Tag Archives: Bolivia

Bittman by the Cooking Bug

That would be Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist, blogger, and cookbook writer. He didn’t get me started cooking, but he and his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (all 1,008 pages of it) have certainly helped keep me cooking. His recent writing has also started venturing more and more into the food opinion and politicky realm of my inspirational former colleague Tom Philpott. Take this excerpt from the Times:

…we don’t spend enough time discussing what happens to food once it’s in the home. Or what doesn’t happen. Which is cooking. And that part is pretty simple.

Not long ago, cooking was a common topic. Weekly food sections of newspapers were filled with it. Churches self-published cookbooks by the pile. There were even real cooking shows and cookbooks.

Now, if it weren’t for the vibrant but dwindling community of bloggers, we’d hardly see actual cooking discussed at all. There are but a fraction of the food pages there once were in newspapers, and most cookbooks are offshoots of TV “cooking” shows, almost all of which are game shows, reality television shows or shows about celebrities.

Like many professional urbanites with grown children, I often succumb to the temptation to work late and eat out with friends.

I agree, with the following edit: Like many professional urbanites with who act like grown children, I often succumb to the temptation to work late and eat out with friends.

cherry jam

My first, hopefully botulism-free, cans of cherry jam. Time of photo: Approximately 11:30pm.

This is probably one reason when I do cook, I so often end up eating at 9 or 10pm. I can blame my time in Spain, but really, I don’t pretend I’m not writing this blog post at midnight or that I started canning cherry jam for the first time at 9:30pm on a Monday. Or that my former roommate and I gave ourselves the befitting moniker “Midnight Gardeners.”

If you’re looking for a church-published cookbook, I recommend anything the Mennonites put out, particularly Simply in Season. Back to Bittman, though: recipes of his I’ve already used this week:

  • caramelized onions
  • pan-fried tofu
  • steamed sweet corn
  • fruit pancakes (I added the cherries and chocolate chips)
  • pizza dough

Basic while also being basically delicious (and affordable–and healthy!). I feel like I’ve progressed enough in my cooking skills that I can improvise a pretty tasty meal with a little inspiration and whatever fresh produce I have in my fridge or garden. Case in point: Tex-Mex Stew on Quinoa. A Mexican-Bolivian-esque dish with a name I made up just as quickly as the ingredient list:

olive oil
1 cup quinoa (a tasty, wholesome grain; complete protein; and producto de Bolivia)
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
1-2 cups summer squash, chopped
1 ear fresh sweet corn, cut from the cob
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes, if you live in a place other than slow-to-ripen Seattle)
1/2 of 1-15 oz. can black beans
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Top with avocado and grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Lightly toast the quinoa in a saucepan over medium heat until it smells nutty, fragrant, and something like popcorn. Then add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and 2 cups of water. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat so the quinoa simmers and absorbs the water (about 20-25 minutes).

Meanwhile, sauté the onion in  olive oil until translucent and add the chopped squash to cook down. Next, add the can of tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, and oregano, and bring to a simmer. Once the squash is starting to cook through, add the sweet corn and black beans and simmer again until everything is cooked through and smells delicious. Season to taste with salt and pepper. I think adding a little cinnamon might be good too. Serve the stewed vegetables over quinoa and top with fresh avocado and extra sharp cheddar.

Look at me; I made (and ate) that up!

(Find more culinary creativity at the venerable and photoriffic food blogs: 101cookbooks.com and smittenkitchen.com.)

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By the way, I did make it back to Seattle

Sorry if anyone was in doubt as to whither I ever returned from my adventuresome getaway in Bolivia, full of international mystique and cultural embrace. Which, as you can see, sometimes involved embracing international/cultural symbols, like this biodiversity tree at the Mariposaria (Butterfly/Ecological Park) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

me hugging the Tree of Biodiversity

I even hug trees carved to represent all the biodiversity in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Try and stop me.

There are so many words I want to write and pictures I want to post here that I’ve been overwhelmed into not doing any of it. That and a combination of out-of-town weekends and the series finale of LOST. Do you realize that after Memorial Day weekend, it will have been two months since I’ve spent seven consecutive days in the same city? My carbon footprint hates me.

