The boy who lived in the market, Chad, Africa

The boy who lived in the market, Chad, Africa

Recently, I had the opportunity to work in Chad for a humanitarian assignment. Chad is a landlocked country situated in the Sahelian region of Africa, to which the average traveller probably wouldn’t deign visiting.

Burdened down by years of conflict, the last few years have been easier to Chad, with it now being one of the most peaceful countries in the region.

From the capital of N’djamena I flew to the far south-east of the country, which is greener, lusher than the dry north.  It was also here that several humanitarian agencies have set themselves up and are working mostly in the camps where they receive the influx of refugees arriving from neighboring Central Africa Republic (CAR). The majority of them providing life-saving food security, nutrition or water interventions, as well some providing health and education services.

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I visited one of these camps in the district of Maro, where the immediate future of these people remains as unsure as the 10.4 million other refugees around the world (UNHCR, 2012) with some 28% presently living in Africa.

After the camp, a colleague and I ventured into Maro’s small town. It was the late afternoon, so we had missed the market.  Along the way, we bumped into some Chadian colleagues who were visiting friends that owned a small store along the main road.

The long road reached its red-dirt arms as far as the eye could see.

“Where does this road lead to?” asked my Canadian colleague.

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“The Central African Border is an hour away.”

“This is the road that the refugees take to reach this part of Chad,” they explained.

We spoke for a moment how we could well imagine them arriving by foot, tired, hungry, hoping to find safety, a small place which they could somehow call “home”.

I visited three markets in Chad. One was a few hours drive away from Maro in a town called Sahr. It was Sunday, and the Christians had just returned from church, and were stopping to get lunch staples. We stayed only a little while as a convoy was to expected to escort us to the next town, yet it was a joyful moment when one of the team travelling with us ended up bumping into an Aunt who he hadn’t seen in years.

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From there, we drove some 7 hours west to Gore. My days were packed and intense, yet I had an hour to spare after my last day to take a little walk to the Town Square and market with two colleagues.

Unfortunately, the vendors were packing up for the day, and the market was bereft of both content and customers. While I find markets the most vibrant of places, this one was dark and ominous – a gang of street kids ran past and began taunting us. Not getting what they wanted, they took off again. Turning to leave, I noticed a crumpled heap on the market floor, which I first thought was a bundle of old blankets.  I looked closer, and two eyes flashed up at me. It was a child, a boy of around 8 or 9, his face had the glazed look of those who have been so beaten down and harassed by life, that they acquire a strange sort of stillness, a type of inner equanimity that protects them no matter what happens next.

As my colleagues turned to leave, I couldn’t. What could I do? Offer him a home? A bed for the night? I had neither of those at my disposal.  Should have I given him some money. Probably, yet as aid workers, we are dissuaded from this.

The image haunted me on the way back to base, and the next day I asked a colleague about the plight of orphans in the area.  There was a group of Nuns who helped out street children, but there is little being done with the kids like the one I saw at the market.

I have often thought of the boy since coming home, and am guessing that he probably worked at the market, as the vendor nearest to which he had set up bed for the night seemed to know him. Perhaps he ran errands for him? Perhaps he sold the fried millet balls that there were ubiquitous along Chad’s streets and markets.

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I thought back to the street kids and other orphans I had met along my travels – including Sarat who delivered me my newspaper each morning in Phnom Penh, and Hoa, the jasmine seller whose shared dwelling had been burned down and had come up to my restaurant dinner table and showed me the images on the front page of the same paper.

UNICEF estimates that the number of orphaned children has risen by more than 50 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa over recent years, where an estimated 12 million children ages 0–17 have also lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Orphans and other vulnerable children are at higher risk of missing out on schooling, or living in households that can’t ensure food security. They are also prone to suffer from anxiety, depression and are at a higher risk of several diseases. Whilst other family members, or even the community takes in many orphans, there are others, probably like the boy I saw who has nobody to go.

The day before leaving, I visited the Marché Central in N’djamena. It was a giant, colorful and claustrophobic place. Bedouins had brought in giant baskets of tempting dates, all sorts of meat was being sold in the stifling Chadian heat, and a continual broadcast of hundreds of car engines that were left running in the middle of the market deafened out any other noise.  Taking photographs is dissuaded in N’djamena, yet a group of Muslin women selling saffron, other spices and perfumed oils invited me to sit with them before allowing me to take their photo.  Speaking to them, I discovered that many of the market vendors were not Chadian at all, but from Congo, CAR, Guinea, even Darfur.  I wondered whether their own parents had made the long journey over from their homelands with them, or how many had started off their young lives like the little boy I had seen.

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As Summer ends in Canada, and my own eight year old boy goes back to school this week, I reflect on his life and think how the most stressful thing he has to worry about is who to play with on a day-to-day basis, or how to avoid eating his vegetables.  I find myself increasingly grateful that I am able to provide his little self with everything he needs.  I then send a prayer, a thought of hope all the way to Chad hoping that somehow the boy in the market will receive it.  It’s the least I can do.

Millet croquettes

Millet

Fried millet balls are a typical Chadian street food, which are served with different dipping sauces. Millet being a staple grain in the Chadian diet, these are my own version with onion and ginger.  You can also add fresh herbs or other spices to the mix.  I served mine with a little peanut sauce, but they are just as good eaten alone.

Ingredients:

A cup of cooked millet

One onion

A knob of ginger

½ cup of flour (any type of flour works well here, I used chickpea flour as it fries nicely)

An egg

½ cup water

½ teaspoon paprika

Salt, pepper for taste

Oil or ghee for frying

Method:

Cook up the millet as per pack instructions. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients into a thick paste. Adjust the mixture with more or less flour until you get the right consistency. Form into bite-sized balls and then fry until golden brown on each side. Serve immediately.

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Love, War and Quiche, Marché de Sèvres, Paris, France

I met Edith when we were both working for the same humanitarian organization. Based at headquarters, my job included debriefing returning expatriates from the field.  It was iffy work – half the time they came back exhausted, shell shocked, suffering from some nasty health problem, and a good many would return, hastily drop off their various pieces of paper work, never to be heard or seen from again.

