Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hmm Smells like Home…It Really Does!

I am not sure if I should either be proud or embarrassed to say it. Ok, Ok, I will say it. Despite of my late initiation, I am too happy to not share my joy:  “I made “Sancocho de Gallina!”  =) =)  Well, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is right? What is that anyway?   Ha, ha.  Let me explain.  This delicious “Hen Stew/Soup” is one, if not the most typical dish served in the region I am from in Colombia: Valle del Cauca.  Actually, this is a very popular dish whose aroma often fills many kitchens and hearts across Central, South-America and the Caribbean.  However, the recipe varies according to the country.  In Colombia specifically, the recipe varies depending on the region as well.  It can be done with different meats, beef, fish, etc.  But in Valle del Cauca, Sancocho is made with hen, thus the name.  

Our first "Sancochito" ..Mind you, portions are served normally 3 times this size in Colombia. We just left it up to our guests if they wanted seconds. So Yummy! =)

Of course the most common question I get when I say this is:  so “What’s the difference between a hen and chicken?  I actually had to look it up, as I really didn’t think about it as they always looked different when I saw mom cooking it at home.  Basically, a hen is an older female chicken old enough to lay eggs.  Hens are normally fed differently from chickens as they’re not raised to be sold massively like chickens.  That’s the reason they’re bigger, their meat tastes different and has a different texture.


The rest of the goodies. Sancochos are normally served with rice, aji and patacon pisao. I made small tostadas and served ropa vieja, frijoles and maduritos instead. YUMMO!

So, if you ever are a tourist in the South west region of Colombia make sure that you try this soup.  Actually the most popular small town in the area to try the best “Sancocho” is Ginebra, Valle del Cauca. -Try the link to get a taste of some of its looks and idiosyncrasies and how Colombia folk music sounds like.  ;)  If you ever go, promise you’ll have a blast seeing this picturesque destination with its dozens of restaurants decorated in all the colors and styles that you can imagine.  From modern to deeply traditional they all try to talk your emotional language to lure you in and try their Sancocho.  One good thing, you can’t go wrong. They’re all good!  I know this is already on my destination list next time we visit home with my new family. Hopefully soon! =)

The men couldn't wait to jump to the feast! ..Specially Garrick! =)

Yummy mommie, do they have Sancocho Yogurt? =)

Now, you probably also wondered why would I be embarrassed right?  Well, because this is actually the first time that I made it, and coming from a home where cooking was such a big deal, I kind of had a late initiation on the cooking trade.  I know it took me longer than usual to actually get the baton.  I’m pretty sure most Colombian females get the first Sancocho under their belt waaay before I did (Not guessing of my age here ok!).  =P Actually I think that making Sancocho, is one of those rituals that families pass from one generation to another.  I really don’t know why that transition was not completed in my family earlier.  Maybe I had a hidden trauma from the first time I saw mom in action making one?  And I mean cooking, including the very beginning which includes the chasing, killing and feather plucking of the animal! -That’s how it’s done in the country areas of Colombia. =o0 Anyway, now I laugh about it, but at that time I was terrified!  But I have to admit that I really don’t think that is what held me from doing it.  Actually now I wish my HOA would let me have some chickens.  Sancochos made with free range hens are actually the best.  It’s said that they’re fed specially to give their meat a special flavor.  Even though I don’t think I would ever get the same flavor Colombian free range hens, aka, “Gallinas Criollas” have. Even if I get it to be bilingual!  I would never be able to feed them with the foods they can get in Colombia. Neither will I be able to surround them with the views and aromas that they can only enjoy while being in the small towns that blossom like flowers all over the Andes.

Going thru the dishes and explaining what was what..

Making tostadas...pictures are courtesy of my friend Katie from "A Couple of dreamers"..isn't she good? You should check her blog out! it's really good! =)

You can also get Sancocho de Gallina in the cities, but the experience will probably be, I guess, more sophisticated. Nonetheless, if you don’t ever get to go, don’t fret.  If you keep in touch and are good to us, you can always get it at our house.. We love having friends over!  There are a lot of beautiful stories that make up the collage of memories surrounding the cooking of this soup among Hispanic households and gatherings:  From mischievous children giving grandpa a hard time while “mama” cooks, to little kids helping mom to peel the garlic cloves, from making the cooking a whole family affair by the side of the river on an improvised "Fogon" or cooking bon-fire made with rocks and coals, to the grandma that would not allow anybody else in the kitchen..(Chuckles..)  So many fragrant memories! Even though it took me a while to actually try the recipe on my own, I was delighted by not only reminiscing my own family collage, but also by putting the first picture in the one we are currently working on. I hope well get to impregnate many of those pictures with the smell of home.
.the one that resides overseas, but in our heart from the past and the one that we are building now.

