my trip to Bolivia

October 1, 2014

boliviaSo my sister-in-law is from Bolivia.  She was born there and when she and my brother decided to get married, they decided to do so in Bolivia.  This was three years ago.  So my parents and I flew down with them to La Paz, for about three days.  It was extremely hilly there and our driver was pretty adept at not killing us.

We stayed in this fancy hotel that served Western style food.  But we did go to a couple markets that were kind of interesting.  The rainforest is where they grew tropical fruit like bananas, avocados, and the like so on one of our outings to some ruins near Lake Tikicaca, our guide and driver stopped at a market and got some avocados, pan (bread), and I think yogurt and maybe bananas too.  When we ate it near the ruins (with some very hungry dogs), I felt like I was living like a local.  Our driver even got some salt from someone because there are salt mines in Bolivia.  It felt like a pretty authentic meal to us.

When we got to Cochabamba, we then had a meal with Patricia’s family.  I think it consisted of rice and beans and definitely meat.  We had to drive to Patricia’s parents’ farm which was about two hours away.  At the farm (which is where the wedding was), they had pigs, guinea pigs, chickens, and llamas.  The wedding was a feast in that I think almost everything came from the farm.  Well maybe not, but the meat did and probably some of the vegetables did.

My parents and I continued on toward other cities while my brother and his wife went on their honeymoon.  The most memorable place we went (in terms of food) was the rain forest outside of Santa Cruz.  We were in a refuge way high in the mountains.  I flirted with the staff and took hikes with them, while a lot of the food they served us came from the farm on the grounds.  We had bananas, papayas, mangos and a bunch of other things like lettuce and tomatoes.  It was the fruit that made me think that fruit for dessert makes one appreciate fruit all the more.  I felt that in having those meals, how precious the rain forest was to the staff.  It certainly was a beautiful area.  The waterfalls were heavenly and there were all these dangling birds nests around that held some sort of exotic bird.

It was a once in a lifetime trip and I can remember some of the events in exact detail like throwing up at the wedding right across from Patricia’s parents and going to a centuries’ old church near Cochabamba where our van was blessed by a priest.  Yup, I hope to go back to South America someday.

controversySo I looked up some banned foods in the US, and we should be thankful that we don’t eat endangered animals, like gorilla, shark fins, and turtles, and some other endangered animals that seem to be a delicacy in other countries.  What delicacies do we have in the US?  Well, I couldn’t really think of any that were comparable to those meats, but our ethnic foods seem to be delicacies.  But is the All American meal still the norm for those who worship the American way of life?


Horse meat is controversial and judging by the vast amount of horse farms we have and how people have horses for therapy, maybe the animal rights activists have infiltrated our society more than we realize.

I was reading about the grain quinoa, which is grown primarily in Bolivia, and how that is controversial because the Bolivian farmers are forced to keep up with the growing world demand of the crop.  There are 3,000 types of quinoa and what has happened is that the Bolivian farmers are forced to grow one specific kind, which is creating a monoculture.

In some ways, veganism seems more controversial in this country than being a meat eater.  I remember when I worked in New Hampshire, there was a guy I worked with who was a vegan, and he would go on and on about how milk was contaminated with urine, among other things.  Maybe the controversial foods in this country to him are the basic foods we eat, like milk, eggs, and meat.

I have watched some social commentary food documentaries over the years and they mention GMOs a lot and those seem very controversial.  I have been to meat production places and they all seem rather open to people looking at their production facilities.  But when I have watched videos on egg production, most of those small time farmers aren’t allowed to show the chickens in closed quarters.  Some of them seem more controversial than the the meat facilities.

In veganism, there are also so many different types of isms out there like people who only eat raw fruit and seeds and the raw food diet where people can’t eat cooked foods above a certain degree.  These, in a way, seem more controversial than some other diets.  And I’m sure there are a lot of flexitarians out there too (people who eat meat occasionally).  I think there’s more than we realize.  The Vegetarian times says there are 22.8 million “vegetarian inclined” people in the US, so that must mean flexitarians.  There are 7.3 million American vegetarians and around the same number of American vegans.  And there are 168 million vegans in the world.

And every once in awhile, I hear about some vegetable (like spinach or scallions) that has salmonella in it or some other type of bacteria.  Maybe because a lot of vegetables aren’t cooked when we eat them, people are scared of vegetables causing disease.  Maybe this explains why GMOs have transformed the world as we know it.  We don’t want salmonella spinach to infiltrate our worlds so we choose genetic engineering to make them less healthy, but more pretty to look at.








gluten freeI love to bake just like everyone else it seems.  Every time I turn on the Food Network, I usually am bound to see someone baking in minutes.  I took two semesters of baking and pastry classes and loved every minute of it so I shouldn’t be a hypocrite.