Edith was an exception, despite her mission being in war-ravaged Darfur, she waltzed into my office refreshed and radiant. Shortly afterwards, she was back to see me, ready to help in any which way she could whilst waiting to be sent out to the field again. Since that time, her career has taken her to some of the most devastated countries on earth, including Chad, the Central Africa Republic.  Her and her now husband were also part of the Haiti earthquake relief response.

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As an aid worker, we leave our homes with the key intention of serving others less fortunate than ourselves. The idea that our lives will irrevocably change whilst doing this, and the fact that many of us may not return to live in our homelands for a very long time, is something we don’t consider when we start out on our journey and quest.  It seems, the more we do this type of work, the smaller the world really is, its boundaries and borders begin to break down, yet we also begin to realize that life is giving us back far more than we ever expected.  We find new friends from all corners of the world, many who end up adopting the role of a pseudo family member. Some of us end up with new nationalities, and like Edith (and you can include myself in that example) love can finds us in the most unlikeliest, and seemingly strangest places.

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When I did a call out to some friends last week, asking if anybody was happening to go to market that day, Edith replied that yes, she was off to hers.

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Now living in Sèvres, a small town on the South West of Paris, with her husband, she shops at the Marché de Sèvres for the majority of her groceries. She says this quiche, a rustic beauty in the making, is a kitchen regular, and is made with fresh eggs, feta cheese and olives, and then finished off with slices of juicy beefsteak tomatoes.

Merci Edith et Bon Appétit!

Edith’s quiche

Ingredients:

3 eggs

1  cup of milk

1 large sheet of puff pastry

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup of feta cheese

2 zucchinis (cut into rounds and grilled)

¼ cup black olives

4-5 sundried tomatoes (optional)

2 beefsteak tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Method:

Preheat the oven grill.

Grease a 23cm quiche pan or round deep dish baking pan.

Use pastry to line the base and sides of the pan, pinch down the sides firmly.

Cut the zucchini in rounds, lightly brush with olive oil, and grill on each side until the colour slightly blackens.

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Soak the sundried tomatoes in a cup of water for ten minutes to remove their rubbery texture.

Roughly chop the sundried tomatoes into small pieces.

Beat eggs, and stir in milk, salt, pepper, set aside.

Scatter the fetta cheese into the quiche pan, follow by the zucchini, sundried tomatoes, olives, sliced fresh tomatoes.

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Pour the egg and flour mixture into the quiche pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until the quiche springs back when touched, and takes on a nice golden top.

The inside should be moist, but not runny.

Serve with a green salad, a glass of red wine and dream of Paris.

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My favourite market, Rusty’s Market, Cairns, Far North Queensland, Australia

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Many years ago, my great-uncle who passed away, left me a small amount of money. This uncle early recognized my restless nature, and would warn my family “that I was divlja (wild).” and “had the unruly nature of a Tzigane (gypsy), and that there would be trouble.” Although he said this half jokingly, he still made it a point not to let me inherit the money until I was in my mid twenties.  When it was finally mine, and determined to prove him wrong, I decided to use it for a home deposit. At the same time, the new job that I had been head hunted for had quickly turned out to be a bore, and to top it all off, the dead-beat on and off again boyfriend had brought me back one too many Days of Our Lives scenarios. Following that, and true to my late uncle’s predictions, I ditched the house plans, packed a few suitcases, faxed in my “sorry, but I am just not into you” resignation and booked a one-way ticket from Adelaide to Cairns, Far North Queensland, leaving the dead beat scratching his head when he returned to my empty flat. The only things I knew about Cairns was that a) it was hot and humid and b) my Swedish born cousin called it the “most beautiful place on earth.” After a back packing trip, he had returned home to Sweden, secured a study grant and moved there, with no apparent intention of ever leaving again.

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The first few weeks were a haze, the environment completely different to anything I had seen.  Unbeknown to me it was the monsoon season, so most afternoons I would return from afternoon walks around town completely drenched.  Cairns is a relatively small city, yet the frontier to two of the world’s great heritage sites – the Great Barrier Reef, and then the Daintree Rainforest. Yet I found even the local surrounds a visual masterpiece; ancient trees grew tall as small buildings, rainforest mountains encircled the city, coconut and avocado grew in backyards. Instead of just the beach, there were nearby crystalline waterfalls, serpentine coloured water holes and mountain top lakes to swim in.  Large lizards would stop by whilst I sun-baked. The song of the cicada would sing us to sleep.

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Asides from my cousin, and a few of his friends, I didn’t know many people at first, so would spend most of my time exploring the city and nearby surrounds. One day, I stumbled across a semi open space, which from the outside appeared to be a large, unused factory.  It was the music that first drew me in – a local Indigenous band was playing some drums and the didgeridoo. Walking in deeper, I discovered the most exquisite looking market space I had ever seen – the produce, much like Cairns itself, was exotic, vivid in color, sumptuous. There were tables and tables of tropical fruit and vegetables: prickly pears, luminous star fruit, pungent durian, and then bunches of aromatics and fresh spice: lemon grass, turmeric, Thai basil, different mints.IMGP0083

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Tropical flowers sold for cheap, and bare-chested hippies sliced open fresh coconuts, others whizzed up cold pineapple crush. A Turkish immigrant set up shop selling labneh, burek, and falafel. Due to the proximity to the Torres Strait, Indonesia, and even South East Asia, meant that people’s from these places had also set up stall – so it was here that I tried my first ever Laotian food, Indonesian randang, and it was also here at Rusty’s Market that I developed my enduring crush for coconut milk.

