16 February, 2013

Happy Belated...

... Pancake Day!!!

On Tuesday I wasn't even aware that it was the Shrove one until I sat down in the evening to a slew of "Pancakes = Nomz" messages on Facebook, and by that point I was too knackered to go out again and didn't have the ingredients to hand (don't worry; this story has a happy ending).

Apparently pancakes are traditional on Shrove Tuesday because they're a good way of using up all of the naughty things that you shouldn't eat during lent. Not sure why milk, eggs and flour are so evil but never mind. (Oh... It's the Nutella - of course.) These three ingredients are supposed to be ubiqutous - who doesn't have a half used packet of flour at the back of a cupboard? Um, well, me! As you'll already know if you've tried to feed me in the last few years: I'm allergic to gluten.

At this point, whether you already knew that or not, you've probably got an "Aw, poor girl" look on your face. No, I can't eat normal bread or cakes or biscuits or pizza or pasta or croissants or muffins or cookies or sandwiches or toast or fish and chips (the batter) or even the great traditional February pancakes. Don't worry, your reactions (of pity and confusion: "what on earth does this woman eat then?!?") are totally normal, if completely misguided.

You see, I did suffer in the beginning - I didn't know what I could eat either. How can you eat lunch if a sandwich isn't involved? What do you order on a Friday night when pizza is out of the question? What should I replace my morning toasted bagels with? And what about Shrove Tuesday!?!?!? Well, at least I can answer the last question for you now:

This is my Shrove Saturday lunch; pancakes, plums and cream.

  • The pancakes are made from a mashed banana, a beaten egg and a little coconut flour (desiccated coconut works as a substitute, but really you can just leave it out and you won't miss it - in the same way that you won't miss the flour at all). 
  • The plums were cooked in "some" butter until I got bored (I'm so scientific, me) then sprinkled with cinnamon. I've done this with apples and peaches too, or you can just pile strawberries on top. 
  • The cream is actually coconut cream (if you're going to fuss about with your diet then why not go the whole hog and cut down on dairy too?)

Even though my food photography skills are sorely lacking, this meal tasted so good that it inspired my second blog post in two and a half months. Those are some pretty good pancakes!

So, I guess what I'm really trying to say here is this; the next time someone tells you that they can't eat wheat products don't feel sorry for us. You should feel jealous of us! ;)

PS - almost all of the links in this post are to recipes that don't contain anything gluteny. Whether you give up grains or not is entirely up to you, but you'd be surprised how great it tastes being gluten free!

12 February, 2013

Currently I am...

¡Hola! I am, contrary to popular opinion, still alive!
Instead of filling in the (loooong) gap between my last post and this one with tales of what I've been up to (which will come "soon"), let's live in the moment, shall we? 
What am I up to now? (It feels like a much simpler question to answer...)

Reading: The Making of Modern Colombia. It's one of those books that I keep not picking up because, well, because it's a history book to be honest, but whenever I overcome my laziness I end up really getting into it (much like writing blog posts actually. Hmm, lesson to be learnt?) Also reading a lot of nutrition and exercise information as I'm hoping to do a course on it later this year.

Listening to: a lot of The Beatles. Pretty much required listening when in the company of my boyfriend. At least he has good taste, it could be much worse!

Laughing at: you. See previous link (and this one, in case you don't understand why).

Obsessing over: taekwondo. I'm now at the level my friend was when he introduced me to taekwondo. It turns out it isn't as hard as it looked after all, but at the same time, so much more difficult than it appeared!

Eating lots of: Cabbage. I'm still craving the bubble and squeak that I didn't have on Boxing Day. *sigh* There is no substitute for burnt brussels sprouts.

Planning: how to persuade a friend to let me borrow her oven. I've found some delicious-looking recipes that just won't work on the stovetop. I suppose sharing the results might work :)

Feeling: cold. No, not as cold as those back home, but a lot colder than my holiday was. The weather here is so random!

Discovering: how awesome German is. And how surprisingly similar to Spanish it is! I always thought that English was the 'bridge' between the Germanic and Latin languages, but I suppose Germany was Roman once too...