Of course, it’s not particularly healthy, but we cannot get away from it here in America.  I read in Omnivore’s Dilemma’s by Michael Pollan that Americans eat more wheat than even corn, which says a lot because we ship a lot of corn (and maybe wheat too) over seas.

In my own little revolution, I bake cookies that have less sugar, plus wheat germ, whole wheat flour, dry sifted milk, oats, and the normal things like butter and eggs and brown sugar.  I also bake pumpkin, oat, walnut/pecan, chocolate chip cookies where I halve the sugar (it calls for both white and brown.  I give my cookies away to places I volunteer or work at, friends and family, and occasionally sell them.  It’s my way of saying, “this is a treat that is more healthy for you than a lot of those treats in grocery stores.”  My Mom sometimes (like currently) gives up sugar, because she can’t stand how much sugar we eat in this country (at least I think that’s the reason; there’s probably a health reason in there too). 

I think the whole gluten free thing is kind of weird, because it just kind of started in the past ten years.  Does the gluten free label mean that we were wrong for eating wheat 20 to 50 years ago?  I think that the reason we have gluten free foods so many places now is because the baking and pastry world has gotten out of control.  Granted, I still like baked goods (and who doesn’t?!?), but maybe the term “gluten free” is a rebellious frame of mind.

Ok, I know that gluten free refers to a lot of people who have celiac’s disease who’s body doesn’t allow them to eat white or whole wheat flour.  But I know for a fact that the food industry uses the “gluten free” term to make sometimes unhealthy foods appear healthy; or foods that are obviously gluten free and makes them appear like a whole new product.


Along the lines of my last post about frugality, I feel like I could be better at buying things from places that represent me.  I do go to fast food places sometimes, but I’m trying not to do that anymore.

I live in a town where there are quite a few restaurants and stores that sell organic or reused wares.  This is the town where I grew up and when I was growing up, I don’t think we had as many stores, but now we have a lot, or at least it seems more hopping.

I sometimes love going to really cool downtowns where there’s lots of specialty shops and nice restaurants.  Of course, I never really go to the restaurants, but if they have a record shop, a spice shop, or cheese or bread shop, I love to go in, smell the place, and maybe buy a thing or two.  But I don’t do that often, or at least I go to the farmer’s market here in town which has a lot of the same things.

I have been to the Ann Arbor, MI and Brooklyn, NY farmer’s market, including the one in Lansdale, PA (where I live) and I have fallen in love with farmer’s markets, just like a lot of people I know.

I often hear about markets in other parts of the world that have no doubt been around for decades, if not centuries.  I wonder if these markets influenced the modern farmer’s market?  It seems to me that they must have.  Did you know that a Los Angeles farmer’s market has been in existence since 1934, but the UK’s first farmer’s market began only in 1997?  Maybe the US is ahead of the game.

I haven’t traveled too much around the country, but in the PA suburbs where I live there are lots of historic places.  I’ve been to a lot of these places with my parents, but every time I go to a historic downtown, I’m always amazed by how proper everything is.  I’ve been to Ann Arbor and Brooklyn to visit family and shop around there too, but there it feels more hipster like.

But I love having experiences more than buying items.  I’m sure a lot of people feel this way, but I wonder if we do this more than ever with the economy being the way it is?!?






Money honey

July 4, 2014

I am very frugal.  But not in ways you might expect.  It’s not like I go to Costco and buy things in bulk there or use lots of coupons.  I just kind of spend money on things I think are important, like the arts, food, public transit, exercise, and the like.  And I don’t buy a lot of stuff. 

Does that make me progressive or liberal minded?  I don’t think of myself as impoverished. I mean, I know I have help from a lot of people, but that’s my point.  Maybe we need the kindness of strangers or friends to help us along when times are tough.  I’ve certainly benefited from friends’ help over the years.  I would probably be a different person without their help.

I’m always amazed when I see people make millions of dollars and they end up spending it all and are in debt or committed for tax fraud.  Maybe I don’t understand their way of living, but maybe they don’t understand the 99% either. I think experiences are more important than actual things.  I’m sure plenty of people feel this way, but America is known for consumption more than anything.  Hell, capitalism is our deal so we’re encouraged to go out and buy things.  However, I’ve heard that since the recession from 2008, we are not buying as much as we used to. Maybe we are on the verge of a new world.