Now, if you read my story all the way to here, let me tell you that I like you very much. So as a token of my appreciation I am going to share the recipe with you. It’s really not difficult. So, if you ever want to bring the Colombian gastronomy to your kitchen and family memories, give it a try.  Let me know how it goes.  Enjoy!

(From the Bushes Kitchen and my mom’s heart)


12 cups of water
1 fresh big Hen (Easier to get on Hispanic Markets. You may have to skin it and cut it in pieces at home)
2 cubes of chicken stock or replace 4 cups of water with chicken broth
2 big green plantains, peeled and cut into .3 to 2 inch pieces . (The thicker their skin the better, I like to cut them into .3 inch pieces)
1 fresh peeled yucca, cut in 2 inch pieces
3 ears fresh corn cut into 3 pieces
6 medium size potatoes (peeled and cut in thirds)
½ cup of fresh coarsely chopped cilantro
1 bunch of culantro
1 bunch of green onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Hogao or sofrito with no tomato, achiote, tumeric or saffron (See recipe below)


1.      In a large pot, place the hen, with 2 green onion sticks. Add water and salt and cook on low-    med heat until water is about to start boiling (Approx 40 min)
2.      Add plantains and let cook for 10 minutes
3.      Add potatoes, yucca, corn and culantro and let it cook for another 30 minutes (I tie a bit    of  thread to the culantro to get it out of the soup when it’s done)
4.      Add Hogao, lower heat and let it simmer for another 30 min.
5.      Taste and adjust the seasoning
6.      Add the cilantro 5 minutes before serving
7.      Add slices of avocado and serve with white rice as a side.
8.      Sancochos are normally served with “Aji” which is a type of Colombian chili. I truly love it!


Hogao is a basic Colombian condiment and it varies from home to home. You can experiment with the quantities and adding or leaving off ingredients until you make it your own. I normally use saffron or turmeric but some people substitute with Sazon Goya. I don’t as I try to avoid additives. However, I don’t use any of the three for Sancocho as I like to keep the color more greenish than reddish. So for Sancocho,  in lieu of those I add 2 finely chopped sticks of green onion. Ok here it goes:

2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper (about 1/3 cup finely chopped)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tbs of Cumin
1 tbs azafran, turmeric or Achiote (saffron)
Salt and pepper to taste

Just heat the oil on a medium size skillet. Add all the ingredients and cook over medium heat until all the ingredients are soft and fragrant. Some people add chopped cilantro and pepper, but I don’t. Remove from heat and let cool. Hogao can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Time: One of the "Bestest" Gifts

So I walked slowly thru the exhibitions, making sure that all my senses feasted slowly on all the color and beauty smothering every stop. With the exception of the heat, -which I really shouldn’t complain about as it made the colors brighter and the atmosphere more festive- It was an absolutely beautiful day.  I really enjoy arts and crafts festivals.  They’re actually one of my favorite events. I truly like seeing how emotions and ideas are introduced into the physical realm through such clever and lovely ways. It actually makes me think about the wonderful gift of creativity  we have received from our Creator. Isn’t it awesome? He always gives us wonderful gifts!  And on that day, while walking through a jungle of tangible dreams and memories He gave me a present –Actually a mother’s day present. One that was more precious than any other item I could’ve gotten from the festival. Let me share it with you.

What a wonderful wood-craftsmanship!..the whole piece was carved out of  a single trunk..beautiful!

As I walked through the festival, I actually saw a few pieces of art  here and there that reminded me of how much I wanted to not really buy something like that, but actually do it myself. If you ever visited my home before I married, you  noticed that there were actually very few pieces of art hanging on the walls. There were just three charcoal sketches that I made over 15 years ago hanging on the living room and one more cross stitched design hanging at the entry way. The reason for the wall baldness?  My desire to be the one who painted or crafted the pieces versus the issue of time scarcity compounded by my cuasi obsession with over-commitment. In simpler words,  my self-created lack of time. 