But at least I got to visit a place like Cotoca, the small town outside of Santa Cruz, where the Virgin Mary appeared (tiny) in the trunk of a tree and where now stands this beautiful church and plaza (full of sloths, or perezosos aka “lazies”):

The church at Cotoca at sundown

I had a wonderful time across Bolivia, but I am so happy to be back in Seattle. Things I love/missed: my neighborhood of Fremont, my garden, my bed, my favorite sustainable sandwich shop Homegrown, my boyfriend, my friends, my family, being able to breathe normally, being vegetarian, staying up on current events, the Seattle skyline, riding the bus, and understanding full conversations.

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Less than dial-up internet …

That would be no internet at my homestay house here in Santa Cruz, where at least the season is always summer.

So far I’ve been rocking ecological parks, zoos, and private botanical gardens here, chock-full of scarlet macaws, peccaries, and spider monkeys. It’s a mix of the sad and the inspirational, really. (Please don’t feed the animals plastic, kids.) I have tons of photos and videos to share when I’m not sitting at an internet cafe, like right now.

I also attended a way-to-long presentation at a water treatment facility, although it was interesting that it is putting online the first ever program to capture biogas from the water treatment and burn it to use for electricity. They were all in cahoots with the World Bank to even receive carbon credits for it, but the current left-leaning government is “anti-capitalistic” and hates carbon markets. Ergo, they’re scrambling for different financing but still moving forward with the project, which I viewed today. After glimpsing the poo-ponds, that is.

I return to the U.S. this Saturday night and will complete a massive upload of backlogged notes and photos, which I’m sure everyone is looking forward to. 😉

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Back in civilization, on to Santa Cruz

My intrepid group of four and I safely made it back from a three-day, other worldly expedition across the Salar de Uyuni, past strawberries-and-cream colored mountains, and through hot springs with flamingos. More to come on that soon.

We spent two quick days in Potosi, the highest city in the world (4,090 meters or 13,418 feet), and returned to Sucre, the capital, to catch a flight to the other big city in Bolivia, tropical Santa Cruz.

While the warm days and cool nights of the windy Altiplano (chock full of llamas) have been great, I’m really looking forward to the Amazonian nature of Santa Cruz. I have one more week in Bolivia and then I return to the U.S. next Saturday. Funny how quickly I’ve adjusted my perceptions of reality to what is here in Bolivia (Pig crossing on the way to the airport! Non-existent security at the airport! Speaking Castellano all the time!).

And now, I leave you with a view of the city I’m leaving shortly (boarding my plane to Santa Cruz in a few minutes), Sucre:

Sucre view

A view of Sucre, the white city, from my hotel. Reminds me of the Spanish city of Cordoba.

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A Sal(ar)ty side trip

Because you can’t go to Bolivia, and certainly not to Potosi, without visiting the famous salt flats of Uyuni, our group has hijacked our agenda and are taking off from the lovely historical/judicial capital, Sucre (which reminds me of the beautiful white Spanish city Cordoba), for a little side trip.

We’re heading for a two three and a half day adventure, via Potosi, to the unique world marvel that is the Salar de Uyuni. It is a 4,000 square mile salt flat in the southwest corner of the Bolivian Altiplano, and across that huge expanse, there is a maximum elevation change of three feet. It also happens to be sitting on top of nearly half of the world’s supply of lithium (used in lithium-ion batteries for objects from cameras to electric cars), among other salts.

I can’t wait to get a taste (har) of such an amazing natural wonder. Look forward to photos!

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Llamas love me

This Bolivian climate conference that I’ve been attending the past few days here in Cochabamba seems to have one-upped Copenhagen in at least one aspect: the llama-to-person ratio.

Me with llamas

I spoke with the delegates from New Llamaland. They are very concerned about the effects of climate change.


Just sayin’.

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Eating Bolivia

I’ve hinted at this heavily in other blog posts, but it bears exploring: For the duration of this trip (four weeks), I’ve returned to my Midwestern meat-and-potato roots. Being a vegetarian in Bolivia, one of the original meat-and-potato regions, seemed like a not-very-fun, not-very-feasible, and not-very-nutritious idea. Having been here for a week, I can see that the host families I’m staying with would need ample notice of my dietary preference, and I would miss out on trying charque de llama (kind of like llama jerky), cordero (lamb), and sheep’s feet (the tiny bit I tasted didn’t go over well with my taste buds).

