Monday, March 16, 2009

In The Kitchen at TWC

Before this semester, I didn't have a huge amount of cooking experience. Don't get me wrong, I could find my way around a kitchen and follow a recipe - the basics. In fact, one summer I worked as a nanny and managed to cook for a family of four plus myself, and I managed to make it through a whole three-month summer without any of the kids suffering from malnourishment or getting food poisoned (even though I lived in a constant and irrational fear that that would happen). But this term, as I have been helping out in The Working Centre's kitchen, I am learning quite a lot. The cafe we cook for is vegetarian and sometimes vegan, which right away changes things up a bit. If I was to plan and cook a meal of my own devising, the main dish would most likely involve some sort of meat or meat product. So, instead, I have been learning how to make many dishes that centre around vegetables and meat alternatives. I usually make some sort of salad, though occasionally I've made soup, hummus, or wraps. The recipes usually involve two or more steps, which is quite different than what I am used to. Most often I bake, and at most that requires two separate bowls. Often, these recipies involve frying tofu, sauces and spices in a frying pan, roasting vegetables in the oven, and boiling pasta on the stove, mixing a sauce in a bowl, and then tossing it all together. The other difference is the sheer volume/quantity of food being made. Coming from a family of three, it seems crazy to me to make a soup using 1 kg of green beans, 8 potatoes, 4 giant carrotts, and three cans of tomato juice for one pot of soup. I have learned a lot about the vegetarian/vegan diet in this way.
However, my favourite part about working in the kitchen is the atmosphere. Although Tracie has only been working there a few months, she has really managed to find her rhythm and is doing a fantastic job. On my first day, I missed my bus and had to take a later one. When I called to let her know I'd be late, she told me not to worry about it. When I showed up for work, she gave me a recipe to follow. But the following weeks she let me choose between a few different recipes, and sometimes she first asks me "What do you feel like making?". She is always very friendly and helpful, no matter how many questions I ask her. She is always happy and smiling, asking me about school and my Ecuador trip. I feel blessed to have had the chance to work with her for such a worthy organization.

Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser

I wanted to take an opportunity to blog about the fundraising breakfast we ran as a Beyond Borders team. Since the beginning of this term, or possibly even last term, we had been trying to come up with an event we could host not only to raise some funds for our trip, but also to introduce ourselves to the community and let them know what Beyond Borders experience is all about. We were all really busy, and we weren't really sure if we could commit to yet another activity. At one point, we had all but decided not to have any event at all, when someone came up with the idea of holding a pancake breakfast. We all thought it was a great idea and decided to go ahead with it.
Things came together relatively quickly, though there were a few minor (and some not so minor) setbacks we came across. There were quite a few people to talk to about venues, food, and supplies, so getting all of that together took a fair bit of orchestration. There were a few last minute changes on where we were going to hold the breakfast. First we were in the main SJU cafeteria, then the girl's dorm, then back again, and finally ended up being in the girl's dorm. It ended up being a great location, not too small that we ran out of tables and chairs, but small enough that it felt homey. There were also some difficulties with the pancake batter we wanted to use because it contained raw egg, and none of us were properly trained to cook with it. It turned out that a local grocery store either gave us a great discount or donated pancake mix which only required us to add water. The cafeteria was also very generous in donating disposable dishes and cutlery, juice, coffee, syrup, margarine and sausage to our cause.
When the morning of the event arrived we all (well, all but one . . . ;o)!!!) showed up bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to work . . . well, at least reasonably so. Everyone found something to do, or at least something to look like they were doing, and got to work. By the time the first mass let out, we were ready to go. There was a slight delay when the line outnumbered the number of pancakes we could make at once, and we blew a few fuses with the grills, but all of these problems were fixed quickly and effectively. We had a good sized crowd, and I think made over $700! Though that isn't much money when it needs to be split between all of us, the event was quite successful, and I think we did quite well in pulling it off . . . and it was a lot of fun!! Thanks again to my fellow Beyond Bordians. You rock!

Monday, March 9, 2009

More on Ecuador

I realized that the information I gave during my last Ecuador presentation never made it to my blog, so I thought I'd remedy that. One thing that is of interest to me is the people of Ecuador. The approximate population is 14 000 000. Though the official language is Spanish, there are approximately 20 other native tongues due to the indigenous population. In fact, the indigenous people make up 1/3 to 1/4 of the population, which is largely mixed, or 'mestizo'. There are many social and economic divisions between people groups, much like many other places in the world. Somewhere between 4o% and 66% of the population live below the poverty line. The country specializes largely in agriculture, and its main exports are petroleum products, coffee, cacao, bananas, cut flowers and shrimp. This means their economy varies depending on the market, and is severely affected by fluctuations in world commodity prices, and can be quite unstable. Voting is compulsory for literate people between the ages of 18 and 65, and Ecuador was the first country in South America to grant women the right to vote. Despite this, the country overall has been slow to accept equality of the sexes, which is illustrated by the fact that only 40% of women are economically active. Though women have entered most fields of work, they still do not work as welders or bus drivers. In 1990, women even made up 10% of the police force. I am very excited about the chance to interact with these people, to see and experience firsthand what their lives are like. It is not every day a chance like this comes along.