Looking at: my new art! I've been decorating my new flat with acrylic paints and cardboard. It turns out that painting is a lot more fun when you don't have a GCSE art teacher peering over your shoulder demanding explanations.
This says "Power to move mountains" and is the motto of my taekwondo school. Not that you can tell in this late night photo, but it's actually slightly 3D and 'hovering' off the wall. 

Wearing: lots of knit things (see "Feeling" above) and really enjoying it! Especially purple.

Cooking: lots of chai tea (so that would be boiling water, a couple of cloves, and a bit of cinnamon mixed with coconut milk. And this is what I call "cooking"? :D )

Trying out: lots of random herbs and spices on my breakfast of scrambled eggs every morning. If you like spicy food then it's hard to go wrong; if you make a mistake just cover it in chilli powder and you'll never be able to tell :D

Intending: to write another blog post soon! 

...and generally pottering along happily here in Bogotá. Life is good!

05 November, 2012

It's so wrong it's right / Es tan malo que es bueno

A long time ago, in a galaxy country far far away, I met some Colombians. Like all Colombians that I've had the pleasure to meet so far, they were full of enthusiasm for the country of their birth - regaling me with tales of all night salsa parties, weeks spent lying on Caribbean beaches, treks through virgin rainforest, and drinking hot chocolate with cheese.

Wait a minute, hot chocolate with cheese? Seriously? Since I first heard of that strange combination I have mocked it. What Brit wouldn't? If you say cheese to an Englishman he'll probably start thinking of Cheddar, or if he's partial to Wallace and Gromit (as we all should be, regardless of nationality) Wensleydale.  

Here though, to add to the confusion, it's a breakfast (but hot chocolate is for sleeping!) as common as cereal is in the UK. Colombians happily tell you it's just like putting marshmallows in your hot chocolate, but to be perfectly honest I've never thought much of that either. Nevertheless, when in Rome... 
The cheese gets ripped up and put in the chocolate. While it's melting the bread gets dunked and eaten too.

The cheese in question is like a firm mozzarella - reasonably bland but it melts (almost as) well. Once it's all soft then you fish it out with a teaspoon and get ... chocolate flavoured melted cheese. It's actually much better than it sounds!

However, the weirdness doesn't stop there... A couple of weeks ago I was served a tinto con limón. That would be a black coffee with lime. Again: Seriously?

It turns out that slices of lime don't float photogenically in black coffee, but there is lime in the cup as well as next to it, honest. 

The abundance of limes in this country (and the unexpected lack of lemons... what happened there?) makes putting lime juice in or on things common practice. If you haven't already, try papaya or mango with a squeeze of lime over it, or the next time you eat fatty pork or chicken soup do the same. Muy rico! That doesn't mean I was prepared to find lime in my coffee though :D Luckily it's one of those combinations that is surprisingly good (like chocolate limes), and in the past few days as I try to fight off a cold it's been providing me with some much needed vitamins (I think I'm winning but it's still too soon to tell). 

There are still a lot of "strange" foods in Colombia to try, but I think these are the only two are that are unique to the area (after all, you can find soups made with stomach and other "yucky bits" anywhere that people still eat traditionally), and they're certainly the only two that raised my eyebrows quite so far. 

Colombia: The only risk is... food poisoning? Thankfully not, no matter how strange the food gets ;)

PS: Colombians - if there's anything else "strange" I simply must try, please let me know in the comments! I've enjoyed everything I've tried... so far!

22 October, 2012

The end of an era / El final de una época

Yesterday marked a momentous occasion for me - I 'graduated' to the 8th gup (3rd level) of Taekwondo. I now have a 'real' martial arts belt (ie, not beginner's white) and I have to start preparing for combat and breaking things (...there's probably an official name for that). 

My old belt wrapped up for storage. The profe even wrote my name in purple! The white belt is for the first level, and the yellow stripe is for getting to the second.