I became a vegetarian for environmental reasons in the first place. Not because I hate eating meat, but because of the hugely wasteful, polluting, and unsafe industrial meat production in the United States. I didn’t want to add to extra hormones in cattle, extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, extra manure/pesticides/synthetic fertilizers in watersheds, or extra cholesterol in my heart. A healthier me and a healthier planet are two side-effects I’ll accept if it means giving up a burger. I don’t have a problem with eating sustainably raised meat now and again (which means outside of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs), which brings us back to Bolivia. CAFOs haven’t exactly hit Bolivia yet (and I hope they never do), so I don’t have reservations about a brief return to my previously carnivorous ways.

Because I’m at the mercy of other people for every meal on this trip, my vegetarian diet in this country would mainly consist of bread, rice, and a variety of potatoes. (Oh and some cheese.) Now, Bolivia is chock-full of quinoa, a delightful grain and a complete protein, but I haven’t even had the chance to sample it here yet. The veggies I’ve encountered thus far, when cooked, have mainly been of the frozen variety and served chilled. I eat them all, but they get a nose wrinkle from me.

However, I’m going to take this opportunity to love on salteñas, small pockets of a special dough filled with yummy meats and veggies and juices and spices. Not unlike empanadas, though they have those here as well. Other tasty foods: maraqueta, the traditional Bolivian bread often (for me, always) served at breakfast and at plenty of other meals or tea as well; the pacay (cotton candy fruit); and fresh regional cheeses. The beer here is mostly pilsners, which make me long for the microbrews of the Pacific Northwest. But the mate de coca, an herbal tea derived from the unrefined leaves of the coca plant, has been a nice way to warm up (and ward off altitude sickness) on the Altiplano. Don’t worry, mate de coca isn’t the gateway drug to snorting crack off of a llama’s nose. I haven’t found that one yet.

What I have found, however, is singani, the national drink of Bolivia, which is a strong liquor derived from maize. The Rotarians in Oruro took our group out to Karaoke  last night and poured us several glasses of singani and Sprite. Pretty good, in my opinion. My Karaoke skills? Not so good, in my (and probably others’) opinion. I did manage to belt out some Notre Dame/Backer favorites, such as “Africa” (Toto), “The Final Countdown” (Europe), and “Livin’ on a Prayer” (Bon Jovi). It turns out that when you have to sing Karaoke by yourself, it’s much trickier than doing it with a group in a bar that’s too loud to hear the words anyway. But still fun … after all, how often do I get to sing 80s songs in English at a Bolivian bar?

Not as often as Coke or Pepsi are served at meals here, which is quite a lot. I’ve been sticking to fruit juices, tea, beer, and bottled or boiled water. Water is a big deal down here, both access to any water and access to water that is safe to drink. Which is why it is such a big deal that, for example, Illimani, the triple-peaked, be-glaciered mountain overlooking La Paz, recently lost two of its glaciers. The water that used to be stored there like a reservoir would now be like money in a bank that failed.  Ouch.

(Again, photos to come when I get faster internet, which I hope I will have in Cochabamba, the next city on our tour, and the site of a world conference on climate change this week. I’ll be hitting it up either two or three days — wheee!)

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A dried llama for Pachamama

The first presentation of our GSE group to the Rotary Club in La Paz went pretty well last week, despite my sudden inability to breathe enough to say more than one or two words at a time. I blame that on the pressures of public speaking at extreme altitudes. Probably the next sport to be added to the X-Games.

During dinner, Sylvana (one of the Bolivians visiting Seattle in the other half of this international exchange) and fellow GSE-er Mark told me about the indigenous rituals that have to take place before any type of construction (roads, buildings, houses, ditches) can go on. The rituals involve prayers, offerings, and often the burial of a dried llama fetus. For good luck, obviously.

If none of the proper cultural initiatives take place, either the construction workers (who are usually indigenous) will strike, or if it’s built anyway, no indigenous persons will enter that building. You gotta pay your respects to Pachamama, the Bolivian version of Gaia or Mother Earth.

In case you’re wondering where one buys such things as dried llama fetuses, look no further than the Mercado de las Brujas, or Witch’s Market, in La Paz.

