Sangria & Paella Summer Cooking Class

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Sangria & Paella Summer Cooking Class

Sangria & Paella Summer Cooking Class

It was a perfect class to teach this summer.....Sangria and Paella.  I've travelled in Spain only once, but I tasted the delicious paella near Valencia on the eastern coast, where paella is reputed to have been first created. It's a tasty dish using the local short grain rice and delicious meats and vegetables from the area. Seafood paella is popular closer to the coast, while paella made with rabbit, pork, chicken and beans is more popular further inland. "Paella" literally means "pan" in Spain, and the pan used for this particular dish can be found in many different sizes. In Spain, there are often paella parties where the huge pan sits over an open fire, and can serve hundreds of people.  I own paella pans in three different sizes, and usually use the biggest one since I can feed up to 25 people. My favorite paella is made with chicken and pork. I also add saffron, hot smoked paprika, sweet smoked paprika, and artichokes. I've cooked over an open fire, but in most paella classes I place the pan over three gas burners in my kitchen, and it turns out delicious.

Sangria is a refreshing drink that I make frequently in the summer. It's basically a fruit punch made with wine and fruit.  In this class I made two different sangrias, one with rose wine, elderflower liqueur, and stone fruits. I also made one with white wine, brandy, citrus fruits and green apple.

You can find my recipes at these links: CATALAN-STYLE PAELLASANGRIAS, and let me know what you think. The paella tends to be best eaten the day it's made, but the sangria can last for several days in your refrigerator. However, it's so good I doubt you'll have any leftovers.

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Cooking in Rwanda: From Chocolate Chip Cookies To An  Herb Called “Shannon”

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Cooking in Rwanda: From Chocolate Chip Cookies To An Herb Called “Shannon”

Cooking in Rwanda: From Chocolate Chip Cookies To An Herb Called “Shannon”

One of the perks of extensive travel is meeting unique and interesting people who become friends for life. Last year, I traveled to Rwanda and met many Rwandans who were eager for me to return to teach them how to cook better. The Rwandan people have recovered incredibly after the horrific genocide in 1994, but few of them have the skills to cook the abundance of food they grow in every part of the country. When I first visited the local markets, I couldn’t believe how many different fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honeys were available. But I experienced very few tasty meals, and I met many people who admitted that most Rwandans cannot cook well.

Early this year I was given the opportunity to return to Rwanda to visit a Christian primary school named Hope Haven. It was founded by an American, Susan Hollern, and is located on the outskirts of the capital city of Kigali. About 350 children from the local township attend the school, and the parents pay a small fee for their children to attend. If the parents are unable to pay, they can work on the school grounds where there are seven acres of vegetable and fruit gardens designed and tended by an American couple, Nate and Fonda Kempton. They live on the campus, and have devoted their lives to the school and the gardens. Much of the produce from the gardens is sold to restaurants and hotels in the area, but some is cooked into the beans that the children are served forlunch. There are also dormitories where people can come and stay if they want to visit the school, bring mission groups, or attend planning meetings. There is a kitchen near the dormitories where a Rwandan cook, David, works each day to feed the Kemptons, caretakers and visitors.

A year ago, I met Hope Haven board member Christine Bess while we were in Rwanda. She contacted me a few months ago, and asked me to go to Hope Haven to teach the cooks to prepare meals for the Americans and local leaders who visit the campus. When I arrived, I was completely impressed with the entire operation, including the school buildings, enthusiastic teachers, laughing children, and smiling parents who work in the fields. The gardens of abundant food were quite impressive, and I couldn’t wait to start harvesting so I could begin creating in the kitchen.

I was taken to a large grocery store in Kigali where I purchased ingredients necessary to make the dishes I had organized in a cookbook the previous week. Fortunately, the store was very modern and supplied everything I needed. A local German butchery shop was well-stocked with fresh beef, pork, and chicken. I brought two suitcases filled with kitchen equipment and spices from the U.S. to help me with my five days of cooking at Hope Haven.

Preparing 60 hamburgers.

The day after I arrived, I was told that 40 Rwandan students from the organization Bridge2Rwanda were coming to Hope Haven to stay the night, and would be served dinner and breakfast. This organization selects the top academic high school students in Rwanda (and a few surrounding countries) to train for one year in order to take the ACT and SAT exams and hopefully be chosen by an American university to study in the U.S. The requirement is that these students must return to Rwanda after they receive their college degree in the U.S. Bridge2Rwanda also teaches these students American culture so they are better able to adapt when they arrive. My job was to serve them hamburgers and side dishes they would soon eat in America. David and I recruited some of the students and busily prepared 60 beef patties, potato salad, coleslaw, fruit salad, french fries, and chocolate chip cookies for 60 people. Fortunately, Nate cooked the hamburgers over a charcoal grill on the patio. The students are taught that when they are offered food that is not familiar, they should try a bite. The pickles were not well-received, but the chocolate chip cookies were a hit! The following morning, David and I prepared 250 pancakes with jam (maple syrup is too expensive in Rwanda), scrambled eggs, and bacon from the butcher. By that time, I had quite a few of the Rwandan students in the kitchen asking questions about how to prepare the food they had eaten.

