Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Around the World with Pancakes: Portuguese Panquecas

We're trying out pancakes from around the world, looking beyond fluffy pancakes and beyond breakfast food

This past weekend, Elle and I made Portuguese pancakes for supper. These are crepes that are often filled with ground meat, spices and tomatoes. This was a bit of a departure for us - though we occasionally have savory crepes with ham and cheese, somehow this filling felt a little odd to our palates. Reviews were mixed: Elle scarfed hers down (though admittedly she was rather hungry), Hubby asked for seconds, Pea could barely stomach them, and I didn't mind them, but wouldn't have them again. If you're curious, you'll have to try them out and see how you like them :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Global Citizenry: Live Below the Line | Living on $1.75 a day for 5 days to change the way we think about extreme poverty

While virtually exploring various countries over the years with the girls, the rich cultural diversity never ceases to amaze me, yet at the same time, the overwhelming prevalence of poverty is sobering. 

When I heard about Live Below the Line, an awareness and fundraising campaign run by the Global Poverty Project, I was excited to join in. Here was a concrete way, if only in a small way, for our family to get involved. 

The challenge to Live Below the Line is a worldwide fundraising initiative and I have joined thousands of others to raise awareness and funds to help eradicate extreme poverty.

1.2 Billion people around the world live in extreme poverty, which means their income has the purchasing power equivalent to us living on $1.75 (Canadian;  $1.25 US or £1 UK) a day. 

$8.75 worth of food to feed me throughout the week: various spices (cumin, chili, cayenne, salt, pepper, cinnamon and turmeric), one can of diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 4 carrots, 2 zucchini, 1 onion, brown rice, green lentils, black eyed peas, pinto beans, oatmeal and brown sugar (I just couldn't do oatmeal without a sweetener)

The challenge to Live Below the Line is to spend 5 consecutive days eating and drinking for under $1.75 each day. (Though promoted for participation from April 28 to May 2, the challenge and fundraising are open until June 30). Along with my sister, I started yesterday and for the next four days all ingredients for all meals must amount to less than $1.75 each day. Although the rest of the family aren't taking on the challenge, they have been part of the process, helping me shop, portion out and prepare, seeing how far (when it comes to beans), and how little (when it comes to produce and variety) that money can go. 

In India, 21% live in extreme poverty. We made green lentil daal to eat with rice.
Photo Credit: Juan Luis Sanchez

So how did we spend that money? I could have bought a large bag of cheap noodles and a few cans of spaghetti sauce and called it a week. And, to be honest, it's possible I would have relished it. But that would have been too easy, and include too little nutritional value. I don't believe it would have inspired any real conversation about the reality of extreme poverty around the globe. 

Over 40 million Brazilians live on less than $2 a day, and approximately 20 million make less than $1 a day. We made Brazilian rice and Brazilian style pinto beans.
Photo Credit: Danielle Pereira
Therefore my inspiration came from around the globe. Beans and rice are a common staple meal around the world, as a cheap and available source of many nutrients. We looked at countries with high rates of extreme poverty and found recipes of beans and rice commonly eaten there. By bringing our attention to specific countries (some of which we had studied in the past), it created a connection for the girls. Rather than an overwhelmingly large number they can't relate to (1.2 billion), we are talking about those families, those children, who hunger for similar food.

1 in 6 of the world's poor live in China, where 13% live in extreme poverty. To add variety to oatmeal breakfasts, I'll also be eating congee.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Tong

Of course, those living in these conditions must account for all living expenses, not simply food. Seeing what little is accumulated in food, it's difficult to wrap our heads around how anyone can feasibly do so. By choosing to do this challenge, I believe it will help us to better understand the lack of choice and opportunities many, much too many, people face. 

Sub Saharan Africa is especially affected, with a 54% rate of extreme poverty. In Liberia, 90% of people live in extreme poverty. We will be making black eyed pea fritters and Liberian black eyed pea soup.
Photo Source: Gates Foundation

Join Us!

I hope you can join the conversation about what poverty looks like globally. You can follow me and my progress over the week on Facebook and how my sister and I are doing on our team page at Live Below The Line. If you'd like to sponsor us, all donations will be going to World Literacy Canada - literacy being an important means of creating equality and a means out of poverty. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

National Poetry Month - Poetry from West Africa: "Regresso" by Amilcar Cabral

April is National Poetry Month, so I thought we'd discover a few West African poets. 