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Back then, Rusty’s was a simple set up  – the stalls were set up on old tables and benches, in no apparent order, and by the end of the afternoon it could also get quite sticky and hot in there. At the same time, Rusty’s was always environmentally friendly, with plenty of cardboard boxes made available to shoppers to carry their bounty home. Initially opened by local man, Emrys “Rusty” Rees, the place has grown to be an important fixture for both locals and tourists. These days, having been taken over by Gilligan’s, a backpackers resort, Rusty’s has had a make over, which I heard from local’s, makes life a lot easier for the people that work there.  The 180 something stall holders are mostly farmers who grow their produce regionally.  Asides from fruit and vegetables, there are also baked goods, seafood, cheeses, nuts, coffee and locally grown teas and more .

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I ended up living in Cairns for three and a half years, and even returned to get married there. Last week, I went back to visit my cousin, who like me, now has a young family. After a meeting up with a friend for breakfast on Friday, we crossed the road to Rusty’s, where I assembled a picnic lunch including Turkish spinach, pumpkin and feta filled flat breads, rambutan, freshly baked focaccia, dips and even some chacuterie. Asides from feeling like you have walked in to a Gauguin panting, the truly great thing about Rusty’s is it’s accessibility.

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Unlike many farmers markets in the developed world, which are sadly becoming more of a bourgeoisie spectator event, a place to be seen at rather than a central and affordable place for farmers to trade and locals to buy fresh groceries; Rusty’s Market is for everybody. Later that afternoon, I returned with my cousin-in-law to do her weekly grocery shopping.  She stopped by a stall whose owner knew her and my nephew by name.  “That guy,” she said after we walked away, “probably knows more about my life, than many of my friends.” Rusty’s is a true reflection of this vibrant and welcoming place called Cairns, prices remain low, it holds no pretense, and will probably remain my favorite market until next time I visit.  For further information about Rusty’s market, visit the market website here: http://www.rustysmarkets.com.au/

Banana leaf fish with coconut milk    

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Most of us aren’t fortunate enough to live in the tropics, yet banana leaf can be found in the freezer section of most Asian or Latin American grocery stores for cheap.  If you don’t want to use the banana leaf, parchment paper works just as well. This dish, which is baked in an aromatic coconut sauce can use any firm white fish.  The same sauce used for baking the fish, I then used to make coconut rice.  Let me know if you try it out.

Total Prep and Cook Time: 35 minutes

For 3 people.

Ingredients:

2-3 fillets of whiting, cod, or other, harder white fish.
3 banana leaves (thaw if frozen, then wipe down any residue with a paper towel) or, alternatively 3 sheets parchment paper

Coconut sauce:

2 stalks of lemon grass
juice of one lime
1 thumb-size piece galangal (or ginger), sliced
2 tsp. mint
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 can coconut milk
2 kaffir lime leaves,
1 small red chilli (optional) salt, pepper to taste

Method:

  • Place sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and gently cook to let the aromatics infuse the coconut milk (about 15 minutes). Remove from heat and then blend in a food processor (or blender)  (If you don’t have a processor, chop the ingredients up and stir together.)
  • Arrange a large enough size of banana leaf on a flat surface and place the fish on top. (I also added some vegetables to my recipe by slicing up some green beans and capsicum and placing these on the banana leaf under the fish). Cover both sides of the leaf over the fish.
  •  Fold both the ends in to make a packet. Turn the folded side down to ensure the sauce does not seep out.
  • Place in a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes. at 350 degrees, or until the fish is done.
  • Serve with coconut rice and an avocado and mango salsa.

Coconut Rice. Taking one cup of the coconut sauce (which has yet to be blended) and half a cup of pineapple juice (or water if you prefer).  Bring rice to rapid boil, stirring continuously (otherwise the coconut will stick and become gooey).  Turn down the heat and cook for another 15 minutes until rice is done. Do not open the saucepan whilst cooking.

Nostalgia noodles, the markets of Burma by guest blogger Tihana.

NOSTALGIA NOODLES by Guest Blogger, Tihana

I met Tihana about seven years ago in a writing class.  She wrote about ghosts from the Orient and characters who practiced Kung Fu and supped on shark soup. When her latest travel adventure took her to Burma, a country at the top of my future travel list, I made her promise to blog for me.  Nostalgia Noodles takes us on a hungry train ride from Mandalay through breathtaking hills and valleys and on to Hsipaw, North East of Mandalay.   The train built by the British was designed to improve trade to this Northern State, once under British rule.  All on board!

I had been on the train since 4 am that day and had only had a boiled egg and a piece of white bread for breakfast.  There hadn’t been very much to buy at the Mandalay train station asides from some packets of wet tissues and water bottles with broken seals.Image

 The train journey to Hsipaw was supposed to take about 11 or 12 hours, more or less, rather more than less, actually, because trains in Burma are notoriously unreliable.

I had bought an Upper Class ticket, thinking that perhaps tea would be served, or some sweets, or even lunch. It wasn’t the case though, and the only notable advantage of paying 8 USD instead of 4 USD for the Ordinary Class was the access to cushioned seats.

The other passengers in the carriage were mostly foreigners. A friendly Australian traveler shared a mandarin orange with me. Her husband was commenting about the terribly sweet instant coffee they serve in Burma, the only type one seems to find there. From the window, I was looking at the hills and fields, chicken running around shacks, children running around cats and dogs, all bathed in the yellow light of the January sun. The scenery was enchanting. However, I was getting hungry and was slowly chewing the acidic little mandarin, hoping for a proper meal soon.

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Then, at one station, where we should have stopped only 3 minutes or so, the train came to a complete halt. Many passengers stepped outside. I did as well, my camera ready. On the platform, in the shade, women in colorful skirts, their cheeks painted with the white thanaka paste, were selling their wares: eggs, packages of cookies, grilled chicken, pork and unidentifiable vegetables on skewers. One woman, crouching behind her portable stove, was frying what looked like tiny plump chickpea flour cakes. A half a dozen of those cost 200 kyats, or 25 cents. I ate twelve cakes, savoring each bite, letting it slide down my throat, still hot, very greasy, the most delicious street food, feeling the hunger disappearing.

