Expansion on Location: Peru

To keep you busy while I’m swamped with work and school and losing my mind in general (my last summer session class/paper is next Thursday, yay!), I’ve put together the first installment of a little series of food and expansion around the world because expansion knows no geographic limits 😀

I’ve mentioned a few times before that I spent August of 2008 volunteering in a Peruvian orphanage with infants through the program Mosoq Allyu. In fact, I departed JFK for Lima exactly one year ago on this very Friday morning. The three and a half weeks I spent in Peru were some of the best days of my life, and I honestly wish I could have stayed forever!

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The trip, however, was not all baby baby baby. I made sure to include my other great love: food.

I stayed with a family in the “city” of Huancayo, and it certainly helped that Aurora, the mom, was an amazing cook and whipped up a completely new traditional Peruvian dish for lunch every single day! Sadly, I did not have the blog yet — or even a digital camera! — but I captured what I could of the food amazingness I saw everywhere.

On my very first day in Huancayo, I actually thought the trip was going to be a food bust. All I had eaten since arriving were approximately seven white rolls with jam (bread and jam, of all things, turned out to be the standard Peruvian breakfast). I stepped outside to go for a little exploratory walk, and this sign greeted me.

Year Of The Potato

Translation: National Congress of the Potato — International Year of the Potato, 2008

Have I mentioned that I hate potatoes?

Apparently, potatoes (along with wheat and quinoa) are one of the few sustainable crops in the super high Huancayan altitude. A later trip to the market brought the point home:

700 Potato Varieties

Things started looking up for me quickly after that initial shock wore off.

Exciting new produce:

Mayorista Fruit

Displaying my new finds, pepino and granadilla, on the roof of my family’s house:

Pepino Granadilla

Did you know that the most delicious bananas in the world are grown in the Peruvian jungle?

Bananas

Grocery store loot: best sandwich cookies ever, red banana (best banana ever), membrillo (aka quince), baby oranges, candy bar, quinoa (!!), and mate de coca (aka cocaine leaf tea).

Grocery Loot

I was so excited to get this quinoa in the store. Even though it is one of the few things that could actually grow up in the mountains, quinoa isn’t a staple of the Peruvian diet where I was because of its bitter (though I don’t think so) taste. After white bread, white rice, white pasta, and white potatoes at every meal, I was thrilled to purchase my own personal stash of whole grains to use for my dinners in.

Rice is such a staple of the Peruvian diet, in fact, that there is a children’s song and dance called “Arroz con Leche” which actually refers to a delicious delicious rice pudding-esque dessert.

Ladrillera Arroz Con Leche

More Peruvian delicacies …

A meal of tamal de pollo, pastel de carne, and torta de gelatina from nearby Cafe Exquisitez:

Cafe Exquisitez

Crepes at Casa de Alan with my co-volunteers:

Casa De Alan

Closer:

Crepezoom

Ceviche!

Ceviche

Closer:

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I accidentally ate the spicy pepper that came on top of the ceviche that I was not supposed to eat. I thought it was a tomato. As the tears were streaming down my face, the directors of the volunteer program warned me that I would feel the burn twice … and I did …

The crunchy corn that was served at restaurants instead of chips:

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Drinking coconut water in the jungle:

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Recognize this one of me eating the Peruvian specialty of cuy picante … aka spicy guinea pig?!

Guinea Pig

Chewing coca leaves while hiking a glacier to minimize altitude sickness:

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Jugo de cana (pure sugar cane juice … cures bronchitis, asthma, anemia, arthritis, kidney, prostate):

Jugo De Cana

Pisco sour (pisco brandy, lime juice, sugar, egg whites):

Drinky Drink

Zoom on the raw egg white deliciousness:

Drinky Drinkzoom

I wish I had pictures of everything I ate because everything really was blog-worthy. Whenever I travel to new places with regional cuisine, I throw caution to the wind nutrition-wise in favor of trying as much authentic food as possible. This plan worked out beautifully in Peru, as I was literally a bottomless pit due to my persistent case of “traveler’s sickness,” as they call it. I always had room for more 😀

What is your favorite regional cuisine?

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Tasty heights

Monday night, the prestigious food bloggers of Brooklyn (minus one) took to the ‘hood for dinner at Organic Heights, a newish (what do you mean it’s been here for over a year?!) vegan cafe in the slope.

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In addition to being a cafe, Organic Heights is also a vitamin and herbal remedy supplier. See the bottles?

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I loved the scenery (as usual) because it made me feel like I was out in the real wilderness instead of this overly humid cement forest of a city.