The following poem, Regresso (originally written in Portuguese - Regresso means "Return") was written by Amilcar Cabral, who was a writer, activist, politician and agricultural engineer from Guinea-Bissau. He led the nationalist movement in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, and the war of independence in Guinea-Bissau. Unfortunately he was assassinated 8 months prior to Guinea-Bissau's independence.  The following poem is about rain, and the great need for it on Cape Verde. 

Because there is so little rain on Cape Verde, the importance of rain is felt daily - draughts are regular, making it difficult to grow enough food for its population or for export. Can you feel the importance of rain in this poem? It is considered a friend and a salvation.

Our Weekend in a Nutshell

I guess I didn't pull out the camera much this weekend, as it was a rather easy going weekend, and the girls are less and less inclined to be photographed. 

Elle making Portuguese pancakes for supper
We played a game of charades, and realized we need to buy a new game as guessing has become too easy from having played the game and read the cards so often; both the girls cooked up (almost completely independently) a dinner for the family - Pea winging it without a recipe, and realizing it isn't always as easy as it looks; Elle went to a friend's for a sleepover (where she stayed up until 4am!!) while Pea earned some money babysitting - which means Hubby and I enjoyed a rare Saturday night out with friends that included an odd assortment of bowling (possibly the worse overall score among six people ever recorded in bowling history), bingo, and karaoke. Though hoping to go for a walk, the weather was against us (we are fairweather hikers), and it seems I am falling far behind in my goal of one good walk a week as a foursome...

What a treat! A food truck - bus - that serves steaming hot fresh old fashioned donuts we never new existed until yesterday. I dream of these sorts of donuts...
Our most important efforts this weekend were in getting ready for the Live Below the Line Challenge. From April 28th (today!) until May 2nd, thousands are joining together to raise awareness and funds to help alleviate poverty worldwide by eating no more than $1.75 worth of food per day. My sister and I are taking the challenge - Pea and Elle were not ready to take on the challenge personally, but they have, and will continue, to be involved. Yesterday, we went shopping for my week's worth of food - with a whopping $8.75. The girls helped me choose, weigh and determine costs of all dry goods, which will be mostly what I eat. Then there was a bit leftover for vegetables. They were surprised at how little produce I could get, and I'm hoping this challenge will open their eyes a little to the cost of food, and how much we take for granted. Elle asked: "Aren't there enough starving people in the world? Why would you want to be one of them?" I'm hoping this will create an ongoing conversation in our family, and a little more reflection. And ultimately, having the choice makes all the difference. 

I'll be posting more about this soon, but if you're interested in supporting us by donating to our chosen charity World Literacy Canada, here's our page: Live Below The Line: Sisters United

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dipo Ceremony - Krobo Girls Coming of Age Rites

Dipo Ceremony in Ontdek, Ghana © 2008 Ronnie Dankelman. All Rights Reserved

Every year in April, the Krobos tribe in Ghana marks a girl's passage into womanhood with the Dipo ceremony - an age old ritual and initiation, which has been practiced for hundreds of years. In the past, this initiation lasted a year, during which girls of marriageable age where taught their responsibilities as women in their society such as farming, cooking, and laundering. These days the ritual lasts approximately 4 days, during which Krobo girls of all ages (sometimes as young as 2), who have have come from all over Ghana, perform the rites and symbolically emerge as women. 

During the 4 day ceremony, girls follow various rituals which include song, dance, purification and cleansing, and end with being "outdoored", which means being presented as women. The girls are assigned a ritual mother, who serves as a mentor during this initiation. In the past, girls had to be exposed the entire time during the initiation, however initiates are now allowed to cover their breasts with cloth except when a ritual is being performed. Although some rituals vary depending the on clan, the following seem to be the most important and consistent:

The ceremony begins with the initiates entering the ritual house, in which they shed their clothing as a representation of shedding their childhood. They are given a string and red loincloth to wear, and are anointed by a priestess. The girls then have part of their hair shaved off.

Dipo Ceremony in Ontdek, Ghana © 2008 Ronnie Dankelman. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Around the World with Pancakes: Apfelpfannkuchen {German Apple Pancakes: To Bake or Not To Bake}

We're trying out pancakes from around the world, looking beyond fluffy pancakes and beyond breakfast food

This post was going to be a bit of a cheat. German baked apple pancakes aren't new to us, they are a treat we make a few times a year, usually when we are entertaining, like our brunch for Easter. But since I can't leave well enough alone, I wanted to read some cultural tidbit, thinking I'd find something along the lines of growing up waiting for the pancake to rise in oma's kitchen. What I came to learn is that these baked "German" apple pancakes are an Americanized version of German apple pancakes.

