Madeline's First Tastes

It is a muggy August evening here in Port-au-Prince. The fan is fighting a losing battle to keep us cool as we wash dishes together at the sink. Madeline’s bedroom door is open, and we hear her quiet hiccups as she sleeps. It is hard to believe that this time last year we were cooking in our Pittsburgh kitchen, planning our baby’s birth in a country we had never before visited. Madeline will be 7 months old next week, and each day her little personality gets bigger. She is a warm and pensive little baby, who adores her sleep. Madeline has figured out that the world is best when put in her mouth, and this week mastered crawling. This month has also marked Madeline’s introduction to solid food, and our excited creation of her first tiny meals. Her hands down favorite flavor combination is beet watermelon puree, with Paul’s Massaman curry a close second. Her least favorite; her papa’s attempt at a spicy potato leek soup. As people who love to cook, it has been thrilling to see Madeline’s world expand with every taste. Dorky new parents that we are, we both sit with rapt attention for each new bite: there’s a squint of her eyes, a slight cock of the head, and a furloughed brow, her tongue slowly rolling the new flavor around her mouth…and the moment of decision: food, or not-food. Luckily for us, Madeline has all but once given our weird concoctions the benefit of the doubt. To the joy of first tastes.

Madeline's First Tastes

Avocado Cucumber Salad With Yogurt Lime Sauce

On my way home from work yesterday, I passed a market woman, machann, with a pile of large green skinned avocados spread out in front of her. My bag of ripe avocados in hand, I mulled over dinner the rest of the way home. Later that night, Paul and I munched on a buttery and crisp Avocado Cucumber Salad with Yogurt Lime Sauce under our mango tree as we waited for cooler evening breezes to arrive. 

Avocado Cucumber Salad With Yogurt Lime Sauce

Watermelon Limeade

Last week we decided to get out of the hustle of Port-au-Prince. We leave the city through congested streets and drive up Route National 1, up the Cote des Arcadins. We are in search of two things, salty ocean breezes and beautiful watermelons. Watermelons, by virtue of their size and water requirements, are expensive and hard to come by in the capital, but along the coast, and especially around the small town of Luly, there are mounds of them piled high on roadside stands. We pull over and I ask for one watermelon, "youn melon dlo." And with thoughts of watermelon recipes dancing through my head, I can't help but ask for two more. Incredulous, the farmer asks me if I am sure I really want three watermelons? "Yes," I say. "Well then you must have a very big family who loves watermelons," he laughs. At home this week our small watermelon loving family of two-and-a-half polished off watermelon saladspies, and one of our new favorites, a Watermelon Limeade. With a spike of tartness from key limes, this is a great thirst quencher in these hot August days.

Watermelon Limeade

Spicy Plantain Chips... and 8 Years Of Marriage!

There are earnest life plans behind the expressions of joy in this picture. Plans for lives and careers dedicated to making change and helping people. We have chosen a life living out these dreams, driven by our shared passion for service, a sense of calling, belief in the inherent goodness of people, and the possibility of changing both people and systems. I remember taking a personality inventory in our early dating years, the results, we were both idealists. At the time, this seemed like something we would grow out of. But over 8 years later, we still find the greatest fulfillment embracing our idealism together.

This week, as we marked 8 years of marriage and 11 years of cooking together, we celebrated with food. For occasions like this, we often find ourselves drawn to simple tasty meals that we can make together and snack on throughout the evening. Spicy plantain chips and guac are a regular snack in our house, that is more about eating together than elaborate preparations and complicated techniques.

Spicy Plantain Chips... and 8 Years Of Marriage!

Cashews: Journey to the Table

As people who love to cook, it's easy to focus on food's transformation in the kitchen. But living in Haiti, and working alongside farmers, reminds us that the vast majority of the risk, effort, and artistry that goes into food's journey happens long before it reaches us in the kitchen. Take cashews, a nut I've always found delicious. You can find a thousand recipes for what to 'do' with cashews in the kitchen, in fact we have a few on our blog, but today I want to focus instead on their journey to the kitchen -- from fragile seedlings in mountain-top nurseries, to the freshly roasted cashew nuts for sale in market stalls.   

Cashews: Journey to the Table

Quick Thai Curry Drumsticks

Rebecca and I are coming up on 8 years of marriage. Crazy, I know. This week's sweltering and humid weather here in Haiti had me thinking back to our engagement in Thailand. In particular, I was remembering one late evening walk through a night market in Bangkok, snacking on delicious street foods as we talked about what a life together would look like. One stand was serving grilled chicken in an addictive, slightly sweet peanut curry sauce. Maybe it was just the romance of the moment, but that flavor combo has stuck with us, and it's one we find ourselves coming back to in the heat of summer. These Quick Thai Curry Drumsticks are simple, quick, and perfect for a hot summer evening. 

