Coffee & Strawberries

Just watched the documentary “Black Gold” with members of the Community Alliance for Global Justice. It’s a documentary that focuses on the injustices of current world trade practices and the resulting squeezing of prices on coffee farmers in Ethiopia (not to mention other parts of the world). Despite how we spend $2/cup for coffee in the US, an Ethiopian farmer may make as little as 12 cents/kg of coffee beans; that’s well less than what families need for a decent standard of living.

For all those who love and drink coffee on a regular basis, it’s well worth watching. There is a large disconnect between how coffee is perceived and glamorized in the US and what is happening at the raw stages of the product… any bit of education on the matter goes a long away. I hope to continue to educate myself on the matter, especially on the debates surrounding Fair Trade certification. It seems that the debates share similarities to the Organic Certification vs. Agro-ecological approaches to food production.

I really love it here. If anything, I’ve begun to view Seattle as an extension of a type of global “soul searching” that began when I started heavily studying Sociology. I started taking a special interest in the sociology of development and my interests have since transformed into a general appreciation of the debates and research surrounding international development topics. I believe that Seattle will be a manifestation of my own personal pursuit of a lifestyle that is in tune with my intellectual beliefs. There is something magnificent about community supported agriculture and agro-ecological produce — not just in America, but all over the world. The value-system upon which it’s founded (that is, introducing TRANSPARENCY and CONSUMER KNOWLEDGE) is very important to me.

On that note, here are some pictures of a small container garden that Mitch and I have started. The container is basically a homemade self-watering container, which is effectively modeled after the EarthBox. Supplies were purchased for quite cheap at the nearby Home Depot.

So far we just have strawberries, but soon we’ll have other produce such as onions, tomatoes, and carrots. I am also hoping to start a pot for herbs so I can have an endless supply of fresh basil mmm 🙂

– Rowena


May 1, 2010 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment


What I love about Seattle (and cooking for that matter) is that I have experienced a lot of “firsts” in these past few weeks. Perhaps it is that I have far too much time on my hands, but lately I’ve just been itching to try new things and familiarize myself with different cooking techniques.

We went for a little swim into sort-of Italian cooking, inspired by Mitch’s love for pizza and my own love for Macaroni Grill’s rosemary bread.

1. First time making ‘za. It’s a margherita pizza with green peppers and lots of mushrooms. Basil added after this picture was taken.  We’ve learned that the water really ought to be pretty hot when mixing it with yeast.
2. Rosemary bread, stolen from Macaroni Grill… best appetizer bread ever.  One of the loaves turned out funny because we took it out too early.  This one turned out awesome.
3. Eggplant Parmigiana. How can you go wrong with the ingredients of eggplant, mozzarella cheese, and basil?

Now I find myself interested in getting involved with Middle Eastern cuisine. Last night, we made Imam Bayildi, a delicious Turkish dish made of eggplant – probably the best thing we’ve made so far. According to the internet, there are many variations of the traditional way to make it.  For our Imam Bayildi, I combined several recipes together and stir-fried the eggplant with onion, garlic, tomato, green pepper, and parsley, topped it with sliced cherry tomatoes, then drizzled it with honey and balsamic vinegar before finally baking it.

We had it with vegetable couscous, a very fun thing to eat. They remind me of mini tapioca pearls.

(On a side note, I’m really glad that bubble tea is very accessible in the city!)

I’ve been searching around online for popular cookbooks and came across Claudia Roden, a cookbook writer who specializes on Middle Eastern cooking. Apparently she’s like the Julia Child of Middle Eastern food? Hopefully I can check out her work pretty soon.

– Rowena

April 29, 2010 at 5:03 pm Leave a comment

Seattle – greener than ever

I decided to rehash this old journal (which never took off in Singapore!) and convert it into a cooking blog so I can show my mom and rest of family what I’ve been cooking.  Mitch and I just moved into an apartment in Shoreline, Washington.  Today is Wednesday.  We moved in on Monday, and we have already made several delicious meals.  Here are a few dinners and desserts that I’d like to share to start this off.  The recipes to these dishes were found in the Featherstone Farm Cookbook (compiled by the Mi Ae Lipe community supported agriculture (CSA) in Minnesota).

1. This is an arugula salad with endives and radicchio. On top is a mixture of mushrooms fried with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then flavored with a hint of rosemary. The olive oil/balsamic vinegar sauce also serves as a dressing for this salad. Finally, the salad is topped with large shavings of Parmesan cheese which melts on top of the cooked mushrooms.

