Life & Travel

Haitian Ginger Cake (Bonbon Siwo), Birthdays, and a Break

As many of you may have noticed, we at the Hungry Hounds took a long break over the holidays from posting. Of course, that didn't mean a pause in cooking and eating, just a pause in posts while we relaxed with family, enjoyed time with our kids, and caught back up on work. This week our Madeline turns two, and last month Gideon passed the six-month mark. Gideon is (finally) mostly sleeping through the night, and Madeline is getting more and more fascinating as her vocabulary grows and she is able to share what she's thinking. Last week when we mentioned her upcoming birthday she asked us if "Maybe...maybe...I can eat cake....that'd be DEEEELicious!" Well cake you shall have, Madeline! We will be making her this subtly sweet Haitian classic ginger cake, Bonbon Siwo. It is a warmly spiced Haitian gingerbread cake that is dark and dense with coconut milk and blackstrap molasses, and boldly flavored with fresh ginger, cloves and cinnamon.

Haitian Ginger Cake (Bonbon Siwo), Birthdays, and a Break

Pittsburgh Style Haluski

Just over a week ago, Hurricane Irma swept past Haiti; bringing heavy rains, wind, and flash flooding to many of the communities we work in. These have been busy days of travel, hearing the stories of survivors, seeing the damage first-hand, and responding with food and emergency supplies to families who lost everything. My final trip last week was to the small community of Goyave, high in the mountains overlooking the coastal city of St. Marc. Goyave is a farming community that had been devastated by Hurricane Matthew last year. I was there to join in the celebration of a successful harvest and the end of an MCC project to help these farmers rebuild their gardens and livelihoods. Each of the 200 families who participated in the project brought a symbol of their good harvest. Soon our outdoor meeting area was filled with piles of beautiful fresh produce: cabbages, militon squash, corn, beans, avocados, onions, leeks, sour oranges, bananas, plantains, passion fruit, pumpkins, bell peppers, hot peppers, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and yams. As we finished our meeting, a community elder stood up to speak, he reiterated his thanks for the project that had helped the community rebuild, and added that we all must remember the Haitian proverb, "Men alemen vini, fe zanmi dire." This essentially translates as 'reciprocity is what makes for lasting friendships.' He advised that there were times when one needed to receive help, such as after a Hurricane, but that one must always work to give back. "It is bad for friendships if only one side gives," he said. So the community celebrated their rebuilding and their harvest by giving freely, to each other and to our group of visitors. It was humbling and beautiful to witness and receive this generosity. Arriving home late at night, dusty and tired, with a bag full of fresh cabbages and onions, I thought back to other celebrations and shared meals. I remembered many potlucks and meals with friends from our Pittsburgh days, and one of the region's classic comfort foods for shared celebrations -- Haluski. While there is much debate on whether Halsuki is authentically Polish (as is claimed by most Pittsburghers), there is little controversy about how simple it is to make, and delicious to eat. It is comfort food at its best: caramelized onions, cabbage, and kielbasa mixed with buttery egg noodles. A hearty and rustic crowd-pleaser, and a celebration of the season's bounty.

Pittsburgh Style Haluski

Praying for Haiti -- Hurricane Irma

This evening, Hurricane Irma, a category 5 Hurricane and one of the largest on record, is churning westward towards Haiti. The most serious of its effects will likely reach Haiti Thursday evening. Across Haiti people are praying for a miracle. While the eye of the storm is unlikely to make landfall in Haiti, its winds and rains are expected to bring tremendous suffering. In river valleys across northern Haiti, families are bracing for floods. On windswept mountains, people are looking out to sea, praying for protection. New parents are holding their children tight, praying that their roofs will hold during the storm. The farmers we work with across the Artibonite and Central Plateau are anxiously watching their crops, hoping they will not be washed away. We pray tonight for the safety of our staff, for our partners across Haiti, for the tens of thousands of people in the storm's path without protection or a safety net. We pray that in the months ahead, Haiti and her people will have the strength for the slow and painful work of reckoning and rebuilding. Just eleven months after Hurricane Matthew, we pray Haiti has the resilience to struggle back to its feet, once again. Please pray with us.

Praying for Haiti -- Hurricane Irma

Birthday Joy

I turned 31 today, ate cookies, watermelon pie, and ribs, and I had to change my clothes three times because our daughter's outdoor play got unusually messy! It was a great birthday. Two years ago on my birthday, Rebecca and I were living and working in Pittsburgh. Last year we were new parents, in a new country, in new jobs. And this year we are expectantly waiting. Rebecca is pregnant, and due to a complication in the pregnancy, we are both working remotely from the US during this last trimester. If all goes as well as it can, our baby will be joining us about a month ahead of schedule towards the end of June.