Since I came to the US over 10 years ago, my schedule and calendar have always looked like the Timesquare intersection in New York, with more activities and to do items than what you can imagine.  This picture actually reminds me of a good lesson I learned recently regarding “White Space”, which has become a staple at home and one my husband’s favorite cravings.   According to the teacher, successful companies like Google and Apple, apply this concept to their marketing strategies, believing that people are attracted to simple, clean ads full of “white space” instead of the “car dealership” type of ads full of information.  That is so true. Have you noticed?  People normally just pass over that kind of input overload to avoid the waste of energy to process all the unnecessary information. Instead, for example, we are drawn to sleek and clean ads.  They just make you feel relaxed instead of prompting anxiety, or to others it’s just cool, right?  The application of this concept he said, is that people need “White Space” in their schedules to be devoted to be spontaneous, more aware and rested. I think that was such a great idea.  But don’t ask me about the implementation at that time.  It really didn't down on me until walking through the festival.

              See mommy, Daddy always takes his TIME to play silly games with me....he, he..

I know I am not the only one that suffers of self-created lack of time. This is such a universal and human issue. It seems like almost everybody suffers of this ailment. But on that day while walking through the exhibitions I was confronted with the fact that it is imperative that I not only acknowledge my problem, but also do something about it; as now in contrast to years before, I am not the only one suffering the consequences, but also the people that I love the most in the world, specially my husband and now my son. I know I sound kind of melancholic, but believe me this realization was such a great and timely present for me.

    He takes his time to show me the world!...

I remember this question popping on my head continuously on that day: “So why haven’t you hung any painting in your walls?. Of course the answer sounded so simple, that you would doubt any of its spiritual connotations: “Because I haven’t had time”. Such a common, and sadly overused answer.  But don’t even think for a moment that the Lord was encouraging me to start adding another activity like painting or crafting to my already busy schedule. He was bringing my heart to a place where I could realize that I need, my family needs, more of my time. And by this I mean, time where I am intentional to create an environment that fosters our enjoyment of each other, without regard for artificial formulas or rigorous planning.  This was especially liberating for me as for first time in my life I enter the summer season as a mother. And the only way I can think of to describe how I felt after browsing a magazine to check on summer activities for children is this: “Buried under an avalanche after opening that door-closet.” I know, I probably interpreted this through my prism of “weariness” after a spring season full of baby development classes, Gymborees, mom’s clubs, miles driven, etc. -Now, I don’t want you to think that I am completely against planning activities or sharing with our friends and community. I know that this is a important part of a healthy lifestyle. But as big "hearted" mothers, so easily drawn to enjoy giving of ourselves and continuous interaction with multiple groups of people, we have to learn to draw the line. I was reminded on that day to draw lines, just as you do when you draw a sketch.  I was reminded that the creation of a piece of art requires time.  And these very words were the words mom used many years ago to question me about what kind of painting I was making of my life.  She said:  “Every stroke counts, so you better chose your colors wisely and enjoy the process”.

 Time? What is that Momma? Can I mouth it? =P

So this was my mother’s day gift: I was reminded that the bestest gift I can give to my family and my son is MY TIME. My simple, pure and unadulterated time. No preservatives added. No signing up for any summer programs for us.  Instead, time to look at each other in the eye, be silly, sing out of tune, be spontaneous and enjoy our days and learn together at our leisure. What a great time we had on that art festival. We really didn't buy anything, but I left with the satisfying feeling of having gotten a great deal. I actually did!  I got it for free, and it was so satisfying!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On How Breastfeeding Nursed Me

No, this post is not about how breastfeeding strengthened the wonderful bond between my son and I. That could probably be the subject for another post, even though, I suspect that you all have heard enough about it. Nonetheless I have to take a moment to let you know that I solemnly declared myself a passionate advocate of nursing. Yes the kind that you see nursing in all sorts of places like the back of her car, a restaurant, a class, etc...  And yes, the kind that some look at, like “What in the world..?”...but many others, now more and more look at with such respect and tenderness...After all it’s not in vain that at some point of our nursing journey my husband started calling me “wonder woman”. Yes, that’s true, but the kind that instead of wearing a superhero cape wears a nursing cover! =). 
However, I have to be honest with you and tell you that this “title” didn’t “happen” until later in our breastfeeding experience. Actually starting was not easy. Not easy at all. It was physically painful and required a lot of time and persistence. However, I don’t regret one bit of it and I am very grateful for how much I learned about mothering through sacrifice and how much intimacy I developed with my son, Garrick.  So I wholeheartedly encourage all expectant mothers to nurse if you can! Even if it’s painful at the beginning. There is so much help available! -To name a couple of my favorite sites: Kellymom.com or lalecheleague.com. Don’t be shy to look for it. I promise, I promise, I promise, it gets better with time and you will never regret it! You can do it for a little or long as you want and both your baby and yourself will get so much out of it!