Everywhere you go in Burma you will find a market, big or small, and see street cooks and street vendors, mostly women, squatting next to their baskets and stoves, sometimes behind stalls and tables. For a few hundred kyats, never more, you can buy grilled corn, grilled animal bits, fish balls, spicy roasted nuts, fruit, sweets, flat soy patties, noodles, and of course, these wonderful chickpea cakes.

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The big markets, such as the ones around Inle Lake, where villagers flock to every few days to buy and sell and socialize, are an experience by themselves. Many villagers reach them by small, motorized boats that are parked, almost piled up, on the lakeshore. The markets are huge and sprawling; I found it easy to get lost in them for a couple of hours, wandering from stall to stall, looking around, and taking photos.

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The vendors aren’t pushy, as they can be in other countries. They sit and chat with their neighbors, arrange and rearrange their products. The women sometimes laugh, sing quietly or cajole their children. There is no rush, no real sense of urgency; things just go by. From early in the morning until the afternoon the market is living.

On one side of Nampan market, on the southeast side of Inle Lake, I saw a few hairdressers and barbers doing a brisk trade. The ground was scattered with long black hairs. Normal, I thought, market day is also haircut day.

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Next to the hairdressing section were rows of buffaloes and carts, surrounded by flies, and then several stalls of beautiful, colorful flowers one should buy as offering to the temples. There were stalls with Chinese beauty products, with all sorts of knives, with medicines of unknown origin and expiry date, with mountains of rice and hills of cauliflowers, with baskets of tomatoes and bunches of herbs. And of course, there were food stalls, where one could sit down, take a rest, slowly slurp a bowl-full of hot noodles while watching puppies, chicks and babies play around the tables.

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Burmese cooking has an undeserved bad reputation. It’s bland and oily, you may hear from disgruntled travelers. To those complaints I have three simple answers: request chili sauce, don’t eat the oil that sits on top of curries, and get inspired before you travel by reading Naomi Duguid’s fantastic book “Burma, Rivers of flavor” You will find in Burma plenty of tasty curries, all sorts of fresh salads including a slightly bitter tea leaf salad that balances well the richness of the curries, stir-fried vegetables, rice, noodles in soups, noodles without soups.

Alongside the chickpea cakes, the noodle soups are my favorite Burmese dishes. I regularly had them for breakfast, but also for lunch. They were such a satisfying, comforting meal, a much nicer way to start the day than with the ubiquitous fried eggs. I particularly loved the ones I had in Hsipaw, in the cold early mornings before going trekking for the day.

There are plenty of variations, as Duguid’s book illustrates. Some of them, called mohinga, are made with fish-based broth. Some are made with chicken and some with chickpea flour, which gives the soup a silky texture.

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Back at home, I tried to make my own, based on a combination of Duguid’s recipes and the ingredients I could easily find in Canada.

Here’s what I came up with, and what I will eat when nostalgia strikes. Unfortunately though, I haven’t found yet a recipe for the chickpea cakes.

NOSTALGIA NOODLES

(For 1 person)

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Water, just enough to cook the noodles

Thin rice noodles, fresh or dry

A few pieces of garlic, chopped

A small piece of fresh ginger, chopped coarsely

Garlic oil

Chili oil

(You could make your own, but if you don’t want to, these oils can be bought already prepared at any better supermarket or Italian grocery)

A teaspoon or two of harissa paste (or any similar thick spicy tomato paste)

A handful of roasted peanuts

A small bunch of pea sprouts

Chopped tomatoes, fresh or from a can, a spoonful or two

Two or three dried chilies

Salt

Ground black pepper

Lots of fresh coriander

Put the water, chopped garlic, ginger and salt in a pot. Cook the noodles in the water according to the instructions in the packet. Add the pea sprouts 15 seconds before they are ready. Drain the noodles and pea sprouts while saving just enough water to have the noodles sitting in a soup without being covered with it. Pour a bit of oil over the noodles, according to taste. Add the rest of the ingredients, according to taste. Mix well. Eat while the soup is very hot.

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If you’re eating it for breakfast, do as in Burma and have it with a cup of black tea or sweet instant coffee. For lunch or dinner, pair the soup with a light lager beer.

The 100 mile diet, 1-day challenge, Atwater market, Montréal

A few years ago, Canadian husband and wife team Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon put on their locavore shoes and decided to feed themselves food which they could source within a 100 mile radius from their home.

The couple relied on farmers markets, and local farms for most of their products, and the exercise became well known after the couple wrote about their adventures in the best-selling book : 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (or Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally).  I hadn’t read it, so down to a popular cook book store I went. The owner laughed at me, “Man, I haven’t even bothered with that one, you just can’t do it over here, I mean can you?”   Tell Mira “NO” and her brain doesn’t quite register; surely I could do this, at least for just one day? I could forage, take out some of those preserves, butter my bread with marrow, skin a few street squirrels Girl Hunter style? Problem Number One – it’s the dead of winter. Problem Number Two – my garden is caked with three feet of snow.  Problem Number Three- whilst my palate has a renewed appetite towards meat over recent years, it rarely extends beyond the big three.

But, I was up for the challenge and decided I’d loca loca my way over to market and see what I could find. Before that, I did some mucking around on the net, and found a couple of tools to help me calculate a 100 mile radius from my house. This tool will provide you with a visual and textual breakdown of towns included in the 100 mile radius.100 mile radius map                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The Atwater market is smaller than the larger local Jean Talon market, but I like it for this reason alone – its compact size makes shopping easy – you have one large fish store, several specialty butchers, two cheese shopees, and one bakery.  Montreal being close to the St Lawrence river, and the province being abundant in lakes, I am thinking there must be something fishy for me to find for dinner. Tough luck, whilst there’s plenty of the finned variety from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the nearest fish did his last laps in Maine.