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Our dinner was in honor of Emily, who is leaving our perfect little neighborhood for Buffalo tomorrow! The menu looked brilliant … but they were out of almost everything:

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Maybe the lack of options was because “all food is made here in in our kitchen DAILY.” I won’t complain because I am a fan of fresh food, but it would have been a good idea to inform us of the menu’s limitations before handing us the menus and giving us time to look them over!

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At least there were cookie samples to keep us occupied while we waited 🙂

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I ordered the balsamic roasted portabella sandwich with caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, romaine lettuce, and homemade tofu basil pesto on grilled French sourdough:

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This sandwich was SO good. I rarely order sandwiches in restaurants because they make me bored, but this one was incredible — the pesto and the bread really made it!

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Mid-meal, Diana pointed out a mystery glass shaker thinking that it might contain some sort of seed to sprinkle on her salad. Nope!

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It was unrefined cane sugar, so we had to taste some of course. It was chewy and crunchy at the same time and tasted just like molasses. It looked like no sugar I had seen before. No shiny-ness at all!

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For dessert, Diana brought along her homemade two-layer brownie-cookie squares!

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They were delicious and I’m going to pretend I did not eat three of them.

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Before leaving, we all fell quite easily into our standard around-the-table pose 😛 (Left to right: Vani, me, Diana, Emily)

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Emily, we will miss you! Come back and visit often 😀

How do you celebrate/farewell when someone is moving away?

Things that grow

Each week of the CSA is more exciting than the last! I suppose that is the nature of summer 😀IMG_3405.JPG

The produce this week included cherries, blueberries, golden plums, zucchini, yellow squash, kohlrabi, cucumber, romaine, parsley, kale, corn on the cob, eggs, and red basil (!!!):

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Before this pickup, I didn’t even know that basil came in red! There was no mistaking this bunch — the aroma was quite pungent.

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I immediately set to work processing the bounty. I roasted the zucchini, squash (plus some I still had from last week), and kohlrabi with the rest of last week’s garlic, mom’s herb-infused olive oil, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar until crispy:IMG_3414.JPG

I mixed in last week’s parsley and ended up with an excellent salad topper:

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Joining the roasted veggies on top of the salad were a massaged CSA kale salad (raw kale leaves, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, herb infused olive oil, sea salt, coriander, and mashed avocado), steamed kale stems, CSA romaine, balcony garden arugula, sunflower seeds, and garlic croutons left from my coworkers’ lunches last week.

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And because soup is salad’s best friend, I also got some chilled corn and avocado soup going using this recipe. I shucked my five little CSA cobs and arranged them on a rack that I placed over the burner on my stove to simulate a grill:

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I had a bite of this corn raw and could have eaten them all right then. It was so sweet!

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I openly flamed the corn cobs …

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… until the kernels got crispy …

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… all the way around:

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Then I sliced the kernels from their cobs:

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I boiled four cups of water in a large pot and added the kernels, the bare cobs, and this crazy-spicy chile salsa (in place of the chile in the recipe):

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I also tossed in the woody stems from the red basil for good measure and boiled/simmered until the broth had reduced by about a cup:

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In the meantime, I prepared the garnish. The recipe involved cilantro oil, but I switched it to basil oil for obvious reasons. I chopped all of my red basil (about a cup) and immersion-blended it with sea salt and my mom’s herb-infused olive oil until it was as combined as it was going to get without an actual food processor.

When the broth was ready, I removed the empty cobs and the basil stems and added in a chopped avocado:

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I used the immersion blender to puree the avocado and the corn soup until, again, it was as smooth as I could get it without a food processor. I mixed in another avocado’s worth of chunks for texture and then topped a serving with plain yogurt, the basil oil, garlic croutons, and a little sprig of balcony garden basil:

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Mmmmmm, this meal was so gourmet yet satisfying and easy to prepare, and you know I made enough to last through my lunches all week long!

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Which produce item at its seasonal peak right now makes you most excited?

A second look

Remember all the cake I had on Friday?? It was delicious, but it also necessitated that Saturday take shape as a recovery day. Thank goodness my plans cooperated with that need 😀

I woke up at 8:30 and hydrated with a “mocktail” of home-brewed jasmine iced tea, coconut water, and a watermelon ice cube:

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At 9:00, I met Emily at the subway to accompany her to hot yoga so she could experience the magic before she left town (noooo, Emily, don’t go to Buffalo!). We sweated out all of our impurities (suuuuuuuuure), and then I headed straight down to Kate’s apartment in Carroll Gardens so I could pick up my half of the CSA (more on that tomorrow), zipped back to my apartment in the Slope to process the produce and clean myself up, and jerkily made my way through the messy weekend subway system to the UES to meet up with Pamela for a delightful vegan linner at none other than Candle Cafe.