This turned out really well! But to be honest I’ve never made a salad with any of those leafy vegetables before, so the flavors were new and took a bit of getting used to. I really like them now. The mushroom combined with the dressing was really.really.good.

2. Next we have a layered strawberry shortcake! The strawberries are organic (only organic was offered at Shoreline Central Market where we bought our groceries…there is a huge market for organic/organically grown produce here). Also, it took a long time to beat the whipping cream. Gonna need to buy an electric hand mixture.

The best part of this dessert, in my opinion, were the strawberries. Side note: We just planted three different types of Northwestern strawberries in a homemade self-watering container –google to find out what that is. I am hoping that my mom will be able to have some strawberries when she comes to visit in a month!!!

3. The last I’d like to share is a dish made from basmati rice boiled in vegetable stock, paprika spice, onions, and olive oil. Mushrooms and broccoli are added, and the dish is sprinkled with Parmesan. I had to try some new techniques for this dish. For instance, I’ve never “blanched” broccoli before (as the recipe calls), but I decided to give it a try. To be honest, I’m still not sure what that did.

This dish was super tasty, but a bit on the salty side. I would have been good without adding salt in addition to the stock…. next time I’ll remember.

I’m getting pretty caught up in the “green”-ness of this place. Everybody likes to recycle. One thing that I’ve started to do is compost food scraps. We started a small bucket (to go on our big patio), which is filled with vegetable peelings, parts of fruits that we didn’t (e.g. the leaves on a strawberry and banana peels), egg shells, and coffee grounds. These scraps are then covered with dirt and it’ll all sit for a while to decompose. We are hoping to use the composted dirt for current or future gardening foods to return the organic nutrients back to the soil.

Despite all this, I’m already missing my mom’s food. I was looking at photos of my dad’s birthday party… the food looks amazing. I am going to need to start making Filipino food soon too!

Also I’m excited to trade recipes with her. She’s already sent me some links which I will need to take a look at and try, and I am planning to send her recipes to these foods as I make them, too.

Until next time,

April 21, 2010 at 1:03 pm 2 comments


With some calm moments to spare, I’d like to acknowledge that I am indeed officially embedded in the student lifestyle here at NTU.  I sit now in the Lee Wee Nam Library in the Northern Complex having just finished my tutorial for Economy and Society.  Later in the afternoon, I will have two more classes, both for my Aerospace technical electives – one on rotorcraft systems (helicopters) and another on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  Both are currently taught by a very amicable professor, called “Spot”, who uses PowerPoint to a far more useful degree than at my home university.

To sum it up, the courses I will be taking are…

Aerospace Engineering:  Rotorcraft Systems; UAVs
History:  Modern Southeast Asia
Sociology:  Science, Technology and Society; Economy and Society

At the academic level, differences are noticeable.  We started school on Monday, and already students are studying their first lectures notes.  Surely many were not required to go to tutorial (it’s uncommon for the first week), and judging by the types of lecture slides I saw displayed on the computer around me, it seems that studying is a diligent process that continues throughout the semester.  (However, perhaps this is simply “library culture”.)  I was, furthermore, pleased to find that many students in my tutorial – like me – enjoy the effects of a highlighter in studying sociological articles.  From my personal experience, this kind of devotion to the details of a social science is what lacks in 200-level courses at a state university in the United States.  The emphasis on discussion in social issues (especially pertaining to technology and economy) is also refreshing.  We’ll see where these observations lead to.

Rest assured, I am very pleased with my choice in coursework and university.  As the Aerospace Engineering program is very young at NTU, this is the first semester in which both classes are offered.   For the UAV class, the university here is playing catch up with other universities in Asia, that is, trying to understand 2009 technology with the experience of people from 1985 (when modern UAVs began developing).   As Professor Spot put it, “But we’re Singapore, so we can do it faster than them!”  I’m very eager to learn how the industry in Asia competes and references the one in the US.  Even better, these classes will indeed prepare me for my senior design project coming up in the Fall Semester of 2009 at ISU.

The courses in Social Sciences are ones that I’m excited to take, merely for the unique perspectives gained and the unique subjects (ones not offered at ISU).  In Modern Southeast Asia, I’ve sat next to my friend Roselle, a Filipina.  It’s the first time that I’ve ever sat next to a Filipino who has not emigrated from the country.  I’m quite excited for this reason alone!  Already in the class I’ve heard perspectives from her, a Vietnamese girl, and Singaporeans about Southeast Asia.  Having cultural and social ties to the region, the course will undoubtedly leave me with experience to reference in years to come.

