Dinner and Dessert Delight

In addition to teaching my regular English class for ecotourism students, I also teach a weekly class for staff members who want to learn more English. We meet every Wednesday night, and there is a group of four wonderful women who come regularly. One is a professor of veterinary science, one is the director of the tourism program, one is an education student completing her thesis, and one is the school psychologist. This Wednesday, we held class at the volunteer house where I live, and the staff cooked a delicious Bolivian dinner. dinner 1Carmen, the vet science professor, prepared fritanga, a yummy fried pork dish with a spicy red sauce, along with mote (hominy) and traditional dehydrated potatoes called chuño.

dinner 2I made dessert, and although my brother is usually the one who shares his cooking adventures, I’m including the recipe for these cupcakes because they were so delicious! They’re a dark chocolate cupcake with salted caramel icing and garam masala praline – super yummy, especially with fresh mango on the side.dinner 3It was a delightful evening with wonderful food and great company, and I hope we can repeat it again soon. I loved the opportunity to get to know each other, build community, and share our unique food traditions.dinner 4

Recipe: Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes with Garam Masala Praline

The cupcake and icing recipes are from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, published by Clarkson Potter in 2001; the praline is something I came up with!

Deep Chocolate Vegan Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with 12 liners, or grease with butter or cooking spray and dust with cocoa powder.

Sift together 1 1/2 c. flour, 1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 c. sugar. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 c. vegetable oil, 1 c. chilled brewed coffee, and 2 tsp. vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Add 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar and stir briefly; pour batter into pan immediately.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool.

Salted Caramel Icing

Combine 2 c. brown sugar, 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, 1 c. half-and-half, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large saucepan. (Add more salt to taste, if you wish.) Bring to a rolling boil, stirring often. Cover and boil on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue to boil until the caramel begins to thicken and coats a spoon, about 4 minutes. Be careful not to let it burn! Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add 1 tsp. vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until creamy, thick, and a good spreading consistency, about 10 minutes.

While the icing is still warm, frost the cupcakes and top with the praline.

Garam Masala Praline

Combine 1 c. chopped nuts (walnuts, brazil nuts, and pecans are all yummy!), 1/2 c. white sugar, 1/4 c. water, 1-2 tsp. garam masala (depending on how spicy you want them to be), and a pinch of salt in a saute pan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until the liquid boils off, leaving a sugary coating on the nuts. Pour onto a buttered plate, spread out, and let cool. Break into pieces and top the cupcakes.


The day I fell in love with Bolivia

Last Sunday, I fell in love. In the giddy, heart-full, utterly astonishing way that it seems like it happens, I suddenly found myself totally enamored.

I went to La Paz last weekend, planning to leave early Sunday morning to visit a town called Sorata way up in the mountains. I was looking forward to a break after a long, hectic week capped off by coming down with a miserable cold, and I couldn’t wait to get up into the beautiful mountain country that’s called “The Land of Eternal Spring.” When I went to the bus stop, though, I learned that there were no buses leaving. In fact, there was absolutely no traffic at all, in the whole city, because it was the “Día del Peatón,” the day of the pedestrian. It’s a day that’s celebrated in La Paz and Cochabamba, and it was simply lovely – like Open Streets in Minneapolis, but throughout the entire capital city of nearly a million people.

ImageImageImageFor an entire day, no buses, taxes, or cars are allowed on the roads. The highways leading into and out of the city are blocked; only ambulances, police cars, and airport taxis are permitted to drive. People come out into the streets. It was absolutely incredible. The main thoroughfare in La Paz was full of games, music, food, and vendors of absolutely everything. Different local organizations set up different areas. There was a whole set of tiny easels with paper and paints for tiny children; there were people jump roping and playing Twister and hopscotch.

ImageImageImageI sat in a park and read for a while, near what’s usually the busiest, traffic-jammiest intersection in the city, and people were biking and skateboarding and playing soccer. And that’s when waves of love started rolling over me. I have never been anywhere else where an entire major city would shut down traffic for a day. It was so amazing to feel what the city is like when it’s just being its human self – you could hear people’s voices and laughter, instead of honking horns and growling engines, and the whole city felt more peaceful and calm. The pace was a human pace instead of a mechanical industrial pace, and it just felt so good, and so beautiful, and so right.

ImageImageI made other connections with local community organizations as I wandered throughout the city. The zebras were out in full force, of course. I found an awesome feminist group called Mujeres Creando, and I am very excited to get to know them better. They seem like a really, really cool group of women, and the work that they’re doing in Bolivia is really interesting. I also met a documentary filmmaker who makes films about human trafficking and violence against women in Latin America.

It was one of those days where things come together, and I loved it. It reminded me of how much possibility there is, and how much hope. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been missing that feeling, and it feels good to find it again. As the news fills with reports of violence, greed, suffering, and war, it was refreshing and inspiring to see a city set aside even just one day for such a positive event, so affirming of humanity and of life. I traveled to Sorata the next day, still full of joy and awe. Despite a persistent cold and the regular challenges of day-to-day life, the feeling has stayed with me this week, as I’ve taught my classes, cooked meals, and attended a vigil for peace in Syria. It’s a feeling of openness and potential, and above all a deep sense of love.