IMG_3520                                                                                                                                                           I keep on and meet a butcher from Saint-Vincent. “Where’s that I say?” It’s in the grid, and I buy fresh eggs (not even in a carton), some pork, lamb and beef mince (for work pot-luck pies) and a little bacon. It’s going well, but this does not complete a meal.  To the vegetable stalls, and whilst there’s loads of vegetables – most of them have accumulated several thousand frequent flier points on their way to market.    I settle on some potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes (for soup), and a kilo of apples and apple juice.  For breakfast I want to make pikelets – yet although I find some locally milled flour, its three times more expensive than what is in the supermarket.   Into the specialty food store, and there’s a proud display of Italian imported pasta, grains  – red rice from China, chickpeas from India, not a single grain from Québec.  IMG_3537

I’m getting stuck, and it looks like asides from a Jerusalem artichoke soup, which I can dress with some rosemary butter made  from the plant I have growing on my kitchen sill, it’s going to be a standard meat and potato dish.   I do yet another trip around the market, and then start thinking about my husband’s forbearers – what did they eat before there was imported chorizo and olive oils on every supermarket shelf? More so what did they do before the local greengrocer was pushed out of his shop by the big brother food corporations?   I then thought of my father-in-law, and on the rare occasion he cooked, he would usually prepare something from his hometown in Northern Quebec. That’s right slow cooked beans in maple syrup! Instead of breakfast, I’d serve the beans for dinner, but what with? Around the corner was my answer, a sausage store using biologically raised meat. I chose deer with apple and maple syrup.  I didn’t dare ask where the deer came from, so excuse me if old Bambi doesn’t fit in the map, but be happy he didn’t have to board a cross-Atlantic flight just to land on my plate. Back home, I unloaded my loot on the table, and figured I’d done a pretty good job.

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  • Breakfast: Baby pikelets with apple butter
  • Lunch: Jerusalem artichoke potage with garlic and rosemary butter
  • Dinner:  Slow cooked beans with maple syrup & molasses  and deer sausage with apple.

It wasn’t too tough, but it was basic, with the biggest challenge being a lack of variety amongst the vegetables and grains.  I was happy to have a good selection of root vegetables on hand – including beets, potatoes, the chokes, and I think Quebec farmers do a good job in preserving these through the long winter months, but I wonder whether the local farmers market really is the right place for imported oranges and avocado? I had fun doing this, but seriously speaking, this is no fun and games matter.  As the world’s dependence on petroleum grows and gas prices increase, the food sold in supermarkets, and even some of the food in the market I visited today has travelled up to 1500 miles to get there. Most of the products on supermarket shelves can barely be called food – with something like 80% of packaged food containing two products – soya bean and corn, food that has been so fooled around with, it no longer resemble the crop it once was.

I live in Québec, where it’s especially tough to stay local, the winter is long, and I myself am in no way a purist, yet we can all do better.  Most cities, including Montreal do have community supported agricultural projects where people can sign up for a weekly fruit and veg basket for example.  Also, if you do a bit of research, most farmers would be happy to have you pick up your meat or dairy products from the farm itself – which if you have kids, is a great outing. There is a myriad of locavore online resources to help you plan your meals, and in my experience, preserving, saucing and growing your own is where the real fun lies – not only are you helping preserve scarce farmland, and look after our fragile environment, but you are keeping yourself healthy.  At the end of the day, I felt lighter, healthier and calmer.

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Jerusalem artichoke potage with roasted garlic and rosemary butter dressing.                                                                                                

8-9 Jerusalem artichokes 

2-3 medium-sized potatoes

a liter and a half of vegetable stock

two knobs of butter

Sprig of fresh rosemary

2-3 bay leaves

3 cloves of garlic

Method

Peel and dice the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, place in saucepan and cover with vegetable stock. Add in the bay leaves.

Bring to boil, and then simmer until vegetables are cooked through.

Take out the bay leaves, and then purée the vegetables and stock in a blender with a knob of butter.

Put back into saucepan.

Finely dice garlic and rosemary, and then in a small pan, melt the other knob of butter and lightly sauté the garlic and rosemary (1-2 minutes).

Serve soup with the rosemary butter garnish.

For information on Atwater market, visit: http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/English/Mission/

I Heart New York, Greenmarket Farmers Market, Union Square, New York

I Heart New York, Greenmarket Farmers Markets, Union Square, New York                                                                                                                                           A strange dream woke me up in the middle of the night, and unable to get back to sleep again, I uncharacteristically got up, got ready and was out of bed earlier than I had in months.  I had a good reason – two hours to kill before leaving New York.

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The last few days had been equally as sleepless; I was on the back-end of an extremely tumultuous work contract at my old employer; a humanitarian agency which had asked me to return and lead some careful re-positioning, restructuring, fund finding. I had hesitated, as I had begun a new life, with new dreams, with new adventures on the horizon – yet feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility, I went back. Now when it was almost over, I began to realise, that sometimes as humanitarians, our work becomes so immersed in day-to-day administration, in meeting board and donor expectations that our overall mandate of saving lives, seems like a separate universe away.  So it’s inevitable that we lose our drive, become disconnected, even begin to think that the fight is futile, that really we are not doing much at all, and dare I say it, saving not lives, but our own jobs. By the end of my mandate, I also began to be very tired, anxious even. My Doctor told me that I was exhausted, yet a friend, a new mum, who called in-between feedings, said “This is not just tiredness my friend, you are heartsick.” Others may think she was speaking baloney, but I had to agree with her, I was mourning the loss of the life I had created and loved, the life that I believed in.

The author Tom Wolfe one said that “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” and as I set out amongst the people, crowned by the skyline that reached the clouds, the moving cars, past the food stalls selling everything your belly could possible rumble for,  I felt different, alive, despite the lack of sleep, I had renewed energy (perhaps in part to the spicy Korean breakfast I’d just had), but I really think it was just New York, pulling me in, lifting me up, giving me what I needed, reaching my heart’s desire.

