city is named after British Naval Officer John Moresby, the first European to site the area where the future capital city would be. With only around 400,000 people, it’s also the country’s largest city. There are a couple of international schools, several sports stadiums, museums, libraries, shopping and markets, as well as its usual business district and high-rise apartments. While many of these features used to be in the downtown district, quite a few of them moved to suburbs and other neighborhoods during the 1990s.


The islands are rife with natural resources, both on the land and in the sea. However, there is also a lot of rough terrain, which makes it very difficult to access. Minerals (like gold, copper, and oil) make up nearly three-quarters of its export revenue. Palm oil is one of their major agricultural exports, even though the palm oil industry has increasingly become quite controversial over the past few years. (Watch this VICE video from Season 3 about the palm oil industry in Indonesia. I would suggest watching the entire episode, but you can skip ahead to the 16:00 mark for the story on palm oil.) Although PNG’s economy has struggled in the past, it has also made some growth over the past decade. They not only rely on mining, but they also have a growing oil and gas industry as well.


Christianity is overwhelmingly the majority religion in Papua New Guinea. Nearly 95% of the population adheres to some form of Christianity, with the majority of those following Protestantism. As far as the significantly smaller non-Christian population goes, the Baha’i religion has the largest following, followed by Islam and Confucianism. Animism and mysticism is still very much alive, especially in the rural areas. Several high-profile cases have made news in the past few years of women being tortured and burned alive on charges of witchcraft.


What’s unbelievable is that this relatively small country has more than 820 languages, but most of these languages have fewer than 1000 speakers, and several have already died out. The most widely spoken indigenous language is Enga, followed by two other Trans-New Guinea languages, Melpa and Huli. However, it is the #1 country in the world with the most languages. (Indonesia is second with 742, and Nigeria is third with 516.) There are actually four official languages in the country: Hiri Motu (a simplified form of the Motu language), Tok Pisin (an English-based creole; once used as a trade pidgin, it is entirely its own language now and serves as a first language for many), English (language of government and education but not spoken by many people in everyday activities), and Papua New Guinea sign language.

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most remote areas. Not necessarily its physical location, but its accessibility to traverse the country. Because of its rough terrain, thick jungles, and swamps, there are areas few people have ever visited (save, perhaps, for some of the locals). In fact, it’s nearly impossible to build roads through some of these areas, and it’s easier to fly to where you need to be. I wonder what secrets lay in the jungles. Could the next cure for cancer lie within its green realm, or is its tight-knit foliage saving itself from exploitation?

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, July 2, 2017

PANAMA: THE FOOD


Things have been going pretty good for the most part. I finished reading the first book of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and just started American Gods by Neil Gaimon. We’re working on getting the house fixed up so we can move in. Hopefully, we can move in by fall. And I just realized this week that my kids go back to school at the end of the month. I’m going to have to plan on some kind of day trip or something.
I haven't made a yeast bread for a while. This was wonderful!
But for today, we’re escaping to Panama, at least in my kitchen. Too bad it’s not in real life. The first thing I made was pan micha, a bread popular in Panama that I believe has its roots in France. I started with dissolving a tsp of sugar in ¼ c warm water along with a packet of yeast and sat that off to the side for 5-10 minutes. Then I mixed the yeast mixture with 2 Tbsp of melted butter, 2 c of warm milk, and 3 Tbsp of confectioners/caster sugar. Once all of that was mixed together, I slowly stirred in 3 c of flour. Once I got everything all mixed together, I wrapped the dough ball in plastic wrap and let it sit for 2 hours. After this time was up, I dumped the dough on a floured surface. It rose pretty well, but it was so sticky that I had to add a ton of flour to it to make it workable in any sense. It was so elastic and smooth, but it was hard to manipulate. I was supposed to form a rectangle and tri-fold the dough, like I was folding a letter, but it was too stretchy and sticky to do that. I somehow managed to just pick the whole thing up and plop it into a greased bread pan, and then I brushed it with olive oil, smoothing it out trying to make it look nice. I covered this with plastic wrap again and let it sit for another hour to rest in a warm place. It’s best to wait until it rises it’s just above the edge of the bread pan, which mine did. So I preheated my oven at 375ºF, and put a baking sheet with a cup of water in it on the bottom shelf. I attempted to carve my design into the top of my bread with a knife (it was still so sticky that my knife didn’t go through as well) and sprinkled just a little bit of flour on top of the bread before putting it into the oven. I let this bake for about 30-35 minutes. Once it was a golden color, I took it out and let it cool. Although I thought it was one of the more difficult breads I’ve made in a while, the crumb was very nice. It was soft on the inside, yet there was a nice crust on the outside. I probably could’ve left it in for another minute or two. I did forget to do the egg wash, which would’ve really brought out the color in the crust, but it’s all good. I loved this bread. The flavor was just plain enough to warrant topping this bread with just about anything.