Birthday Joy

Food and Thoughts of 2016

We catapulted into 2016 in a new country, jobs, and language. Learning Haitian Creole together had moments of both frustration and hilarity. We practiced our new vocabulary at the maternity clinic, when two months after we arrived in Haiti, we became parents! Paul reflected about becoming a father to a daughter, pondering some of the global challenges that girls and women face. Madeline could not have a bigger ally in her proud papa. This year, our first as parents, we have felt deep gratitude and joy for our little daughter. Along the way we also started trying our hand at Haitian cooking, learning to make some of the iconic sweetsavory & spicy dishes we had learned to love. And through it all, our little baby kept growing, and so did we...

Food and Thoughts of 2016

Gratitude

One year ago this Thanksgiving, I had never stepped foot in Haiti or walked its mountains. I had never believed such a small place could be so beautiful. I had never seen houses flattened by a storm, or seen a place I love put forward as a definition of hopelessness. Never imagined we would be so welcomed. Never been so impressed by resilience and hope in the face of long odds.

A year ago, I had never been a father. I had never felt my daughter’s heavy head resting on my chest as she slept, or lain awake on restless nights just to watch her breathe. Never smiled so hard, or wished so deeply, or held so tightly. Never believed so passionately in potential.

Some say you are only truly grateful for something when it is gone. Today, I am trying to be grateful for the things that lie ahead as much as for what lies behind. Grateful for the might and maybe and hopefully, not just the had and did and was. Grateful for possibility and the opportunity to try. Aware that a year ago I could not have known the things I am most grateful for today.

I am grateful for tomorrow, and for hope that maybe, just maybe, by the grace of God we can make it better than today.

Gratitude

3 Families After Hurricane Matthew

High in the mountains above the Artibonite river, we pass through villages and clusters of houses that do not appear on maps, past destroyed houses that will never make it into official calculations of the damage fromHurricane Matthew in Haiti. We are miles from the nearest paved road, many hours from the nearest medical clinic, and nearly a full day's walk to the market where people normally sell their produce to purchase necessities like medicine, oil, and clothing. When I asked the local government official with us, why his region showed zero damage on the latest UN maps, he grew angry, "How would they even know? No one has come up to look. No one has even asked." Working with the local governments, community organizations, and a likeminded NGO, we are bringing the first relief supplies to people whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in this area. Within 72 hours of the rains stopping, all our prepositioned aid (water treatment supplies, blankets, food, and hygiene kits) have been distributed to people in need. This is only the beginning for these families on the long path to rebuilding their lives and their communities.

If you've been watching the news on Haiti, you know of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew has wrought; the rapidly rising death toll, the destroyed homes and livelihoods, the statistics of suffering on a massive scale. But for us, and for our organization MCC, the story both begins and ends with the resilience and perseverance of the people and communities we serve. These are human stories better told through pictures of people, pictures of dignity and strength in the face of loss.

Here are the stories of three families after the storm.

3 Families After Hurricane Matthew

Prayer For Haiti

Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 storm, is on course to hit Haiti in the next 24 hours. The rain and wind has already begun.

We pray tonight for Haiti. We pray for the those without a safe place to sleep, without a place to brace against the coming storm. We pray for those with leaky roofs and mud walls, those still under tents and tarps and cardboard. We pray for those who fear their only belongings may be washed away. We pray for those who are sick and cannot travel to seek care. We pray for those who were hungry before this storm, and those who will see their crops washed away. We pray for compassion and helping hands. We pray for pastors opening up their churches to provide refuge from the storm. We pray for friends and neighbors helping people get to safety if they can. We pray for our staff and their families, for our partners and the communities we serve.

We pray for Haiti. 

Prayer For Haiti

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

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

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

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

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

Baby Madeline

We have a daughter! It’s a surreal thing to say. We are blissfully happy to share that after weeks of on-and-off contractions and gestation in three countries, our beautiful baby girl, Madeline, was born at 1 am yesterday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, weighing in at a healthy 7 pounds. Madeline is a lively little newborn, and both she and Rebecca are doing well. It’s hard to put words to the feeling of being parents for just a few short hours; joy, relief, shock and happiness. We have been finding ourselves bursting into giddy (exhausted) laughter quite a bit since little Madeline arrived. We will be taking the next month off from work to get to know our new daughter, and look forward to introducing her to her family (even if virtually in many cases), with her first introduction to both sets of grandparents when they arrive in Haiti in just a few weeks!