(Photos to come when I find non-dial-up internet!)

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The road to Lake Titicaca is paved with … well, sometimes it’s not paved at all

After a jam-packed first fully awake day in La Paz, we took off to the hills on April 13 to spend the day at the infamous Lake Titicaca (5th graders, please keep your snickers of laughter to the comments). To get there, we had to climb out of the bowl that La Paz is set down in and pass through the rapidly growing pueblo of El Alto. An observation I’ll make over and over again is that it’s sometimes difficult to know whether many of the buildings in the poorer parts of Bolivian cities and towns are in a constant state of construction or degradation. Half-finished houses of adobe or the ubiquitous red brick often melt into their crumbling neighbors.

My La Paz host mom, Marta Eugenia, says that each extended family of campesinos (country folk, if you will) will help build one family’s house at a time. Along with this kind help comes the saying, “Today is for me, tomorrow is for you.” Quid pro quo, and all that.

Once we found our way around some detours in El Alto (and off-roaded a bit, not uncommon in a nation with only about 6% of its roads paved, I read somewhere?), the landscape quickly became agricultural, with bunches of red and green quinoa drying in the fields, along with rows of habas (like lima beans but tastier). Campesinos were tending everything by hand, alongside their sheep, cattle, pigs, dogs, and the occasional burro.

Lake Titicaca itself is huge, with ambiguous marshy edges and hills the color of adobe bordering it. The voluminous white clouds dropped their shadows on the surrounding hills the way they do in Big Sky Country like Montana. Traditionally, the indigenous people of the area wove canoes of reeds from the lake, and we passed one such boat on dry land, as well as the mini-boats and mini-llamas of reeds which you saw in my last post.

No road trip is complete, of course, without snacks: galletas (cookies) de vanilla, pasankalla (sweet popcorn made from huge kernals), and pacay, a crazy fruit with thick green skin which you cut open to reveal six or seven large, shiny black seeds surrounded by a sweet, feathery fruit — the original cotton candy. Except not electric blue.

And few people who know me well will believe this, but I actually ate the trucha (trout) from Lake Titicaca. Vegetarian or not, I’ve never been much for fish. Still, I took my co-worker Stephanie’s advice and tried the trout. Not that I had much choice, because that was pretty much the only thing on the menu that day, but you could try it in at least a dozen different ways: grilled, fried, with lemon or butter or garlic or sauteed onions, etc … Half-way through the meal I happened to notice the scales and fins peaking out the bottom of the trout on my plate — so I knew that it was the real deal.

While not exactly a llama, a young vicuña (raised for their super-fine “wool”) was stationed outside the restaurant and, as a camelid, was a fine stand-in for a llama. Everyone in my group each tried alternating between feeding it clover and hugging it for photo opps, with much hilarity ensuing.

One of the best parts of the day, however, was when a local man took a few of us out on the lake for a spin on the front of his boat, which was not exactly set up for people to sit there, but he drove slowly so we had a grand time with the sunshine, the water, and the breeze. It was absolutely gorgeous out on the lake.

A sad part of the trip, and about Bolivia in general, is seeing the pure volume of garbage lining the roads, especially in rural areas. It speaks to the intensity of the poverty in parts of the country, the lack of resources for collecting the trash, the insidious infiltration of Western consumerism, and the cultural acceptance of throwing s*** on the ground in many places.

(My apologies for the total lack of photos here, but since I have been staying in the smaller town of Oruro the past few days, I have only had access to dial-up internet, channeling AOL circa 1995. I promise to add gorgeous pictures later if you promise to look at them.)

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Meet my friend the llama (I’m on a boat reprised)


Llamas of reeds from Lake Titicaca

Say hello to my little friends.


We met at Lake Titicaca, and I just had to bring one of the little guys home with me. They’re made of reeds from the lake and the little one cost less than $1 US, but that’s all the money I’ve spent since arriving in Bolivia.

More pictures to come later (because it’s late and I have to pack to leave for the next city of Oruro tomorrow), but for now, I hope you get a little taste of what life has been like for me here in Bolivia:

 Me on a boat on Lake Titicaca

I'm on a boat (on Lake Titicaca) don't you ever forget!

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