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Down at Union Square, where on other occasions, I have sat and watched rappers perform, where my seven year old had once played a game of chess during a balmy summer evening, now the tree-lined square was transformed into an open air market. During winter, the market is open during Monday, Wednesdays and Friday and Saturdays from 8 am to 6pm. The initial Greenmarket Program (now Grow NYC) had set the market up with the aim of allowing regional small-holder farmers with a place to sell their products.   Back in the late seventies when the markets first started, legend goes that the original seven farmers had sold what they had by mid-day, yet these days the Grow NYC initiative has grown to the largest market network in the country, with some 54 markets, and over 230 family farms and fishermen participating.images-1

Not just a place to set up shop,  the Grow NYC has far-reaching benefits for both agriculture, community and even citizen health. By providing a space for farmers to sell their produce, the scheme is contributing to the revitalisation of rural communities, and by providing access to freshly grown, healthy, mostly organic food to inner-city residents is of course keeping people out from what I feel has now become our biggest threat to public health – the supermarket!  The market allows the use of  EBT/Food Stamp,  has a compost collection scheme where New Yorker’s can drop off their vegetable scraps for communal composting. There are projects that support new farmer development, schemes for community rain water harvesting, and even projects that encourage crop diversity – important in ensuring the long-term longevity of our soil.  As I walked around, I realised that the people at GrowNYC were doing on an urban scale, what we who work in humanitarian aid try to do on a global scale, providing access to affordable, nutritious and safe food to ensure an active and healthy lifestyle. I was very impressed, actually more than impressed, it confirmed what I had been feeling for quite some time – that we working in aid often use our titles and position to separate ourselves from everybody else, yet people can be humanitarians outside the NGO or UN system; humanitarianism can start and end with the individual, and does not have to rely on difficult-to-maintain charters and principles and the assurance of ongoing donor funding to be able to do our work – humanitarianism is about caring, about doing what we love, and in this case, loving our city, and the people who live there.

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It was a blustery winter’s day, and I spoke to the administrator on site, who told me that rain or shine, sleet or snow, they were out there and we both agreed there was something special about keeping a market open to the elements.

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As the wind picked up, and my time ran out, the scent and steam from the numerous stands selling hot apple cider drew me forward, and armed with cider, and some freshly baked apple cider doughnuts, I left New York smiling, feeling good, knowing exactly what to do, my heart refilling.

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Apple Cider Doughnuts.

For those of us non-Americans, Apple Cider should not be confused with the fizzy, or even alcoholic apple drink. In the States, cider refers to the drink which is made from early-harvest apples which are slightly more acidic, yet with lower sugar content, so the juice is slightly tangier from normal apple juice. Using cider means a denser, yet moister donut.  For those of you who do not have access to apple cider, a good quality apple juice can be used.

I looked far and wide for a recipe, but kept coming back to Deb Perelman’s from Smitten Kitchen, (whose blog and book I use regularly), and I think it’s fitting, given she is a New Yorker. The recipe (taken directly from her blog) makes 18 – which gives a lot of doughnuts, so I planned them in time for a party my seven year old was going to, (otherwise I dread how many I would have eaten myself).   I forgot to buy buttermilk, so used normal milk and they turned out just as good. I also didn’t use a glaze, only the sugar and cinnamon mix which was light and perfect.

Ingredient’s

1 cup apple cider
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil or shortening (see my explanation in the post) for frying

Toppings (optional)
Glaze (1 cup confectioners’ sugar + 2 tablespoons apple cider)
Cinnamon sugar (1 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon)

Make the doughnuts: In a saucepan over medium or medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer) beat the butter and granulated sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.

IMG_3472 Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper and sprinkle them generously with flour. Turn the dough onto one of the sheets and sprinkle the top with flour. Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Pull the dough out of the freezer. Using a 3-inch or 3 1/2-inch doughnut cutter — or a 3 1/2-inch round cutter for the outer shape and a 1-inch round cutter for the hole — cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the second sheet pan. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes. (You may re-roll the scraps of dough, refrigerate them briefly and cut additional doughnuts from the dough.)

Add enough oil or shortening to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F*. Have ready a plate lined with several thicknesses of paper towels.

Make your toppings (if using): While the cut doughnut shapes are in the refrigerator, make the glaze by whisking together the confectioners’ sugar and the cider until the mixture is smooth; make the cinnamon sugar by mixing the two together. Set aside.

Fry and top the doughnuts: Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels for a minute after the doughnuts are fried. Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the glaze or cinnamon sugar mixture (if using) and serve immediately.IMG_3506

For more information about Green Street market, http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/

Union Square Address:  1 Union Sq W
(between 16th St & 17th St)
New York, NY 10003
Neighbourhoods: Union Square, Flatiron

The Poor Man eats well in Croatia, a market island hop, the Croatian islands.

The Poor Man eats well in Croatia, a market island hop, the Croatian islands.

It’s before breakfast and I dive into the clear blue sea, wade out half a mile or so. There are several islands (1100 of them to be exact) in the not too far distance, their craggy, moonlike surface is dotted with pines, wild flowers, even agave trees.  Ahead of me stands a medieval town, where old timers have come out to their windowsills to shake their kitchen tablecloths and inhale the morning seaside air.  A church from the Byzantine times looks down at the many cobbled alleyways, where cafés, restaurants, small stores have been set up amongst ancient portico’s and walls.

I climb out of the water, dry off and head down to the harbor. Fishermen are beginning to unload their catch of hand harvested mussels (the best way to do it) red mullet, squid, sardines. My new friend, Marco the aspiring Casanova and boat taxi man calls me over, and we spend a few minutes joking around and telling tales of where we’re from and what we’re doing there.

We’re in the Adriatic Sea, in the Croatian Islands to be exact, where the medieval meets the modern and where which I am not surprised to learn that the Romans, Illyrians, Byzantines, Venetians, even the French and Austro-Hungarians have all tried, to get their paws on this bit of island paradise.

I first visited the area when I was a seven year old, and remember a large seaside hotel that was owned by one of my father’s friends. The walls were decorated with taxidermied animals, which kept my brother, and I amused for the afternoon. Platters of grilled meats and freshly caught fish were served, as was a fish stew that the adults marveled over (yet us kids kept away from). The cheese came from the sheep that lived further inland, and the olives were picked from the ancient trees that dotted their orchards.