Quick Thai Curry Drumsticks

Gourmet Hotdogs 3 Ways

Moving to Haiti, there were foods that we were expecting to forgo. Take dairy and berries, both are mainly imported, elusive, and outrageously expensive; makes sense. On the flip-side, some surprising things have been easy to find. Like hotdogs; they are everywhere. Hotdogs are tucked into pikliz stuffed breakfast pastries, fried on the street, and cooked into Haitian style gratin. Hotdogs were were even served to me at the maternity clinic, a few hours after giving birth to Madeline. In the spirit of hotdog season, we're sharing some of our top 3 Gourmet Hotdogs; where the standard ketchup, mustard, and relish are replaced by toppings inspired by our favorite sandwich combinations: the ReubenCubano and Bánh Mì.

Gourmet Hotdogs 3 Ways

Zucchini Falafel Burgers with Green Tahini Sauce

It's burger time, and not just for meat lovers. We're combining the summer's bounty of zucchini with loads of herbs for a burger riff on the falafel. While these patties are delicious on their own, we went a little nuts with the toppings, including a tangy herb scented green tahini sauce, and an addictive tomato, cucumber and feta salsa. Zucchini Falafel Burgers with Green Tahini Sauce are a vibrant celebration of summer flavors. Happy 4th and Canada Day to our American and Canadian readers! 

For more burger inspiration check out smokey ancho cheddar burgersbacon bison burgersturkey feta burgers with yogurt curry sauce & portobello burgers with green olive tapenade.

Zucchini Falafel Burgers with Green Tahini Sauce

Potato Beet Salad

The days are hot, school is out, the grill is fired up, and it's potato salad season. We're adding some color to ours today with a Haitian variation of Potato Beet Salad. Potatoes and beets are a lovely earthy combination with some parsley, and pickled red onions, this is great mellow tasting accompaniment to your early summer grilling. Check out other non-traditional potato salad variations: moroccan roasted sweet potato saladgrilled potato salad with jalapeno, bacon & blue cheese & tuscan potato salad.

Potato Beet Salad

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Tortillas are a food we sometimes overlook. We find ourselves too busy focusing on the fillings to pay much attention to the tortilla itself. But we've discovered that a well done flour tortilla (not to be confused with a masa corn tortilla) is a marvelous thing: flaky and tender, with the just the right amount of chew, and a subtle sweet and nutty richness. Tortillas, like any bread product, can be intimidating. But they don't have to be. At heart tortillas are a simple, versatile, and rustic bread that is quick to make and forgiving for newbies. Tortillas don't have to be perfect circles or exactly uniform. Homemade fresh tortillas coming hot off your stove will be miles ahead of their store-bought competition. A recent trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras re-ignited our passion for making Homemade Flour Tortillas, and we've been making them regularly ever since.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Marinated Herbed Zucchini

Craving something fresh, Paul picked up a basket of summer squash at the market on the way home from work yesterday. Marinated Herbed Zucchini is a beautiful and flavorful summer starter that transforms summer's bounteous zucchini and squash into something unexpected and delicious. Whether you're looking for a creative new salad...or just searching for something other than zucchini bread to make with the summer squashes piling up in your kitchen, this is a winner!

Marinated Herbed Zucchini

Easy Coconut Baked Oatmeal

We have been in Honduras this past week for work meetings with our regional colleagues. One thing that makes our organization unique, is an emphasis on cultivating relationships and being a good host. In this spirit, our Honduras-based supervisors welcomed us into their home with delicious home cooked meals, among them a scrumptious breakfast of baked oatmeal with fresh strawberries. Not only did we stuff ourselves, but coincidentally, we had been experimenting with our own baked oatmeal recipe over the past month. Our version of Easy Coconut Baked Oatmeal is a hearty, crunchy, warm and filling breakfast. This simple to make breakfast dish will perfume your house with cinnamon and oats and is best hot out of the oven, doused in cold milk, a perfect meal to share with guests.

If you want to try out a spring-ish baked oatmeal recipe, check out our Strawberry Rhubarb Baked Oatmeal.