I really liked this. And why haven't I had/made sofrito before?
My main dish for today is Panama-Style Ropa Vieja. I asked my daughter to translate ropa vieja, and she sat there for a minute, working it out in her mind. Then her face contorted, and she recoiled, “Old clothes? You’re serving us old clothes?” Legend says this shredded beef dish got its name because the person originally making it had run out of meat and used shredded flannel instead. (And that’s what happened to the grunge movement.) Anyway. The recipe calls for skirt steak or flank steak, but I used beef that was thinly cut for carne picada. I realized later that this was not exactly what I intended to buy, but it ended up working in my favor. (In my defense, the kids were being kind of annoying.) So, I browned my beef in a pot and then covered it with water (or stock if you have it, which I didn’t). I let it simmer for an hour, making sure the water didn’t all cook out. During this time, I made the sofrito sauce. For this, I fried my onions in oil for a few minutes before adding in some minced garlic and diced green peppers. When the peppers were soft, I added in part of a can of diced tomatoes, diced red and yellow bell peppers, some peas, cumin, and black pepper. (I cut a jalapeño pepper to be added later.) After cooking down for 5-10 minutes, I added in a little bit of oregano and salt and garnished this with jalapeños and green pimento-stuffed olives. After the time was up for the beef, I would have normally shredded the meat at this point, but the carne picada was already pulled apart. Once it was shredded, I added in some chopped carrots, onion, and celery (make it easy on yourself—use mirepoix mix like I did). I also added in some minced garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. After letting it simmer for a few minutes, I added in my sofrito sauce and let it simmer for another 20-30 minutes. I served this as a stew on top of some white rice. I thought this was really good. I actually think it would’ve been better if the jalapeños had cooked down in with the meat, but not everyone’s a fan. Outside of the chopping and waiting, I thought this was a pretty easy dish to make.

I liked this little salad. The great thing about this is that you can kind of add whatever you want.
To go with this, I made Salad Primavera, a nice green salad. In a jar, I combined a little red wine vinegar (in lieu of sherry vinegar) with a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt, Dijon mustard, black pepper, and minced garlic. I shook the jar to make sure it was all combined. Then I cooked some of the asparagus, drained it in cold water, and cut it into 2-inch sections. I took the asparagus and combined it in a bowl with some spinach leaves, some spring mix salad, peas, julienned red and yellow bell pepper, some red onion, parsley, and basil. I poured in the dressing, and tossed everything together to coat it all well. I finished this dish first, not realizing that I should’ve waited to add the dressing to the salad until just before we were to eat. By the time all the other dishes were done, several hours later, the spinach was kind of soggy. But it tasted good, and it was a nice complement to the spiciness of the ropa vieja.

This one was a good one. Es muy delicioso!
We had talked about visiting Panama one of these days. (I really need to renew our passports and get some for the kids.) Technically, we can just drive there. According to Google maps, we can drive to Panama City, Panama in just a quick 77 hours. The trip would start out in the US and go through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and then Panama. It’s only a little less than 3900 miles from Indianapolis. If we drove 12 hours a day, it would take us roughly six and a half days to get there. So, technically, if I took two weeks off of work, we could drive to Panama City, spend one day there, turn around and come back. Isn’t it more about the journey anyway?

Up next: Papua New Guinea

Saturday, July 1, 2017

PANAMA: MUSIC AND DANCE


I’ve been personally looking forward to this post for the past couple of week. As I was making my Panama playlist on Spotify, I suddenly realized how great of a playlist this is. There were actually two bands I knew of that I didn’t realize were from Panama. So, let’s talk about how this all came to be.


Panama’s music is a representation of several different musical styles. Many genres that are popular in South America (especially Colombia), Central America, and the Caribbean are also popular here. Merge that with African, American, and some European influences, and you truly come up with mixing pot of great music. Many of these styles have corresponding dances that accompany them. Movement is often an integral part of music. Some of the more common genres played in Panama include cumbia, congo, saloma, mejorana, tamborito, salsa, tipico, calypso, and jazz. 



Although it depends on the style, there are quite a few instruments you’ll hear in Panamanian music. Like in the broader sense of Latin music, percussion remains an integral part of the music. And they tend to make use of a variety of different kinds of percussive instruments like xylophones, marimbas, castanets, clappers, drums, etc. You’ll also hear accordions, guitars, pianos, violins, and other modern instruments. Vocal music, by both males and females, has long been a strong tradition. 



Modern styles like reggae (or reggae en español), reggaeton, and rock (or rock en español) are especially popular in Panama. Although these styles were generally based on a number of regional musical styles, they merged with other local styles and created their own version of it. I listened to quite a few musicians on Spotify, so here’s my take on what I sampled:



There were basically a few genres that I listened to. But let’s start with rock. First of all, a few years ago, I discovered the band Los Rabanes (probably through some Spotify suggestion or something). I absolutely loved listening to their album Kamikaze. I played the hell out of that album. In a way, they kind of remind me of 311 or Sublime. It’s a fun album. Others I discovered include Cage9 (hard rock, and they sing in English. Love these guys), Los 33 (rock, kind of reminds me of some of the other rock en español bands I’ve come across), and Out-Reazon (pretty good punk rock, in the style of MXPX or Rise Against).




Now, I’m a fan of reggae and its variations, like dancehall. Panama has a number of reggae and reggaeton musicians who I really enjoyed. El General, Nando Boom, Latin Fresh (more of a hip-hop dancehall style), Kafu Banton (who I think sounds like Buju Banton at times – he even named himself after him), Aldo Ranks, and Flex are some that I especially liked. 



Of course when I comes to more of a Latin pop style, I’ve known Factoria for a while; I just didn’t know they were from Panama. It's a little outdated now perhaps, but I still like the song "Todavia." Makano is another musician who I initially put in the pop category, but he kind of crosses over in the reggaeton category. His song “Te Amo” was super popular.



Up next: the food