Baby Madeline

Context is Everything: Learning Haitian Creole as a Couple

Learning a new language is humbling. Learning a new language as a couple, is doubly so. Yes, you have someone to practice with, a fellow sufferer through grammar books, and a buddy to help you get back on your feet after a verbal face plant. But for me, a plodding language perfectionist, it can be uniquely frustrating when Rebecca's prodigious memory seems to churn out vocabulary while I'm still focused on properly conjugating "the." [...]

Context is Everything: Learning Haitian Creole as a Couple

Third Trimester, Malaria Fevers, & The Ocean

We're back from a relaxing Christmas in Jacmel, a historic town famous for its artists on Haiti's southern coast. It was a chance to get away and unwind after what has been a fairly uncomfortable third trimester for me, with pretty non-stop nausea and vomiting (sadly, a reprise of my 1st trimester). Thankfully, our little baby is resilient and has been doing well through it all, and we are just a few weeks away from meeting him/her. Paul has been an incredible support through my many nauseous mornings, afternoons and evenings, but it turns out that I didn't have the market cornered on stomach issues. Paul ended up driving the winding mountain roads from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel in the midst of malaria fevers and chills, interspersed with rounds of vomiting. After four hours driving stick with steep hairpin turns, I've never seen Paul so happy to get out of a car. Our first taste of salty ocean breezes and fresh seafood seemed to have done us well. Once we were feeling better, we perused Jacmel's famous paper mache artists, took in the historic architecture, and went swimming in the ocean. Below are a few pictures from our trip to share the flavor of the place.

Third Trimester, Malaria Fevers, & The Ocean

Cooking lessons in Kristan

We are back in the capital, Port-au-Prince. We recently returned from a homestay with a family in the small farming community of Kristan, a 45 minute hike into the mountains from the town of Desarmes where MCC (the organization we are working with) has long-standing agroforestry projects. After busy days filled with Creole lessons and project visits, our host family would indulge our curiosity with many patient explanations, hikes to garden plots, and hands-on cooking lessons. There are some things you can learn by reading, but for others, there is no substitute for the sensory experience: crouching in cramped charcoal-smoke-filled kitchens; hearing the sound of a hoe's blade spark against rocks filling the small garden plots on which many subsist; feeling the welcome rush of a cold bucket bath after a hot walk up steep mountain paths; coming to terms with the humbling reality of clumsy tongues forming words in a new language. Below are a few pictures from our time to share the flavor of the place. We will be thinking of our family and friends far away this Christmas as we celebrate here in Haiti, Merry Christmas! 

Cooking lessons in Kristan

First Days in Haiti

Our first taste of Haiti has been sweet. We have had a warm and supportive welcome, with friendly, generous co-workers, delicious home cooked meals, many helping hands to get us set up for prenatal care, and mountains of patience from everyone around us as we make our first faltering attempts at speaking Creole. We have been loving our first meals in Haiti. A favorite, today's lunch, was a rich and savory pumpkin soup, called Soup Joumou; a justifiably famous dish often served for Haitian Independence and New Years Day. We will be staying in the guesthouse above our office (pictured above) for a few more days until we head to the countryside, north of the capital in Desarmes, for a three week homestay; an immersive experience that will help to jumpstart our Creole and introduce us to rural life in Haiti.

Stay tuned over the next several weeks as we share some delicious recipes we prepared before we left the US. 

First Days in Haiti

Grilled Cheese & More Exciting News!

Rebecca has always had strong food cravings; from adventures across the city to find the most mouth puckering sour candy, to a months long quest to reproduce a Vietnamese street food from our travels. While spousal cravings can get a bad rap, I'm personally a big fan. Spur-of-the moment homemade rice crispy treats, check. Ten versions of fried potatoes in a week, twist my arm. Or, most recently, a grilled cheese to beat all other grilled cheese sandwiches: perfectly crisped bread, an extra creamy cheese mix (including cream cheese), and smokey bacon. Not an everyday meal, but a craving induced celebratory treat. In addition to our upcoming move to Haiti, Rebecca and I are celebrating another exciting life change. Rebecca is just entering her third trimester of pregnancy, and we couldn't be happier! We're expecting our little son or daughter to make an appearance in early February, with a planned delivery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And if they come out craving ooey gooey cheese...we'll know why!

Grilled Cheese & More Exciting News!

Cooking as a Couple: 10 tips

Even for people who love to cook, cooking as a couple can be a uniquely unappealing proposition. Many couples find the kitchen too crowded, the opinions too many, the timing too tight, to share the reins with someone else. Becoming a well-oiled machine in the kitchen takes practice, patience, and strategy. We've found it well worth the effort. We've been been cooking and eating together for over 10 years now, and since we have just about a month left before we leave our galley kitchen in Pittsburgh for Haiti, we thought we'd share the top 10 things we've learned about cooking together as a couple [...]

Cooking as a Couple: 10 tips