Back then, tourism was new to this area, and it was mostly people from the Former Yugoslavia, and neighboring Austria and Germany that would mostly vacation here. Now, I hear English, Russian, Dutch, and Italian amongst Croatian. The place has adapted well to the change with various types of accommodation available from luxury hotels, to self-serviced apartments (many in people’s homes), and larger islands have a camping site. Travel is safe, easy, roads are excellent, and island hopping from one island to another via the ferry system (regular, reliable, well priced) is a great way to get around.

Whilst Croatia has accommodated to the increased tourism, what has changed little (and thankfully so) is their approach to food.  In Rab, just off the Northern Croatian coast, my husband chanced upon the morning market tucked away in a back alley near the old town’s main square. Feisty Baba’s cornered and cajoled me into buying their, tomatoes, the sweetest yellow peppers, figs, bottles of home brewed Rakia.  There was also a large section of freshly caught fish for sale. The produce that was being sold here as well as eaten at the restaurants, came directly from what had been caught that morning, or from the vegetable patches, orchards and vineyards maintained by the islanders themselves.

The food is simple, and can be described as deriving from the cuisine of poverty.  For example, the fish that is typically found at the bottom of a fishermen’s net (and was often thrown away by commercial fishermen or bought by the locals) like squid, anchovies, sardine has inspired many of the local dishes, and today, instead of just the islanders eating this, gourmand’s from near and far can’t get enough of it. Similar to the stew that I sniffed my seven-year old nose at, fish stews (or brodet) and then cheaper cuts of meat such as sweetbreads, tripe are no longer the cuisine of the peasant, but are now widely used, even popular as evidenced on many of the pricier restaurant menus found both along the coastline and even further inland.

Yet from a history of lack, the people here know how to make do. Nothing is wasted, fish and meat alike is marinated, grilled, roasted, bones used for stews, stock.  Stock is then used in bean stews, in other casseroles. Excess fruits and vegetables are dried, preserved (or used for the ubiquitous Rakia) or pickled.

Asides from the morning market, there are also several small outdoor market stalls in Rab open all day long selling fresh fruit and vegetables and, particularly useful for the many self-accommodating tourists.

We take a boat trip around some of the nearer islands, including Krk, and sail into of more private coves where bare-bummed yacht owners play chess, barbecue fish; dive off into the aquamarine never-never.

A narrow, but smaller island lies in the distance,

“What’s that place?” I ask the captain.

‘Oh that’s Cres, small place, nothing happens, don’t go there, it’s a bunch of villagers.”

“Sounds perfect,” I think to myself.

Cres is a small treasure find.  It’s a picturesque, slow-paced and charming place. Like in Rab, Cres has morning markets where one can find freshly caught fish, but also several street markets selling fresh fruit and vegetables late into the night.

We’re near the Italian coast, so approaching olive oil country. Before dinner, I walk into a store to buy some gifts and the owner insists I join him for a Rakia (seems everybody insists I join them for a Rakia).  He then also insists that I return later for him to meet my husband. We do so, and are joined by a merry Slovenian, where more Rakia is taken out.  Why isn’t customer service back home a little more like this, I wonder?

As we move West towards Rovinj in Istria, the landscape, a little of the language as well the food begins to change – Italian is spoken by many people, and the food is spicier, more olive oil is used, and as it’s truffle country, this too is evident in the pasta’s, omelette, sauces. The market in Rovinj is a colorful open air space at the edge of the Old Town, steps away from the large Valdibora Square.

Maneštra or Pasulj

A traditional meal of the Istrian area, Maneštra (a bean or spring corn stew) has been eaten in the region since ancient times, yet a similar soup is eaten across the Baltic, with ingredients changing from place to place. In Istria, the Maneštra, we had was served with white beans and cured sausage, yet here I have relied on my families recipe of Pasulj, a kidney bean soup which can be vegetarian or non, (depending on whether you want to use some smoked bacon). Either way, it’s really healthy, full of fiber, and depending on whether you soak your beans over night, can be made in less than half an hour. A traditional poor man’s meal which tastes like a rich man’s dish.

Ingredients:

1 large or two small cans of red kidney or cannellini beans (or alternatively 2 cups of beans soaked over night)

1 cup of diced carrots

1 large onion chopped finely

4 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic chopped finally

2-3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon of paprika powder

1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste

1-tablespoon flour

A knuckle sized piece of smoked ham (buy at Balkan specialty stores) or ham hock/ham bone with a little ham left on it (optional)

Method:

If your beans have soaked overnight, rinse these and then season a fresh pot of water, add the beans to it and cook until tender. Stir occasionally and remember to skim off any scum that accumulates on the surface. Drain and then use.

Sauté onions, garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add carrots, and season with salt and pepper, sauté for a few minutes.  Now add beans, mix through and add enough water, allowing for about an inch and half space from the surface.  Add bay leaves and the ham and cook until carrots and ham are cooked through (about 20 minutes) and then stir in tomato paste (optional).

To thicken the soup, in a separate small frying pan, warm 2 tbsp. oil, add the paprika, and mix though, now add the tablespoon of flour and quickly mix through, making sure not to over heat as the flour will crumble, it should resemble a thick paste. Add this to your soup. Season again if necessary. If using the ham, take it out, shred and top each bowl with a little bit.

Mixed grill fish

A mixed grilled fish platter is one of the typical menu mainstays in Croatia. Grilling whole fish is easy, delicious and old Nemo looks better whole.  Have your fishmonger, de-bone it and clean out the insides. Rub in a little chopped herbs, garlic and olive oil in the belly, and cover with foil. Place on grill (or under the broiler in a pan, without the foil if you don’t have an outdoor barbeque). Grill under medium heat for about 10 minutes each side, turning over once (for more exact times click here).

Once you have delectably picked the bones clean, keep them and the fish head to make a stock.

To grill prawns, scallops and squid, rub them with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Season with lemon.