Where I grew up university was pretty much a given. Out of the 120 people in my year at school I would say less than 10 didn't go to university, and of those who did, probably only another 5 never graduated (despite facebook I don't have exact statistics, sorry). The majority of my peers have (or have at least seriously considered) master's degrees or some other form of post-grad specialisation. Until I met lots of people from other backgrounds it never really crossed my mind that you could choose not to go to uni, or horrors! not even have the option (I've been extremely lucky just because of where I was born - thanks mum and dad!). Perhaps that's why my Taekwondo graduation ceremony yesterday seemed so much more momentous than I remember my university graduation to be - it was my own choice, paid for by me - not just 'what one does,' helped out considerably (= entirely) by my parents (or perhaps it's the almost decade that's passed since...).

Even the fact that I'm writing this on a different continent, in a country where the native language is not my own, doesn't seem as impressive to me as my new (bright yellow) belt. 

As part of the ceremony the teachers take off your old belt and tie the new one on for you. So very strange to be helped with your clothes in your late twenties!

When I first joined my dojang it was as a way of making new friends, and of spending more time with the friend I already had. It was something to do in the evenings and a form of exercise. It has become so much more than that.

Everyone cheers me on when I'm struggling, and congratulates me when I succeed - even if I was only trying to do 20 situps, a pathetic sum compared to the higher levels' 100. Just as much emphasis is placed on the theoretical and moral aspects of Taekwondo as on the physical - we have all sworn to be 'champions of justice and liberty' (I haven't picked my superhero name yet - suggestions on a postcard please). It's become my family away from home, the place where I can go to let off steam after a stressful day (punchbags ftw), share good news (and cakes), and remind myself that I'm rather awesome actually when I need to be.

Estrenando. Very pleased that while my white belt was a size 40, the yellow is only 38. I guess sit-ups do work after all!

As a competitive person (so much so that I even take being competitive competitively), I expected to be really upset (and to be completely honest, vengeful) about other people's successes when I couldn't equal them. Perhaps it's the belt system (the different colours are supposed to simultaneously motivate and humble us) but everything is just "OK" there. When I'm not as fast as everyone else, it's fine. If I can't complete the same number of pushups or kick quite as high or knock my partner over with a punch (we use lots of padding), there's no problem. Obviously there is plenty of friendly joking but no real comparison - you are what you are and your only benchmark is your own previous performance. (At this point my pride compels me to point out that actually I can kick really high and once (just once!) I was the fastest in the group.) It's the only place I really feel like I can let my guard down and just try, despite it being the only place I've ever had people queue up to hit me (yes, literally).

Me and my profe (V level black belt = don't mess).

I hope the day when I (have to?) leave Colombia is far in the future, but I already know that when and wherever I go next, I will miss these guys the most. When you come to Colombia, for whatever reason, the only certainty is that you will find (and fall in love with) much more than you expected.

24 September, 2012

How to: cheer yourself up / Como animarse

I got robbed. The next day I set off for DAS to try and get a new contraseña. That didn't go well, as they are under the impression I should pay $300,000 COP for a new one, and I do not suffer from this misconception (when I find out who is right I'll let the blogosphere know). So, what's a girl to do?

Well, if you're in a mood at DAS head south down the Cr 15. Next to the FotoJapon there's a couple selling really good arepas with cheese, ham, and eggs-with-onion-and-tomatoes for only 2300.

I challenge you to find something that tastes this good, is this filling, this closely resembles a balanced meal, is gluten free and costs less £1 in London. And where you get called a princess when they serve you :D A packet of crisps does not count.

Keep walking south on the Cr 15, stopping to get some fresh orange juice on the way, until you get to the Cl 85 with Cr 14. There you will find....

Knitting paradise! They even have seats outside to knit in!

La Mina! It's like the entire haberdashery department of John Lewis (including tiaras! I was very tempted) came to visit me in Colombia! Two balls of merino/alpaca and a couple of hours later I had a new hat:
Stuff you thieves - you can take my cédula but you can't take my knitting! Apparently you stole my ability to tidy up the stray ends of wool before I take photos though.