Left, traditional Apfelpfannkuchen; Right, German apple pancakes

The traditional pancakes have all the same ingredients, with a bit more milk, but are not in fact baked. They are cooked in a skillet, on the stove top cooked up as individual pancakes, and remain rather flat. Baked German apple pancakes, also known as Dutch Baby pancakes, bake in the oven and puff up. They both have an eggy thin batter that tastes different from typical pancakes. How do I know how they both taste? Well, realizing I was mistaken, we had to try traditional apfelpfannkuchen, which means this post is less of a cheat after all :) Which also means, more pancakes for us. And so below is nearly the same recipe, with two ways of preparing it. 


Serves 4
  • 2 apples
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Blend together the eggs, milk, flour and salt. We use a handheld immersion blender, but a regular blender works just as well (I just don't like the washing up of blenders).

2. Peel, core and slice the apples thinly. Toss together with the lemon juice, 1 tbsp sugar and 1/4 tsp cinnamon.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the rest of the cinnamon and sugar.

4. Melt 1/2 tbsp butter in skillet over medium heat, then add 1/4 cup of batter. Place 1/4 of the apple slices over the batter, then spoon 2 tbsp more batter over the apples. Cook for 5 minutes, flip and bake for another 2 minutes.

Because one skillet makes one pancake, I recommend having two skillets going at once if you can. Keep the finished pancakes warming in the oven until all are ready to eat.

Serve with a pat of butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar. 

German Apple Baked Pancakes

Also known as Dutch baby pancakes, these sweet puffy pancakes are an adaptation of traditional German apple pancakes. Apparently they were introduced in Seattle in the first half of the 20th century. They were dubbed "Dutch" based on the Pennsylvania Dutch, where "Dutch" is a misspelled version of Deutsch. 

This recipe is great when entertaining since you only need to get one batch going in the oven. It can be sliced and served afterwards or can be made in large muffin tins for individual pancakes. They're a big hit whenever we serve them. I have often made them with oat flour instead of all purpose to make them wheat free for my sister and she loves them.

Serves 4-6
  • 3 apples (preferably granny smith)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar (+ more to dust muffin tin)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400. If making individual baked pancakes, grease a jumbo muffin tin and sprinkle with sugar.

1. Blend together the eggs, milk, flour, sugar and salt. We use a handheld immersion blender, but a regular blender works just as well (I just don't like the washing up of blenders).

2. Peel, core and slice the apples thinly. Toss together with the lemon juice, brown sugar and cinnamon. If making individual ones, dice the apples rather than slice them.

3. Heat an ovenproof pan on medium heat, and melt the butter. Add the apples and cook to soften and caramelize. For sliced apples, this only takes 5 minutes of so, for diced apples, this takes 10-12 minutes.

4. For the large pancake, pour batter directly over the softened sliced apples. For individual pancakes, distribute the apples evenly among the 6 muffin tins, then pour batter over them.

5. Bake at 400F for approximately 20 minutes, once the sides are golden and puffed up noticeably. They will fall once they've cooled a little out of the oven. 

These are best served warm, but have been relished on a buffet table at room temperature :)

Find more pancake recipes on our page:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

National Poetry Month - Poetry from West Africa: "I Will Pronounce Your Name" by Leopold Sedar Senghor

April is National Poetry Month, so I thought we'd discover a few West African poets. 

The following poem, I Will Pronounce Your Name (originally written in French, Chants pour Naett) was written by Leopold Sedar Senghor, a Senegalese poet, writer and politician. He was in fact Senegal's first president upon gaining independence, from 1960 - 1981. It is believed by many that Naett in the poem refers to Africa. 

What we loved most about this poem is the many senses it evokes. The scents of cinnamon, lemon coffee, and early mornings. The visual contrasts of colors, such as black and gold, dusk and midday. The feelings of heat, sweat and dust. The sounds of thunder and strong winds. Obviously, we enjoyed this poem :) 

Can you describe your home, country or heritage by evoking the senses? The smells, the sights, the colors, the sounds, the feeling in the air?

