Wednesday, February 15, 2017

432 hours 27 minutes and 15 seconds to departure, but whose counting?

Permet Gliko Fruit and Nut Preserves from Albania

It is basically a little over two weeks before I leave California for my staging weekend in Miami. It still is not really sinking in for some reason that I am going. I think in a certain way because of the unstable nature of the current US Administration, it still is feeling iffy. 

I have just a few dull sort of chores to complete, including packing and purchasing some facial products, a sleeping bag and snow shoes. But that can all happen rather quickly. 

Part of the wonder of modern technology is Facebook. I am a member of the Albania 20 Future Peace Corps Volunteer group. this handy service is helping to fill in the gaps between what we are being given in terms of materials and updates and what it really is like on the ground. Originally, we were told that we would live with a Host Family for our pre-service training and then get housing when we received our assignments. A recent email update informed us that we would now be living with a host family in our assignments. The group started a thread discussing it, and the basic response from Albania volunteers on the ground now, is that the main benefit of being with a host family was the food, which it seems everyone there is enjoying. 

When I was in Acupuncture school, I was in my mid 40's. The Bay Area of California is not for the budget anything, just to get into San Francisco, it cost you a minimum of $10 no matter what you did, drive, metro or bus. Purchasing prepared food was simply out of the question, as even way back then, a basic sandwich was $10.00 and included a few packets of mustard, everything else was extra. If I did not cook, I could spend up to $20.00 a day on food and still be very hungry at the end of the day. I love to cook, so I would always bring something to eat for my long days. The 20 -30 somethings marveled at my dishes. "What is that?" they would ask with longing eyes. "Black beans and brown rice" I would answer, "How do you make that?" "Well, I put rice in a pot, add water and boil. The beans I do in a slow cooker, beans, water, can of tomatoes, chopped onion and taco seasoning." They thought I was a genius, I was just eating the cheapest way I knew how. It looks like the younger generation in our group both on the ground and on the way are also not adept in the kitchen. So it seems like the home stay will really help them keep their weight on for the time being.

I have been documenting Slow Food Initiatives in the Balkans for about nine years now. It began when I went to Terra Madre 2008 and connected with the Macedonian delegation. Since that time, I have witnessed the coordination amongst the Balkan nations that has resulted in a bi-annual Terra Madre Balkans and something called the ESSEDRA project which helps member states combine resources to help promote and preserve culinary and agricultural practises throughout the region. 

You can look at the ESSEDRA project through this link, the title is more words than I wish to type:

As I grew up celebrating Macedonian holidays, one of the only things I actually got from my grandmother was how to cook the food. She taught me how to make stuffed grape leaves, leg of lamb, stuffed cabbage, eggplant casserole, spinach and feta pastry, pepper relish and yogurt cucumber dill soup. She even made the filo dough by hand. I learned the Macedonian words for these dishes, but I do not have the Cyrillic fonts on my computer, and will not try to do a Latin mash up. What was amazing to me was how when she cooked these dishes they were so good, but if she cooked American food, it was TERRIBLE, meaning what ever it was would really make one's digestive system revolt along with the not so good taste of the dish. She was the only woman I know who could make dry tough pot roast that clanked on the plate when she served it. 

As I ventured out of her kitchen, through travels abroad as well as visiting relatives and friends from different Balkan countries, I found that essentially all the Balkan nations have similar foods with regional additions. In essence, it is all really Turkish food with local adaptations. We call it sarme, the Greeks call them dolmas and so on. 

I looked on the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity site and found 43 products unique to Albania. I hope to try them all, and learn how to make them, especially the homemade cheeses. In a book I found at the Orange Library, the one and ONLY book on Albania, a short chapter was dedicated to agriculture and another to food. Apparently lamb is in everything, as is yogurt. While I tend towards vegetarian, I am prepared to try to blend in with the locals. The one thing I have put out there is no coffee, no alcohol, so hopefully this will not be a problem, because I will not drink either, ever, hate the taste of them as well as how I feel when I have. 

So, enjoy looking at some of the culinary treasures of Albania at 

and here

and as the Albanians would say Ju bëftë mirë!

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