I ate at Candle’s fancy and somewhat stuffy big sister, Candle 79, a few weeks ago and was not entirely thrilled with the experience, so I was very excited to try the cafe since the menu and ambience seemed much more my style.

Pamela ordered the quesadilla, a whole wheat tortilla filled with bean puree, grilled vegetables, and soy cheese with daily salsa on the side:

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I ate half of one of her wedges, and it was so so tasty! The onions inside were sweet, and the salsa was hot. I love sweet and spicy together!

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To round out her quesadilla, Pamela also ordered the green life smoothie, a blend of kale, pineapple, banana, and orange juice:

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Obviously, the smoothie was phenomenal as well.

I ordered the taco salad: chili beans, grilled seitan, chopped lettuce, tofu sour cream, soy cheese, and corn chips topped with toasted cumin vinaigrette, pico de gallo, and guacamole.

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This salad was enormous and completely delicious! I ate every single bite (except for the four bites that Pamela swiped) and was so full when I finished. The mix of flavors in this dish was incredible, and I loved the generosity of the guacamole serving on top:

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The complexity of seasonings and multiple ingredients in this dish set it apart from Candle 79. I enjoyed my food at Candle 79, but it didn’t fill me up, and I felt as though I could have prepared it myself. This salad more than filled me up, and I’m not sure I could replicate it without a specific recipe. I approved 🙂

Obviously, Pamela and I had to order dessert.

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And we obviously had to order two desserts and split them 😀 😀

I was sad that Candle did not have the famous carrot cake when we were there, but our selections were still fantastic. We split the seasonal fruit crumb pie a la mode (with vanilla soy ice cream):

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There were enormous hunks of peaches all throughout this pie, and it reminded me of a peach-blueberry crisp.

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And the chocolate mousse pie with chocolate cookie crust:

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This pie was amazingly rich yet light at the same time, mmmmmmm.

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We left no crumbs unturned 😛

My original plan had been to head back to Brooklyn immediately after our linner, but I was sooooo full that I decided to walk with Pamela to where Gina was waiting and then tag along on their shopping expedition for a bit so that I could facilitate digestion! Central Park was looking quite photogenic on Saturday, so I couldn’t help taking some pictures as we walked by.

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It’s amazing how having a camera at the ready makes me appreciate the beauty of something I’ve been walking by for nine years.

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Have you taken second looks at anything — restaurants, foods, scenery, friendships, etc. — lately?

Two days well-spent

According to my camera, some exciting things happened in the world of my food last Thursday and Friday. I couldn’t bring myself to delete such pretty breakfasts and treats without first blogging about them!

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I spent Thursday morning on the balcony with overnight yogurt + golean crunch, mango (free from work donation overflow!), peanut butter, and hemp seeds:

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I didn’t even need to pack lunch because I had the Dominican chambre (made by Maria and Inginia) saved from Tuesday, and I enhanced it with a baby bell swiss cheese from Jessica and reject avocados from Rosey:

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On the side, I had chips and salsa left from the nurses’ lunch on Tuesday and salad left from Rosalie’s lunch:

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When I got home from class way too late on Thursday night, I had a super fun fun fun package waiting for me:

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Elisabeth at Jogger’s Life sent me the most thoughtful care package ever to help me get through the rest of my grad school summer session.

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I am beyond excited to make my own bubble tea with these exciting varieties and to fancy it up with green tea powder and lychee!

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Thanks Elisabeth 😀

Friday morning’s breakfast consisted of half a toasted oatmeal-raisin bagel (courtesy of this work training) from the freezer bag topped with a poached CSA egg and more work donation mango:

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I really am in love with these CSA eggs, but I can’t seem to eat them fast enough! I’ve got a three-week backlog. I need to pick up the egg pace.

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Also in love with the cross-section:

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Lunch at work was all stuff you’ve seen before … but the selection of goodies was new and exciting!

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Rosey has been talking about a lady from her church who makes the best tres leches cake ever, and she finally brought some in to share with all of us! Rosey was not exaggerating about this cake. Look at how drenched in milk it is!

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Siiiiiiiiiigh, this was amaaaaaazing.

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Also on Friday, Pansy brought in some of her famous ambrosia along with gooseberries that she seasoned with cloves and nutmeg:

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I had the ambrosia x2 and the gooseberries x7?

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And there’s more, as usual. When I got back from my afternoon visit, this was waiting on my desk.

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Half of the best red velvet cupcake ever from the bakery around the corner, courtesy of Nydia. I split this half with Deborah and considered it a Friday well spent 😀

How do you know when you’ve had a day well-spent?