The Ecuadorian life

I remember wanting to study Spanish abroad since I was in 5th grade. During my first trip down south in Cuba with my family, I hated not being able to converse with the local children. I promised myself that one day, I’ll be able to speak their mother tong. Winning the Loran Scholarship last year meant that I had the chance to spend three summers (in between my university studies) doing either internships or volunteer projects. Spanish schools exits in thousands, so after narrowing down the Hispanic countries and searching on the Internet for days, I finally found a school in Ecuador offering Spanish classes and volunteer placements while having amazing reviews on Trip Adviser. Simon Bolivar Spanish School also offers opportunities to travel across Ecuador during the weekends and students can also take part in free cultural classes in the evening such as salsa, traditional Ecuadorian cooking and cocktail lessons. I signed up for 7 weeks of Spanish classes, 5 weeks of volunteering in a Day Care center and an extra week to travel somewhere else in South America.

During my landing in Quito on July 3rd, my first thought while gazing at the Andes through my airplane window was: how did the first inhabitants managed to migrate so far up? Quito is literally built on top of the earth, with most of the mountains (and some volcanoes) brushing the clouds throughout the day. I was waiting to pick up my luggage when I first felt the power of the altitude on my body. At 2850 m (9350 feet) above sea level, Quito is the highest official capital city in the world. I felt short of breath just by standing still but luckily, I didn’t have to endure any other symptom of altitude sickness.

With mountains come valleys, so the ride up to my host family’s house felt like a roller coaster! The funny thing about Quito, like most cities in South America I assume, is that even though it’s a totally different world from North America, both share a lot of similarities. It’s the small details that make you realizes that ″you’re not in Kansas anymore″. For example, the cars are the same, but it’s totally normal in Quito to see children playing in the back of the truck while the dad is driving at 70km/h in a tiny one-way road. Or it’s common for parents to bring their newborn baby to the salsa club and make him enjoy the rhythmic music (I suspect that’s one of the main reasons why everyone in Ecuador are talented salsa dancers…)! It’s these differences that make traveling so culturally interesting!

Socially constructed beauty norms: fruits&veggies are victims too!

I remember. The times when I lured in front of the fruits & veggies section at the supermarket, carefully analyzing the produce to make sure I picked the shiniest apple and the most spherical orange. I was disgusted by the weird looking ones, the tomatoes with curves that reminded me of tumours or the carrots with two heads. They seemed to have a chemical deformation but really, it was the complete opposite. In 8th grade, I was about to take a bite of a beautiful apple when my friend made a comment: “Omg, you’re apple is just perfect!”. I suddenly stopped my motion, put down the apple on my desk, looked up and said: “that’s because of all the pesticides they sprayed on it!”.

Why haven’t I thought of this before? How was it possible that after being exposed to all of nature’s deeds, could this apple still be impeccable? No bumps, no holes, no scratches, no bruises… it just didn’t make sense. Nature is far from perfect, but our society decided that even food needed beauty norms. So we had to find ways, environmentally hurtful ways, of meeting them. With big franchises like Loblaws and Walmart stepping over small farms and increasing the distance between the buyers and the producers, people are feeling more disconnected than ever with their food. It used to be that most families had their own farm and garden. From planting the first seed to harvesting the final product, they were implicated at every level of the food production. That means that no matter the shape and size of the apple, each and every one was cherished because they were literally the fruits of the farmer’s labor. Now, in an age of “innovation”, we often only need to lift a finger to make food appear in our kitchen. Don’t have time to drive to the supermarket? You can order your grocery online and have it delivered right at your front door!

Because most of us don’t worry about how and where the produce is being grown, looks and taste are now the two main factors influencing the buyer’s decision. If it doesn’t look good, fruits and veggies are basically considered garbage. “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. It’s a cheesy saying but one of my personal favorites. Consumers all around the world are asking the wrong questions: does it has bruises? Is it big enough? Does it look normal? … How is this kind of information helping families put better food on their tables!? We need to look past beyond the cover, open the book and read the story! Who grew it? Where? At what environmental and social cost? What kind of chemicals could be inside its flesh?

Consumers throw out a lot of unappealing products but it’s the producers and grocery store that waste the most. “More than 20 percent of the produce grown for human consumption is rejected by grocery stores and goes uneaten because of its appearance”. The environmental impacts of food waste is huge: the decomposition of organic waste produces methane (prevents the heat from escaping into space = global warming!) and large amounts of water, fertilizers, pesticides and energy was used to grow this food. However, another aspect of food waste is even more ethically wrong: how can we partake in this kind of activity when we know that millions of people are starving every day?

Thankfully, people around the world are working hard to stop food waste:

Mason Jars Maniac

Lately, I bought a lot of different ingredients to be able to cook new vegan recipes and I had to find somewhere to store them all so I bought the cutest mason jars ever! I love mason jars because first of all, they’re made out of glass, so they’re a lot more durable and less toxic than plastic containers, and they’re just soooo cute! I use the bigger ones to make overnight oats, as a container for my meals that I bring at work, as a fashionable glass… the uses are limitless!

mason jars

Take a look here to find out more about creative ways to use mason jars:
http://www.countryliving.com/diy-crafts/how-to/g1821/mason-jars/?slide=6
https://fr.pinterest.com/JoycesFunPlace/mason-jar-and-bottles-creative-ideas-i-love/