The sociology courses, applied to my minor at ISU, are unique because they are both subjects that tend to be undermined in the social sciences back home.  Coming from one of the more controversial engineering disciplines, I think it will do me well to take the course on Science and Technology.  Emphasis will be placed on how technoscience (as the combination may be called) is determined by society… that is, how do we come to understand, accept, and use certain sciences/technology?

The last class, focused on Economic Sociology, is intriguing to me because it criticizes the classical economic phenomenon of the “economic man” that behaves in “purely economic ways”, taking into account the many social, political and religious forces at work… that have changed over time.  Sociology courses at ISU tend to focus on interpersonal and intergroup relations, breezing over economic ideas.   In a society largely driven by global forces and institutions (like the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and governments), these studies become especially important.

Now that I’ve exhausted the topic of academia, I’ll now leave to go grab some lunch at Canteen B.  The Food is another entry in itself  🙂

With friendship,

January 8, 2009 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

Spitting is Illegal

Today is Tuesday, January 6th.  Yesterday was our first day of class.  I had only one class, and it was hardly more than an introduction, but I still enjoyed it very much.  The professor is extremely accomplished, and he seems quite laid back, however the best part of class happened afterwards when a bunch of Singapore students unexpectedly approached Rowena and I, and two other exchange students from New York, to welcome us to Singapore and to the Aerospace Program.   We stayed around after class for nearly a half hour asking questions of each other before exchanging contact info (we’re now best of friends on facebook).

But outside of specific events there is perhaps a better glimpse of the experience.  I told a few people before I left that I expected things to be quite different, and was therefore excited to find out how similar things are.  I certainly don’t mean to take away from the differences in cultures.  Singapore is incredibly rich in culture from all over the world.  However, I forget that spitting is illegal.  As far as day-to-day living goes, it’s been quite similar.  I live in a dorm, I have a roommate, we each have our own space.  I go to class each day, and afterwards I socialize with friends.  In the Netherlands, I was really shocked when I arrived at the train station in Delft and saw the enormous amounts of bicycles locked up around the station, which turned out to be minuscule compared to the number outside the station in Amsterdam.

Here, however, things seem more subtle.  I very recently had a conversation with my friend Eddie.  He asked “is it true that its litter free?”.  It’s not.  But litter is scarce, and when there is some, you see it right away.  It seems out of place and you ask yourself “what’s that and what is it doing there?”.  In contrast, I distinctly remember the subway systems in Washington D.C. being quite clean.  Here, litter sticks out whereas in the US, the lack of litter is memorable.

I’ll end on that encouraging realization because as my friends and family in the US are getting ready for supper, I’m getting closer and closer to missing breakfast.


January 5, 2009 at 7:51 pm Leave a comment

Introduction – still in the States

Having met each other while on study abroad in the Netherlands, the lasting effects of our experiences now manifest in the following ways:  conversation with one other and the other Iowa Staters, catching up with friends from across the sea, photos/videos that are quite tangible in our hard drives, the manner in which we meet people today, the ways we are able to apply our self-proclaimed Dutch pride in other matters of our lives, and of course within our own fond memories.

Our experiences (and therefore memories) were linked the moment we began discussing coffee on our first walk with the rest of the ISU students around Delft.  Nice to meet you, nice to meet you, we said to each other.  And then little things began happening to shape our friendship.

Like that time my fuse blew out, and I had to borrow a new one from both Rob and Mitch, who – having arrived a couple weeks earlier than the rest of the students in my year – had already experienced the same issue.  Or that time when Mitch helped carry my luggage up three flights of stairs. Or that time when I had a bowel ailment for a whole week and Mitch helped me take the tram to the faraway Dutch doctor.  Then were those countless mornings of French Press coffee!  Biking in the rain with the others!  Meeting Europeans, having dinners and cheese&wine parties, biking to the beach with friends, sharing beer with others at the local “international bar”, laughing with our Dutch counterparts in Aerospace Engineering…

Despite these shared experiences, we’ve remembered these situations in very different ways.  Our backgrounds have allowed for unique interpretations of the same six months… that’s how it usually goes, right?  Of course we also met our own groups of people, became better friends with some over others, and on many occasions went to separate events.  By this reason, our experiences had to be different.  At the end, however, we were good friends that reconvened over breakfast almost every other day.  Faces and places were connected.

So here we are doing the study abroad thing all over again – in Singapore this time! – but we’re trying something different!  Rather than wish to goodness we’d documented more the first time around, we’re now going to record our history as we learn from new people.   Stay tuned, it’ll be fun  🙂

With friendship,

November 30, 2008 at 12:56 am Leave a comment


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