Our Weekend in a Nutshell

Our Easter weekend was filled with fun, friends and family. Over the four day long weekend, we cooked up a traditional Nigerian meal for Good Friday; we celebrated my brother in law's birthday with Mexican Tres Leches cake - a birthday tradition he started after a trip to Mexico; we made playdough for the kiddos; we decorated eggs: volcano egg dyeing with my nephew and dip died eggs filled with confetti for cascarones; we enjoyed lots of chocolate goodies :)

Our multicultural Easter: Nigerian fish stew for Good Friday; Greek Easter bread & game of tsougrisma (Hubby ended up with the egg that would not crack - a year of good luck ahead for him!); dyeing and filling eggs with confetti for our cascarone egg hunt

We had a wonderful Easter pot luck brunch on Sunday with our great friends & family. Rather than a traditional chocolate egg hunt, I hid 24 cascarones, Mexican confetti filled eggs. The tradition is to break these eggs over someones head, which brings good luck to both involved. We make a few every year for our family, but this year we included our friends in a hunt. The hunt was to find the cascarones and break them on someone, hoping to find the one egg filled with glitter for a prize. Lots of chasing, running away, and egg throwing -  it was so much fun adding this element to the cascarones, we are already looking forward to doing it again next year. The 24 eggs were found and smashed rather quickly, next year we'll have to add more. The winner of the prize was my 4 year old nephew who found one egg, smashed it on himself, to reveal all the glitter! We continued with a few egg races, which were taken very seriously by the competitors :) It was a beautiful, warm day, perfect for all the outdoor silliness.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter in West Africa {with Recipe for Traditional Nigerian Meal on Good Friday: Frejon with Fish Stew}

Easter is the Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated among the Christians throughout West Africa, where the Christian population ranges from less than 5% (Niger) to 85% (Liberia). Easter day is celebrated by church services and family gatherings. There are a few traditions throughout Holy Week - the week preceding Easter.

In many West African countries, Palm Sunday is celebrated with processions, where participants hold palm fronds that have been blessed, some shaped like crosses, or decorated with flowers. The processions include singing, drumming, waving the palm branches, with repeated cries of Hosanna! Hosanna! You can watch a festive procession in Ghana here.

On Good Friday, there are processions re-enacting the crucifixion of Jesus. Also on this day, in The Gambia there's a special dessert eaten made of pounded rice formed into balls, sweetened with juice from baobab. In Nigeria, there is a traditional luncheon meal of bean puree and fish stew (recipe below).

On Holy Saturday, in Ivory Coast, congregants stay up all night dancing, singing, and praying until dawn. In many areas, celebrants are dressed in black in mourning on Holy Saturday, and dressed in white on Easter Sunday to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.

To add a bit of West African flair to our Easter weekend, I decided we would try the Nigerian dish of Frejon (coconut bean puree) with Obe Eja (fish stew) on Good Friday. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

West African Staple Food - Plantain {With Recipe for Spiced Fried Plantain}

Plantain Market, Nigeria
Photo Credit: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

Throughout West Africa, plantains are regularly consumed either as a snack or side dish. They are related to bananas, but they are much starchier and the sweetness is more subtle. Though they can be eaten raw when ripe, they are usually cooked. Plantains can be fried, baked, boiled, pounded or dried and milled into flour.  They can be used at all stages, whether still green or overly ripe. 

A common way throughout West Africa to enjoy plantain is by frying it. Often known as dodo, green to ripe plantains are peeled and sliced diagonally, sprinkled with salt, and fried until golden in shallow oil. We tried Kelewele, spiced fried plantain, a popular snack in Ghana. They were tasty and fun.

Road side stall selling Dodo, fried plantain in Burkina Faso
Photo Credit: Roman Bonnefoy
This was my first time cooking with and eating plantain. The biggest challenge was getting them to ripen evenly, which is not an uncommon issue in cold areas (and our house is cold). Keep plantains in a warm area, and hope they ripen properly - sometimes they just harden up and become inedible. The riper they are, the sweeter they become, and we wanted just ripe plantains. They are also much easier to peel when at warm temperature, and soaking them in hot water for a few minutes can help.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Igbo Age Grade System {With Book Recommendation}

Can you imagine spending the rest of your life engaged in various activities with all the kids you met in kindergarten? Not only through your school years, but as adults, even into retirement?

The Igbo people are an ethnic group from Nigeria. In Igbo village life, there is an important, centuries old custom of age grade groups. These groups are composed of people born within 2-5 years of each other, depending on the village. 

Each group is responsible for contributing to village life, with simple chores for the younger groups (at around age 10), with increasing responsibility as they grow older. These groups work together for their community their entire lives.