"Daddy also gets to nurse..in his own, unique way.." =)

Ok, with this said, let me get to the heart of how I got nursed thru breastfeeding. I think it would help if I tell you that nursing, for me, has been, on top of everything else, a spiritual experience.  Through it, the Lord has revealed himself to me as “My Ultimate Provider” like never before.  To be honest with you this word “provider” is such a churchy word, and is used so often in religious circles that it’s very often taken for granted. Actually, I think this may happen more often in countries like the U.S where we live. We are so infinitely blessed, that when we thank God for his provision, we are referring for the most part to those things that we could really do without, but we have grown so used to needing:  popularity, a best friend, a nicer car, a better figure, a brighter brain, a better income, etc.  A good way to put it is how Francis Chan said in his book, “Forgotten God”, which I highly recommend:  “We hardly ever find ourselves in situations where we really, really need God’s provision because we live such safe and insured lives!”  If you’re not  part of the small segment of the population that have gone through a very critical health situation or life crisis, to whom my heart goes out, when was the last time that you asked God to provide a place for you to sleep that night or a meal to eat? I am part of that small group of people in the world that can’t remember to have ever done it. Believe me it’s not a memory loss problem. It has never happen. What a blessing! However, in some instances, what a curse! I know, I know, that’s a strong word.  By now you’re probably turning skeptical about these write up. But just let me explain briefly what I mean. I am not against being fiscally responsible, looking after our family welfare and wanting the best for ourselves and beloved ones. But when these wants set us in a path that make us put all these things as the top priority of our lives, and therefore our time, money, and mental and emotional energy and even our prayers are mostly devoted to it, then I think we can miss the greater blessings that are only possible after knowing God as our truly provider, and not ourselves. And I think that not knowing God as He wants us to know Him is a curse. After all His word says that Eternal life is all about that, about getting to know Him.

"He nurses me with lessons on the masculine, adventurous side of life"

Ok, now let me tell you how I got from nursing to lifestyle comparisons. Throughout my nursing experience I remembered an old lesson on the meaning of God’s name:  “El Shaddai “. For those of you who don’t know, the first word “El” is indicative of the greatness of God’s power. And the second word “Shaddai” is derived from a word that means “breast”, which implies “one who nourishes, supplies and satisfies.”  So God wants and intends to provide abundantly and most satisfactorily to us and He is the only one who has the power to do just that.  It wasn’t until I went through the experience of nursing my baby that I was able to understand how He wants to provide the very best for me, and just what I truly need, in the same way my breast milk is the best food I can provide for my baby and the one that is the most satisfying for him. Every time that Garrick cried, and I knew he just needed me to feed him, I was delighted to be able to respond to his need. (Of course, the delight didn’t really start until he was able to sleep thru the night), But I knew that his need of me was a life sustaining matter. And every time that I have been able to respond to his need,  his delighted face while nursing was such a clear picture of “how” much God desires me to need Him, and how much power he has to truly satiate my true needs. Furthermore, even the first month of suffering while I was getting started, those first weeks so full of sleep deprivation and physical pain and exhaustion when I didn’t even have energy to face the world were also very revealing on how God gave Himself to provide salvation for me.  So that is the spiritual truth he nursed my spirit with. That’s how He nursed me while I breastfed Garrick, or better I should say that’s how He revealed His ongoing nursing me. Because, in contrast to what we mothers, sooner or later do, He never weans me. El Shaddai never weans us!
So I leave you with these questions that I asked myself after considering what I just shared with you: Do you really need God? Would taken God out of the picture of your life make a real, noticeable difference? Could others notice if He weren’t part of your life? Are you relying on Him or yourself to satisfy your needs? When was the last time that you examined what you normally crave for and how does that align with what the Lord wants you to?
Believe me I wasn’t totally happy with my answers. But thanks God for his transforming, ever faithful and empowering grace!