Having said that, I often wonder (or think it would be funny in a weird way) if scientists are wrong about oil causing all the global warming.  I’m not saying I believe oil is ok, but what if we were just on the verge of regular climate change.  Maybe it was coming anyway.  Can you imagine?  What with all the work we’ve done to change our ways, and it comes anyway, despite all the changes we’ve made?  It’s amazing what a century can do to a world.

geography kid








So I just finished a book about geography by Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings.  He goes into great depth about what geography buffs passions are, like geo cache, maps and atlases, and the National Geographic Bee, but one aspect that I wished he had gone into more depth with is that Americans don’t really like to travel abroad.  Now, I just happened to read an expose on countries that take advantage of Americans and what one can do to avoid falling into their traps.  That says a lot about how not street smart we Americans are.  Of course, people from all over the world come here and are supposed to adapt (and not given citizenship for years).

And then of course I have friends who have traveled everywhere and they are mostly liberals.  I hear about young people backpacking all over the world in order to find themselves and try to understand the world.  Maybe we have this responsibility to know about other countries and what’s going on there.

It seems to me that if one is to travel abroad in this country, you usually go to Europe.  Maybe because that’s where our ancestors come from.

I just met someone (well kind of a family friend) who has been to over 40 countries.  I’ve been to four continents: South America (Bolivia), Asia (China), Europe (Spain and United Kingdom), and of course the US and Canada.  I just went to an International Spring Festival where they had the gym of my former high school festooned with many countries and their attributes.  My friend eagerly approached almost every table and peppered them with questions.  I just kind of followed her around and observed the international dancers showing off on the stage.

It seems to me one kind of has to be a free spirit and/or very open minded to travel the world or even join Peace Corps.  I wonder if more Democrats or Republicans travel.

However, the United States has a massive influence on the rest of the world.  When I heard about Wall Street collapsing 6 years ago, I then subsequently heard that the rest of the world was having troubles because of us.  We export lots of corn and soybeans to developing countries, many of whom hate us probably because we have so much influence.  You always see movies of people who hate us and they are the enemy, but maybe this is because we have too much power (in military and such).

Going back to the Ken Jennings book, maybe if we knew more about other countries (he gives examples that the majority of us don’t), we’d be less likely to go to war with them.  That may be why some of them hate us.  Then we wouldn’t need to spend billions on the military if we had more knowledge of the other cultures in this world besides what we see on TV or the movies.

Of course, we don’t exactly go to war with everyone, but I’ve heard that we have military bases everywhere.  So therefore, we’re like monitoring everyone and maybe because we spend so much time (ie money) patrolling everyone we don’t really pay attention to more important things like education, culture, (and food!).


tongue tastesSo in case you don’t know, the taste buds are sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and we have been introduced to a new one in the past century called umami.  I didn’t know what umami was (I thought it meant spicy for awhile), but looked it up and it describes a pleasant savory taste.  It describes a lot of foods, like breast milk, cheese, beans, grains, green tea, and Japanese foods.

So if these are the only taste buds, they don’t really cover all the foods we have, do they?  I mean meat doesn’t really fall under any of these does it?  Maybe umami covers it, but since umami was only found 100 years ago, it must be under some other taste bud, or mixture of sweet and salty or something.


It seems odd that we have a whole taste bud for salt, when salt use is usually (or supposed to be) minimal.  Maybe because we over salt our french fries or soups or whatever, people think we have a taste bud for it.  And who really eats sour foods?  Those are only citrus fruits or really disgusting candy.  The more I think about it, the more the umami taste bud seems to cover more than we think it does.

So, if we really do have all these taste buds, maybe because we have the salty and sweet ones right on the tip of our tongue, maybe that’s why we’re so attracted to salty and sweet foods.  The umami taste bud seems to cover the whole tongue, and doesn’t seem as overpowering as the other ones.  Maybe that’s the way food should be.

However, I am reading a book about the science of cheese, and the author goes into detail about the senses.  Taste isn’t just the be all end all to food.  Appearance, aroma, flavor, sound, and texture all come into play when eating food.  Some of those aspects surprise me, such as appearance and sound, but they shouldn’t because being in the business of food in this country is so competitive, everything matters.

If you notice on the picture, there’s a big spot right in the middle.  I wonder if this is the umami taste bud?  Maybe nobody knows what this is.  Any guesses out there?











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