Age grades become initiated into adulthood after proving themselves to the elders and their community. This used to be defined by defending the community against hostile neighbors, but these days it is in building something that addresses community needs, such as a school, road or better access to water. If the task is deemed successful, the age group gets to chooses a name, and is then accepted into adulthood. The group then becomes part of the decision making in the community. When an age grade becomes elderly, there is a celebration of "retirement", after which that group is no longer required to do labor. These members become the most respected and influential members in the community.

There's a strong sense of kinship within the age grades. It's fairly common for those who have moved away to a city to come back to their village over some weekends and holidays to reunite with their group, and help with the projects. Within each age group, decisions are made by a majority vote. There is an Igbo saying that illustrates how equal all are considered within their group, no matter what station in life they lead outside it: "No man is above his age mate".

Ogbo: Sharing Life in an African Village by Ifeoma Onyefulu. This is a great non fiction book with large colorful photographs. Told from the perspective of a six year old child who describes her various family members (immediate and extended) and their roles in their age groups. This book is a great way to learn about the different responsibilities of each age group, for every generation. 

You can find all of our posts with children's books about West Africa here.

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

National Poetry Month - Poetry from West Africa: "Dry Your Tears Afrika" by Bernard DadiƩ

April is National Poetry Month, so I thought we'd discover a few West African poets. 

The first is Bernard DadiĆ©, from Cote d'Ivoire, a prolific Ivorian writer of various genres. The poem below, translated in English to Dry Your Tears Afrika, (originally written in French, Seche tes Pleurs) was published in 1967. It's a moving poem about Africans returning to their homeland after centuries of slavery and colonialism. This poem was also translated into Mende (a language spoken by 46% of Sierra Leone) and set to music composed by John Williams as a beautiful choral piece for the movie Amistad. You can hear the piece in the video below. 

Translated into Mende, you can hear the beautiful choral piece in the following video:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Our Weekend in a Nutshell

Tired kids working on their sock zombies
I spent most of the weekend offering support to a friend, which put Hubby in charge of Elle's slumber party. They were a group of rowdy girls, who seemed to be having a grand time (based on all the yelps and laughter). This included blind folded make up artists at 1:30 am - so glad I slept through that!. Hubby was great, plying them with food: fruit and veggie trays, pizza and smores. I took the morning shift, when the girls were much more subdued - tired, but not yet cranky :) We took the opportunity to make sock zombies that turned out both creepy and cute! 

I'm not sure I'd want to cuddle up with one of these

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Our French Canadian Roots: Maple Syrup Recipes - la Tire & Feves au Lard a l'Erable {Maple Taffy & Maple Baked Beans}

Sharing our French Canadian heritage with a monthly recipe from our childhood, hoping to inspire similar traditions and memories for our daughters

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of a cabane a sucre in Quebec. My mother's friends owned a camp in the woods, and I remember the thrill of riding a trailer of sorts - a low plank on wheels hitched up to a tractor - through the woods, feet hanging over the edge, mud gathering on my pants. The whirl of activity around us as the hot, sweet steam filled the air inside the camp, coating our skin in dew. The rows of metal tubs, filled with sap though others were used to cook beans and eggs to feed the friends and family gathered together. Waiting with utter excitement for when they would start pouring thick syrup onto a patch of snow, turning it into sticky, delicious tire. I don't know how young I was, but I believe these memories are from my earliest childhood, and it was the beginning of my life long love of maple syrupI haven't been able to fully replicate this experience with the girls, but I have passed down my love of syrup. Every spring we do drive a couple of hours to a working maple farm and restaurant to stock up on a year's worth of syrup - all the sweeter since at this point we'll have been rationing it for the past month or two. Though there is no tractor ride through the forest, we take a hike in the woods following the tubing system attached to maple trees, up to their (now defunct) original sugar camp enjoying the fresh air. The highlight continues to be la tire, also known as syrup on snow or maple taffy. 

You can read about the history of maple syrup here.

Maple evaporator
Photo Credit: Denis Savard
Canada produces 80% of the world's maple syrup, and Quebec produces 91% of that.

Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees. This sap is collected during the spring by tapping maple trees, which means to drill holes in the trees and insert a spout. Though previously metal buckets were used to collect the sap, these days it is collected in tubing that directs the sap into tanks. This process can only occur over a few weeks in spring, when temperatures are above freezing during day, and below freezing at night. Because the sap is 98% water, it must be boiled down to produce syrup, and can be boiled down further to produce maple sugar. It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup. That is to say, it takes 2 1/2 cups of sap to produce 1 tablespoon of maple syrup.

You can see pictures of maple trees being tapped here 
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