Easy Coconut Baked Oatmeal

Life & Work Update

It's been an exhilarating whirlwind in our first two months officially on the job. Paul has been doing quite a few trips to remote areas of Haiti with our agricultural partners, while I have been getting to know current, and hopefully future, partners in Port-au-Prince. I am writing this from Honduras where we have gathered with our colleagues for regional meetings. While we have both been out of the office a lot this past month, we have also been working, along with our staff, to create a new blog to communicate about the work our organization, MCC, is doing in Haiti. We hope this gives you more context for our work. If you want to follow along, you can subscribe to monthly updates.

On a personal note, our little baby Madeline is not so little anymore, and turned 4 months old last weekend. My favorite time with her is in the early mornings, the roosters are crowing, the temperatures are cooler, and Madeline spends her first half hour of the day making drowsy cooing sounds from her crib... we call them baby dinosaur noises. It makes for a lovely wake up soundscape, even if the hour is earlier then we are used to!

 

Life & Work Update

Sweet & Spicy Sesame Wings

For us, the month of May means barbecue season, and with long weekend celebrations this month in Canada, the States, and National Flag day here in Haiti, we thought it was time for chicken wings. We first started making this addictive wings recipe last year when an abundance of hot pepper jelly made it into the fresh produce boxes of our CSA. Paul created these Sweet & Spicy Sesame Wings with a pungent sesame, garlic and fresh ginger sauce that is a slam dunk recipe to add to your grilling repertoire this season.

Sweet & Spicy Sesame Wings

Fresh Coconut Pancakes in the rainy season

A quick trip out to get ingredients can be a big ordeal here in Haiti, especially this time of year. May marks the start of the rainy season. We’ve seen torrential downpours almost daily for several weeks now here in Port-au-Prince. These heavy rains wash out main roads, swell the region’s rivers, overflow the sewers, and cause flash floods which can destroy the fragile homes that line the city’s narrow ravines. Add to this near daily political protests, that bring traffic to a halt with barricades and can shut down whole sections of the city. Recently, two of the three main bridges to the north (on our side of the city) have been out of commission after one collapsed when critical bolts were pilfered. So when I woke up this morning, craving a hearty pancake breakfast, convincing Paul to brave the traffic for butter, milk, or any other breakfast staple was a no-go. This recipe emerged from the bounty of our backyard; toasted coconut from our coconut tree and fresh-as-they-come eggs from Paul’s chickens. These Fresh Coconut Pancakes are absolutely delicious, custardy, and with just the right amount of chew, a perfect start to a rainy day. 

Fresh Coconut Pancakes in the rainy season

Saving the Harvest

I have always found seeds kind of amazing. I remember the first time my dad explained to me that these beans we were about to cook could just as easily be planted. Whenever possible, I have planted edible gardens, from using bay trees as decoration in my office, to clandestinely planting cabbages in our front flower garden in Pittsburgh. One of the first things we did in our new home here in Port-au-Prince was to plant every square inch of soil with thyme, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, dill, basil, chives, garlic, oregano, tomatoes, greens, cucumbers, lettuce, okra, and squash. But to be honest, I’d always just bought seeds and never thought too much about the time and steps involved between harvesting seeds from one crop, and planting them for the next. This week, while visiting a project in the rural community of Kabay, Haiti, I got a first hand look at the impact seed storage has on farmers and their families. 

Saving the Harvest

Chilmole Slow Roasted Spareribs

Yesterday, both Paul and my sister celebrated their birthdays. Food, as usual, is our vehicle of celebration with an office birthday lunch featuring Paul's favorite Haitian dish, kalalou, stewed okra with slow cooked beef. Unfortunately, an ocean separates us from celebrating with my sister this year, but we in Haiti will spend our weekend in food revelries! Paul has requested his usual quirky birthday-food combinations; buttermilk biscuitshot fudge pudding cake and watermelon chiffon pie, all fairly doable with minor adaptations. But this year he also requested ribs. Hmm. Since we have some gorgeous chilmole paste in our fridge right now, I am planning to make Paul a grilled version of our recipe for Yucatán Chilmole Slow Roasted Spareribs, a finger-licking rib recipe that we perfected in Pittsburgh before we left. Smoky, spicy, juicy, delicious. 