Ottawa’s little piece of paradise

I’m not a city girl. That simple. I’m just not impressed with skyscrapers and huge shopping malls. Last September, when I arrived in Ottawa, I quickly realised that adjectives such as “big” and “small” are relative. I was born and raised in a small town of 7 385 habitants (“it’s not a town, it’s a village!”. says some of my friends in Ottawa) in northern New-Brunswick called Campbellton. The majority of Campbelltonians call the region “un trou perdu” (French expression that can be translated to “this place sucks!”) because at first glance, all you can see are traces of the recession: businesses closing, youth leaving, lack of entertainment and nothing but trees all around. I was raised with a different pair of glasses. As a kid, my parents constantly reminded me to appreciate the smallest things and gave me the gift of wonder: every stream and river was mesmerizing, leading us to yet another adventure, the sunset slowly kissed goodnight the mountains to let the stars shine in the deep blue sky, snow covered the forest like frosting on a cake and we slid down the hills with exhilarating speed.

collage2

My dad was particularly fond of the region and he taught me its secrets. From unknown lakes to hidden beaches, to caves and broken bridges, I often thought that we were destined to find a hidden world such as Narnia. So this past fall, when I started my first year at the University of Ottawa, I had a hard time adjusting to my new “big city” lifestyle (I write “big city” because according to the students from Toronto, Ottawa could as easily be called a village as Campbellton). I hated waiting to cross the street, riding the overly packed bus every day, walking to work and never even making eye contact with the hundreds of pedestrians all wearing cold business clothes, not knowing anyone anywhere, not being surrounded by trees everywhere… it just wasn’t Campbellton! Through my need to get in touch with nature and get as far from the skyscrapers as I could, I started a quest to find a safe haven that I could escape to whenever I had “city anxiety”. Thankfully, I found one, and it became by far my favorite place in Ottawa. The Dominium Arboretum is a botanical garden situated at the south end of the Rideau Canal and is home to around 1 700 species of trees and shrubs. The first time I visited, I felt like I was in a fairy kingdom. The trees are pristine, my favorites are the wimping willows and I always choose a spot next to them when I’m reading just because I feel like I’m in one of these movie scenes where the main character spends a beautiful day having a picnic with his/her lover under a wimping willow rooted on a perfect little hill in the countryside. Birds and bees, occasionally dogs, are the only things breaking the silence. Peaceful. Beautiful. Magical. These are the words that best describes the Arboretum.

arboretum collage

Oh She Glows cookbook

This past week, I improvised my recipes by opening my fridge, glancing around, and matching together random ingredients that had the potential (according to my limited culinary experience and knowledge) to make a good couple. I always had a hard time following recipes, maybe because as a kid, my grandma used a cookbook like if the recipes were recommendations rather than instructions. I feel more creative when I build my own creations but I realised that I would learn a lot more if I followed recipes. I went to Chapters and found this amazing book called The Oh She Glows Cookbook – Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out that contains carefully constructed vegan recipes supported by fresh and colorful pictures. The author, Angela Liddon, is a blogger that decided to publish a book with all the recipes she posted online. Her story is quite inspirational and the fact that she’s a self-trained chef gave me hope about my culinary potential. The recipes range from simple to complex but all of them are outlined in a way that is easy to follow. Today, I filled my tummy with sunrise scramble with roasted home fries & avocado toast.

breakfast 1

There’s basically three parts to this recipe:

1. The sunrise scramble: healthy roasted vegetables with tofu (replaces the eggs). While it was tasteful and filling, I still have a hard time enjoying tofu because of it’s strange texture.

2. Roasted home fries: these were, I’m not kidding, the best potatoes I’ve ever tasted! I found it strange that the recipe asked for cornstarch but when I took out the fries from the oven, I quickly understood why: the potatoes were crisped but soft inside, the perfect texture!

3. Avocado toast: I’m not a fan of avocado. I find it too rich and untasteful, but added on a toast like butter with a pinch of sea salt and pepper, it was pretty great!

Overall, the meal was incredible and I strongly encourage you to buy The Oh She Glows Cookbook and follow Angela Liddon blog!

Naanchiladas: Curry-Spiced Vegetable and Lentil Enchiladas

This looks delicious!!

food to glow

Naanchiladas-curry-spiced-enchiladas by food to glowAs with some television shows, where an entire episode seems to be based round a joke that came up in a production meeting, this recipe was an off-beat idea of mine that grew into a recipe. I started with the hybrid name and it kind of went from there.

But unlike some TV shows, this works. No joke.

Just a couple of notes: about the sauce, if you wish to use garam masala or another curry powder that you like, that would be just fine. Use about two tablespoons, but be prepared to add more if the flavour seems “thin.” And as for the naan, use roti or chapati if you wish, or even commercial naan, although the latter may be too thick and will tear/break (and really aren’t very nice when compared to homemade). Heck you could even add curry spices to a bought red enchilada sauce. Whatever way you do this…

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Eco challenge: Day 3

I was eager to explore the culinary possibilities of my new ingredients so for lunch (and diner), I cooked sauté onions, kale and tofu with quinoa. It was surprisingly really good! The texture of tofu still disturbs me but I have hope that I will soon forget about it. Overall, I felt light and satisfied after every meal I ate today even though there wasn’t any animal product in them. For breakfast, I ate overnight rolled oats with almonds,chia seeds, fruits and honey with a slice of bread topped with my new delicious organic dark chocolate peanut butter (my favorite vegan alternative so far!). I did notice that I was more hungry in between my meals but I tossed some almonds in my mouth and the feeling was soon gone.