And just around the corner from that place of happiness, is this hairdressers:

Zoe: is life, is beauty.
Officially a good day after all :D

Why you should talk to the police

Once you've been robbed of (or merely lost) your documents you'll have to do something about replacing them. First step: Police! Lots of chocolate! Second Step: Police!

I wasn't exactly sure where or how to report crimes in Bogotá (and to be completely honest, I forget their equivalent of 999 about five seconds after I look it up. For future, and hopefully entirely unnecessary reference: 123). Thankfully, while I was stocking up on comfort food I found a pair of police officers. They were incredibly kind and helpful - not only telling me where to report the crime (just around the corner - phew!) but also regaling me with tales of ingenious pickpockets, the various times they'd been pickpocketed themselves, and just being nice and sympathetic in general. Feeling much less tonta (after all, if the police themselves get pickpocketed, I shouldn't feel bad about it happening to me!) I strode off to the police station where another pair of officers were outside. I'd arrived exactly at closing time (6pm) - noes! However, continuing the trend of lovely police officers one dashed inside to check that the relevant desk was still open, and came back saying that as I'm a foreigner (I strongly suspect he used a different word to the lady inside) they'll stay open five minutes just for me. 

Inside I was escorted to a comfy chair where a gorgeous lady with guns on her lapels (really not confidence inspiring to someone who's heard this story) took my details and gave me a form. In the end we decided to say that I had simply 'lost' my documents, as that form takes a matter of seconds to fill out and can be used immediately to apply for a new ID card. Actually filing a criminal complaint can take several weeks before you get to the point of being given useful papers, and besides, I really wasn't paying attention to the thieves so would be useless as a witness. 

All in all, visiting the police when you've been robbed is a really good idea. Not just because it's useful, but because they're all really good at cheering you up!

How to: get pick-pocketed / Como dar papaya

Well, this week I'm grateful for something that may surprise you: I'm grateful for being pickpocketed!

Last Tuesday I was happily minding my own business (mistake #1) on the way home from work. I got on the right bus (something that still makes me feel proud every time I do it - to the foreigners who've been here longer than I have: does the triumphant feeling ever go away? :D ) and sat near the back doors so that I could get off the bus easily. Nearing my 'stop' (ie: stretch of pavement) a woman got up in front of me and waited with her hand on the bell (on Colombian buses there is only one button to ring the bell, unlike in London where there are buttons all over the place). I asked her to ring for me please, and a couple of guys stood up behind me as if they wanted to get off at this stop too (it's next to a transmilenio footbridge and major crossroads - it's usually popular so I didn't think anything of it). When the bus screeched to a halt there was a polite kerfuffle of the 'you first, no, you first' type. I ended up getting off first, and... now that I think about it... last too. I don't believe the woman or the two guys got off with me. They stayed on the bus - as did my purse (with a pair of earrings that were gifted to me in it - nooooo! ), my diary (Why? What on earth did they think it was? Or do Colombians usually keep their cash in their diaries?) and my beautiful (I made it myself) little notebook in which I had not only tucked my ID cards, but had written all the useful buses, fun restaurants and knitting shops down in.

At this point I invite you to insert an appropriate string of expletives into the narrative. I'd provide my own selection but I know my grandmothers are going to read this. 

So, why am I grateful for this? Several reasons:
  • I didn't have that much money with me in the first place. Yes, it was enough to buy me breakfast for a month, but in English money it was only about £20.
  • There was absolutely no incriminating useful information in my diary whatsoever. For the last few weeks my timetable has been regular enough that I haven't needed to write down my classes in it, and I never got around to putting addresses or phone numbers in it. It had been a present though :(
  • I have several more pretty little notebooks that I've made, so losing just one isn't a big deal. One of the ID cards inside it was from my old job, and therefore useless when not at that particular school, so no big loss to me. The other was, instead of being a real Cedula (official Colombian ID card) just the contraseña - an almost useless piece of paper that definitely won't let anyone open any bank accounts etc in my name. 

So, all in all it could definitely have been a lot worse. I didn't even realise they'd taken my things until two or three hours afterwards - vastly preferable to being mugged, wouldn't you say?

The moral of the story: wear angry boots more often :D