The following four days were extremely busy as I tried to teach as much as I could. Some days I would have six people in the kitchen assisting and learning. Most of them didn’t speak English, but I usually had at least one person in the kitchen who could interpret. David spoke very good English, and did a good job of explaining to the others. There was one woman who really made an impact on me, though. Her name is Alena, and she works at Hope Haven in the gardens and housekeeping. I was told that she was a very quick learner, and would be a good person to train in the kitchen. She is single and has a daughter who lives at a school outside Kigali, so she is eager to work each day for many hours since she lives alone.

Alena and I became great friends even though she speaks no English. Each morning she was cleaning or gardening, and I would call her into the kitchen to cook. David didn’t arrive until later in the day, so many times Alena and I cooked before he came to work. Four other women who worked in the gardens washed dishes while we cooked, and I saw them watching us carefully to see what we were doing. Of course, they were our taste testers, too! The third day of my stay, another woman named Royce came to cook with us. She was the friend of the director of the school, and had heard about the cooking lessons. She spoke English, and was a huge help to me as she interpreted and assisted. She took many notes in her notebook that she brought, and she also became friends with Alena. Before I left, I asked Royce to stay in contact with Alena and help her when she had questions in the kitchen. My favorite moments were the times I passed out spoons for everyone to taste what we had made. The looks and smiles on everyone’s faces were my greatest reward.!

One of my goals while at Hope Haven was to prepare dishes using as many of the foods from the garden as possible. Each day I took my basket and walked the grounds collecting lettuces, basil, celery, radishes, mint, cabbage, pumpkin, and peppers. The avocado, mangos and bananas weren’t quite ready to harvest so we bought them at the local market. There was one herb that was growing wild, and no one knew its name. Its aroma was similar to mint and basil, but different from anything I had seen before. Since Nate didn’t know what it was called, he named it Shannon Herb. Each day we asked the women to go collect Shannon Herb for our salad, and they knew exactly where to go. I used it for pesto, salad dressing, fruit smoothies, and soups.!

Every day, I made a pot of chicken stock to use for soups. I took several plastic freezer containers from the U.S., and emphasized the convenience of freezing stock for future cooking. David was thrilled with this idea. We also boiled pumpkins on two occasion, and made pumpkin muffins. They were definitely one of the favorite dishes we made since they had never had pumpkin served as a sweet dish. We also made pumpkin soup using the homemade chicken stock and other vegetables from the garden. Other dishes we made were banana muffins, egg and sausage custard cups (made in muffin tins), bolognese sauce with pasta, focaccia bread, apple galette, cornbread, taco salad, taco soup, orange scones, vegetable omelets, herb potatoes, fried potato cakes, guacamole, mango salsa, coconut banana bread, cucumber salsa, and roasted pumpkin chips. The final dish we made before my departure was chicken and dumplings. It turned out perfectly, and we decided it would be a great dish for them to make over the open fire for outside events.!

At the end of my fifth day of teaching, we had tearful farewells, and the women presented me with a Rwandan apron and beaded necklace. Alena delivered a beautiful speech to me, which Royce interpreted. After many hugs, I packed my much lighter luggage and left Hope Haven knowing I would return with more to teach and learn. The Rwandan people work so hard to provide for their families and communities. They are eager to learn and so thankful for anyone willing to teach them. I’ve taken notes of how I can improve my teaching, and hopefully this knowledge will help me in other countries where I’m called to teach.

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The Rural Women of Rwanda

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The Rural Women of Rwanda

The Rural Women of Rwanda

I’ve visited Rwanda two times in one year, and both times I was able to explore different rural areas where the people work the land, carry their water, and provide for their children from the time they wake until the time they go to sleep at night. The women of Rwanda were especially impressive to me because they flourish even while living in financial poverty.

There is no birth control distributed in Rwanda, so the abundance of children is present in every area of the country. 

When a woman has a baby, she straps it on her back and resumes her work, whether it’s gathering firewood to cook for her family, gathering branches and grass to feed her pig or goat, or selling fruits or potatoes which she carries on her head. Often she walks many miles a day to deliver her products to the market, collect water from a well, or work in the field. When her children are able to walk, they are taught to gather firewood, grass for the animals, and carry the water jug to the well. I saw children as young as three years old walking by themselves along the main road with an armful of firewood. Other times, they were carrying a newborn baby on their back while carrying a sack of potatoes. The children are often the ones who must get the water each day from the well, which may be three miles from their home. Often, they are left alone all day while their parents work in the fields. Unfortunately, many children do not know their fathers, either because they have left or died. 