Chilmole Slow Roasted Spareribs

Smokey Mexican Chile Paste, Chilmole

Last weekend, Rebecca and I moved into our permanent house here in Haiti. What a relief after months of transition. With food on the mind, our first order of business was setting up the grill! And yes, if you were wondering... it is the same grill we had in Pittsburgh for 8 years, lovingly disassembled and brought over in a suitcase by my MacGyver-of-a-father. As temperatures rise, there is just something special about grilled food. Maybe its that the smokey char reminds me of campfires and sleeping under the stars, maybe its just the uncomplicated joy of cooking over flames. For me, this Smokey Mexican Chile Paste is the closest thing there is to bottling all that is beautiful about grilling. Our non-traditional take on Mexican chilmole paste tempers the hard char of the classic black version, for a lighter, more fruity chili flavor. This paste is excellent for making red rice, a great base for barbecue sauces, a go-to rub for meats, and a potent flavor boost for chilis and other soups. 

Smokey Mexican Chile Paste, Chilmole

Haitian Pikliz

It is a big week for us. Friday marked our first official day as country representatives, and tomorrow we are moving into our new house. The thought of unpacking after 6 months makes me giddy! This week's transition seems more final than the previous ones, it feels like we have finally arrived at our destination, Haiti is home. As we have explored Haitian culture through food, pikliz was our first culinary attempt. Pikliz is a beloved Haitian condiment; a pickled cabbage dish with spices and citrus notes, that often accompanies rich or fried foods. Our usual make-taste-adjust routine was somewhat stymied, when after our 9th batch, we just couldn't seem to get a consensus from our Haitian friends and co-workers, of the flavor profile for the perfect pikliz. More heat, more sweet, less sour, more citrus, less salt, more salt, add color, more crunch. Finally we figured it out, there is no perfect master recipe. This is our favorite version of our many, many batches. Enjoy tinkering with the recipe to make pikliz your own. This tangy condiment is fantastic with all manner of meathot dogsburgers, and stewed dishes.

Haitian Pikliz

Black Pepper & Lime Caesar Salad

My mother and sister flew to Haiti last week, the final visit in an amazing month of family guests. First Madeline's uncle arrived on a spur of the moment 48-hour trip to cuddle his new niece. Next to arrive was her grandpa and grandma, traveling to Haiti from Indiana, narrowly avoiding a political protest near the airport on the day of their arrival. Madeline's omi and opi from Canada made it in time to see her first smiles, and last week she met her aunt from Pittsburgh for the first time. It has been an incredible expression of love and support from both of our families as they trekked to Haiti, schlepping our many bags along with them. Each time, as I passed our little daughter over to her newly arrived family member, it was a moving experience. Perhaps it's the postpartum hormones... but there was just something about the contrast of having moved to a new place without family, and then watching the faces of our parents and siblings as they held our daughter for the first time that put a lump in my throat. So how does this all relate to this most excellent black pepper lime caesar salad recipe you might ask? My family is nuts for caesar salad. So as I paced the house waiting for my mother and sisters' delayed flight last week, I made my new favorite variation with black pepper and lime. I perfected this version over the last few months while pregnant and unable to eat the classic caesar dressing with raw eggs. I discovered mayonnaise to be a creamy and delicious substitute and swapped out the traditional lemon in favor of local key limes. This is an addictive dressing, so I recommend just going ahead and doubling it the first time.

Black Pepper & Lime Caesar Salad

Good Friday On Mòn Kalvè

About an hour east of Port-au-Prince, just off the the road that leads to Santo Domingo, sits Mòn Kalvè (Calvary Mountain), a pilgrimage site during Holy Week here in Haiti. Starting just after dawn on Good Friday, a friend and I hopped on motos and made our way to the base of the mountain. We joined the faithful making their slow pilgrimage to the top. Stopping at each station of the cross along the way, people prayed, sang, lit candles, asked for healing, paid penance, and remembered loved ones. Kneeling side-by-side to pray in the crowd, I was moved by the candor of sorrows and joys shared. Some had walked days in hope of a miracle. Others came to sell food, candles, hats, and herbal remedies to the pilgrims. For me, it was an opportunity to reflect, give thanks, and to stand in wonder of this beautiful new country we call home, and the indomitable spirit of her people.

Good Friday On Mòn Kalvè

Caribbean Spiced Roast Chicken

Several years ago, while traveling in New Orleans, Rebecca and I heard about a local chef who made a traditional roast every weekend for a family dinner. Inspired, we began our own tradition of a weekly roast, sometimes meat, other times vegetarian. Our frequent favorite was a classic roast chicken with butter, garlic, and lemon. Adapting this dish to our new home in Haiti, we created a Caribbean Spiced Roast Chicken, drawing on the sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors found across the Caribbean basin. This combination of spices is reminiscent of Jamaica's famous jerks and Haiti's vibrant marinades, and the crispy skin will have you coming back for more.

Caribbean Spiced Roast Chicken