For sardines, have your fish monger clean them for you, or alternatively with a small knife, split them open belly side up, carefully clean out their insides, season with salt and pepper (do not chop off their heads – that’s the best bit). With some paper towel dipped in olive oil, wipe down the grill and fire it up to medium heat. Grill your sardines a few minutes on each side. Season with more lemon juice, or a little olive oil infused with minced garlic and chili.

Arrange all of this on a platter, serve with quartered lemon wedges, open up couple of bottles of cold pivo (beer) or crisp white wine.  Finish with a shot Rakia, go to sleep, dream of sailors and mermaids.

Izvolte i Prijatno!

There where there are no markets. Serbs breaking bread in Croatia.

There where there are no markets. Serbs breaking bread in Croatia.

It is said that my paternal family left Serbian Montenegro some 500 years ago, fleeing the Ottoman Turks and settled in a small mountainous village called Dabar, Lika in what is today Croatia.

For a long time, it was a hardscrabble life, where at one stage, some 14 persons shared the small family cottage.  My father, like his siblings were born in this house.

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The family cottage

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The nearby mill where villagers would bring over their grain.

The mountains which have served as a natural shield between the Adriatic and Central Croatia, has meant that during history, it served as a frontier area, with the Ottomans eventually taking control in the mid 1500’s, and later the village formed part of the Krajina area, where Serbs fought for separation during the 1990’s. This geographical and natural division has also hampered any true development in the region.

But it wasn’t always a place of hardship. As a child, I first visited the area in the late 70’s and my cousins and I would take walks in the village which was made up of some 30 or so homes, where villagers would either tempt us in for what they had just picked or baked, (or alternatively they would shoo us off).  The family until this time had subsided solely of the land, until my father’s generation, the first of which was gainfully employed, were able to contribute to the running of the cottage and small farm.

One of my fondest memories was of a family reunion, where a long wooden table was put under the vines, and was then laden with freshly baked bread, butter churned that morning, home-smoked hams and prosciutto, roast vegetables and salads accompanied a roasted suckling pig which had come directly from their own pen.  Asides from some beer bought in from the nearest town, a 35 minutes drive through a winding mountain pass (or an hour by horse and carriage), even the alcohol was their own; people from the Balkans are known for their Rakia, a potent and distilled alcohol, similar to vodka, which they infuse with pear, plum, various flowers.

Yet today, some 30 years later, there are few cottages left standing, as during the Croatian-Serbian war, most were bombed, and the majority of the villagers have left and moved to larger towns or to other countries.  I walked up and down the old village with a distant uncle who told me the stories of what had happened to the inhabitants, both Serb and Croat.  He showed me where the armies had come down from the mountains and first invaded, I had a cool drink at the house where villagers stayed for weeks on end, unaware of their plight, and then walked by the cellar where my aunt and three other women had hidden, until fright had almost paralysed them, so they crawled out, and gently told to calm down by the waiting enemy army, who had then led them to safety.

Growing up, I first thought that it was only me that carried these background tales of war and hardship, yet looking around the classroom and then the friends I made later as an adult, I realised almost every second person I met, from the Polish neighbor who in WW2 was separated from and never again found his first daughter and wife, from Linh, the first Vietnamese girl at school, who had a short fuse and an angry stare. Then there’s my new Lebanese friend with who I had dinner with last night and had grown up in a bomb shelter, the Tutsi boss I once had who told me about the time he had crossed the Ugandan border by foot and returning home to Rwanda had found the river which once ran through town,Image full of dead bodies. I can’t forget the many Jewish friends – these witty and warm hearted people who I am able to forge quick relationships with, yet all of whose faces can cloud over quickly when asked ‘what happened there?’ All of these people from some place else, as most of us, somewhere, sometime, having run from that place called home.

Today, back in the village, it’s time to harvest the hay, yet this is not the village it was 20 years ago. The mostly abled men have gone, others are injured, so now, both Serbian and Croatian, mostly older folk, work alongside each other, sharing time, sharing equipment, sharing seed, dividing up the harvest.

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Me with the village Matriach, Baba ‘Kraljica’ whose house served as a shelter during the war.

Back at the cottage, where most of what we eat still comes from the land, we now eat Serb and Croatian together, toasting Rakia together. To me, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and it is where I have some of my fondest memories. We now speak Serbian, Croatian, English and French. And it’s these moments that brings me back to the most important thing I have learnt in all these years of war, of displacement, and then becoming a humanitarian, is that separation, any type – whether its because of religion, language, caste, race, doesn’t work. We are not fanatical by nature, nor do we wish to be led by fanatics. In the end, we don’t want to be apart, we want to be unified, as one, we want to be friends, and forge peace, to break bread with our neighbours.

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For as long as she can remember, my Aunt (or Strina) who now remains in the cottage alone after having lost her husband in the war, has baked her own bread. There is no local bakery, no boulangerie, and no farmer’s market where she can go pick up a freshly baked loaf. It’s handmade and it’s goodness in a slice.  Here is her recipe.

Strina Ana’s Bread

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About a kilo of unbleached white flour or a mix of white and whole grain

About a liter of water.  The amount you use will depend on the quality of the flour, the temperature of the day, even where you live (go by the feel of the dough).

Two packets of dried active yeast.

A little bit of olive oil.

1-2 teaspoons of salt.

1 teaspoon of sugar.

Instructions

Sift flour and salt together to introduce air to the dough.

Prepare your yeast following pack instructions, but generally dissolve the yeast in some tepid water (follow pack instructions as these differ according to the brand), stir in 1 teaspoon of sugar, and wait about 10 minutes until it becomes frothy.

In a bowl, or on a floured surface, add your flour, make a hole in the middle of the flour, and add then add active yeast. Mix through until combined.

Knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic to touch.

Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place (on top of the oven which is being warmed is good) for an hour.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead again on a lightly floured surface.

Leave to rest for about 10-15 minutes.

Divide into two loaves and place in a slightly oiled baking tray.

With a baking brush, brush a little milk over the dough.

Bake for about 45 minutes at 350 C.

Bring over a neighbour or friend from a faraway place and eat together. Enjoy!