Many women work in the rice fields where they stand in the muddy water up to their knees while gathering rice all day long. The tea plantations in Nyungwe Forest are filled with women bent over and carefully selecting only the smallest leaves from the tea plants and placing them on a large basket on her head. 

At the end of the day, each woman walks to a weighing station to have the leaves weighed and recorded so she can be paid a small sum at the end of the week based on the amount of tea she harvested.

Charcoal is a valuable fuel for cooking, and I saw it being made at Nyungwe Forest. Women (and men) gather large logs and bind them. They bury the logs in hot ashes and wait for them to burn into charcoal. Once cooled, they’re wrapped in a mesh bag and carried on people's heads to sell on the road or in the market. At Lake Kivu, at the Rwanda and Congo border, women wait for the men to bring in the small fish from their boats so they can lay them out on mats to dry. Once they are dried, the mat is balanced on a woman's head, and she walks to the road or the village in hopes that she can sell them. In the markets, women sit on the ground scrubbing potatoes to sell.

Some are shelling beans, and others are weighing potatoes and bananas while their children play with rocks and sticks.

For these women, work is required for the survival of their families. I can’t imagine they don’t complain occasionally about sore backs, hungry bellies, crying children, and aching feet. But for most of these rural women, this life is all they know. Their children don’t know what it’s like to be rich with a full belly and television. They’re content with a stick and some rocks to play with their friends, and the women laugh together and help each other in times of need. I certainly came home with a new appreciation of the conveniences I have, and for the food on my table. I left a part of my heart with these women in Rwandan, and my hope is that more resources are provided to help them. It’s a special place with beautiful people, and I promise to return, and to be one of those who helps provide those resources.

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Pendant With a Purpose

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Pendant With a Purpose

Pendant With a Purpose

I get a lot of requests to make jewelry pieces for special occasions, but this one was the most unusual yet. My friend and his wife are both world champion triathletes. His wife had a hip replacement twenty years ago, and continued to swim, bike, and run through hundreds of competitions, earning many metals and trophies. However, after twenty years, it was time for another hip replacement.  

My friend asked me to make a pendant from the hip joint that had been in her body for those twenty years. This beautiful porcelain ball sat on my workbench for months while I pondered how I could make it into a special piece of jewelry. I'm a certified Precious Metal Clay artist, and I decided to get out my pure silver clay and work some magic.

After molding it into a cap for the porcelain ball, firing it in a 1600 degree kiln, and polishing it multiple times, I was ready to adhere it to the hip ball.

I hung the finished pendant on an oxidized silver chain, and presented it to my friend to give his wife for Valentines Day this week. The look on his face showed he was quite pleased. My husband thinks I could start a new business making jewelry out of worn out body parts, but I think I'll leave that to someone else. Meanwhile, if you see a beautiful woman wearing a porcelain and silver pendant, you'll know exactly what it is!

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THE TUCSON GEM SHOW

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THE TUCSON GEM SHOW

The Tucson Gem Show

The Tucson Gem Show is the world’s largest venue for gems, beads, fossils, and minerals. The show takes over Tucson for three weeks starting in late January, and attracts more than 50,000 buyers and sellers from all over the world. Those statistics hardly describe the event though.

There Are Acres Of Dealers with tables piled high with diamonds, sapphires, beads, and jewelry supplies. It sometimes makes me suspicion just how rare some of these things really are. One thing does hold true from year to year though, high quality and rarity do command premium prices. In a venue this big, it becomes easy to learn and see the difference between high quality and medium quality.  I use this show to acquire most of the beads and supplies that I will need over the next year. I complement these with the beads I acquire in my travels throughout the year.

The Only Way To Work Through This Show in a reasonable amount of time is to choose a few of the better dealers and shop with them every year. As they get to know me better, they are more inclined to show me their most interesting merchandise. Sometimes, my husband will scout the outlying dealers hoping to find something unusual for me to look at. Every year there is a new mineral that seems to be popular. This year the mineral of choice was Ethiopian opal. In the past, most popular opals were found in Australia, but there are other opals found in other countries. The most interesting Ethiopian opals to me are the ones that flash a brilliant orange-yellow fire. I was fortunate to purchase a few strands of those beads and can’t wait to make them into special necklaces.

As I Write This, I am sitting in front of the piles of beads I bought this year, and can’t believe how much work is ahead of me. But, I’m already looking forward to doing the same thing next year.

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