Haiti Inspired- Girl Meets Boy

When I first signed up to do Project Food Blog, I decided it’d be fun to do the challenges whether I was in the competition or not. The whole point is to challenge yourself in the kitchen, right? So official challenge or not, here I come.

husband

Have I ever told you that the year I met my husband I’d sworn off men? Let’s face it, they were no good: the either lived with their mommas, had no ambitions, or were just plain dirt bags.

So imagine my interest when I’m at a party and some fraternity boy walks up to me and starts talking about who knows what…None. No interest. I couldn’t have cared less.

There I am, sitting in a filthy boy-infested house pretending to look mildly interested and not listening to a word this kid was saying. Then one phrase managed to actually get through to me.. “when I was in Haiti”.

Suddenly, against every desire I had, I couldn’t help but listen. I’d spent the summer volunteering in the Dominican Republic (Haiti’s sister country that makes up the island Hispaniola) and it was near and dear to my heart.

To this day, I still can’t tell you anything else the boy said to me that night, but I can tell you that’s the only reason I continued the conversation with him. Fast forward more than 5 years later and we’re still together. All because of a little bond over the tiny nation of Hispaniola.

We even have a little Haitian carved man guarding our front door!

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When I read the second Project Food Blog challenge was to take a chance at making some ethnic cuisine outside your comfort zone, I skipped over the obvious Italian, Chinese, and French food and landed right on Haiti.

Even though the Dominican Republic and Haiti share a long border, their food and cultures have their own distinctions. I knew about the Dominican’s- it was time to let the husband relieve Haiti’s.

I wasn’t going to make rice and beans- I mean, that’s easy, right? But that’s the country’s staple dish. I couldn’t make a truly authentic meal without serving rice and beans. So rice & beans it was- but I made sure to make them Haitian style- no quick fix meal here.

Along with the rice & beans I made fried plantains- something the husband’s talked about since I’ve known him, and a typical Haitian bread.

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Haitian Rice & Red Beans (Riz et Pois Rouges)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

1 small chile pepper, chopped

1 T chopped scallion

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup rice, uncooked

2 cans (15 ounces each) kidney beans, drained

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon oregano

¼ teaspoon thyme

¼ teaspoon rosemary

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

2½ cups boiling water

Sauté the onion, peppers, and garlic in oil until just beginning to soften. Combine dry rice, kidney beans, and pepper mixture. Stir in spices and scallions. Place in large baking dish and cover with boiling water. Cook at 350 for 55-60 minutes, until water is absorbed.

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Between chopping onions and spicy peppers, it was a feat in itself to get these guys sliced without cutting myself or rubbing the oil in my eyes, but I managed to persevere. 😉

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Until the pan they go for just a few minutes.

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Once they’ve softened up and are turning translucent, you know they’re done.

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Against every urge I had to cook the rice first, I stuck with tradition and mixed it into the kidney beans.

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In went the spices. The spices are what made the difference in this dish. I will be forever adding ground clove to my rice and beans from now on.

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Once the rice and beans were mixed together, it started to look good. I was getting hungry but I couldn’t sneak a taste because the rice wasn’t cooked. Well, I could have but I probably would’ve broke a tooth or two.

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I cringed as I covered my creation in hot water (and yes, I spilled the boiling water all over myself). I never said I was coordinated.

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Into the oven it went, fingers crossed the rice would cook and the water would magically disappear…

Next up, bread!

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Haitian Bread (Pain Haitien)

2 packages active dry yeast

1½ cups warm water

¼ cup honey

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 cups flour

¼ teaspoon instant coffee

2 Tablespoons milk

Add yeast to warm water and set aside. Combine flour, honey, salt, oil, and nutmeg. Stir in water/yeast combo and beat together until lumps are smooth. Knead dough until elastic and smooth, then set aside to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Spread dough into large, flat baking dish (such as 9 x 13 pan). Score the dough in 2 inch squares. Mix together instant coffee and milk, and brush across top of dough. Cook at 350 for 30 minutes or until surface turns golden brown.

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Two packets is a lot of yeast for just 4 cups of flour, but I went with it- and boy did it bubble!

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It’s a pretty simple dough: flour, nutmeg, salt, and honey.

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Mixed with the water and yeast to get the start of a dough.

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In just a few kneads, the above sticky mess turned into the gorgeous dough ball below. No matter how much bread I bake, this is the part that always amazing me.

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A little while later…

Remember how much yeast there was? Goodness that dough rose!!

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After working the dough into a rectangle in the pan, and trying to make nice, clean score marks (have you ever tried to cut sticky dough?) I brushed the top with a glaze of milk and instant coffee.

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Then the bread joined the rice and beans in the oven so they’d come out at the same time.

Now the really fun part.

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Fried Plantains (Bannann Peze)

Vegetable oil

Green plantains

Slice plantains on an angle, about 3/4 of inch thick. Heat oil in large iron skillet until sizzling. Cook plantains in hot oil, about 2 minutes on each side or until slightly brown. Drain on a paper towel. Using the bottom of a glass, flatten each plantain slice and return to hot oil. Cook each side again for about 1 minute, until golden brown and crispy. Serve hot.

Fried plantains. I didn’t even know you could buy plantains in North Carolina until I went on a hunt for them. But sure enough, there they were with dates and the spiky melon I never know what to do with.

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Now, you would think this would be the easy part. All you do is cut up the plantain and toss it in the oil.

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Well. I’ve never fried anything. Ever. *Enter irrational fear of spraying hot oil here.*

I have to say, it was less traumatizing than I thought, but I did learn an important lesson.

Ready for it?

Don’t stick your fingers in the hot oil.

Umm yeah.

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(I ended keeping the ice cube with me next to the stove. You know, just in case….)

Besides that, it wasn’t as hard as I thought to make a yummy double-fried plantain. And before you get all in hissy about me double frying my fruit, listen up: if you fry at a hot enough temperature the food doesn’t absorb much oil! Plus, it’s still fruit inside. 😉

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Anything that has “smash” in the directions is good with me- it makes cooking more fun. 😉

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It worked!! These were so yummy right out of the pan… the husband’s lucky any made it on his plate.

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By this time, timers and beeps were going off everywhere: the beans and bread were done!

Look, Ma! No water! Magic.

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And ooh did that bread smell good when I opened the oven door- you could smell the honey and the nutmeg wafted off of the pan.

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My Haitian meal, ready to dig in.

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I loved it! Now I want to go to Haiti to see how I did. 😉 The husband said it was spot on & brought the memories of his trip flooding back.

(But who knows, he has the memory of a goldfish. He’s just happy there’s food on his plate.)

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The main dish was like rice & beans meets jambalya- you could taste the Creole influence in the spices. The bread would be delicious with any meal- or just on it’s own. Lightly, fluffy, and a little sweet & spicy from the honey and nutmeg.

I hated it, clearly.

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And with that, Haiti, I’d like to thank you for single handedly making me not brush off the man that I’m now happily married to. (And for making me eat my words that all men are dirt. There’s a few good ones out there;))

What’s ethnic cuisine are you scared of cooking? How did you meet your significant other if you have one?

Everything I Ever Knew About Bikes

…I didn’t learn in kindergarten.

I’m currently on my bike right now (if all is going well), with just a few hours left to go of 24 Hours of Booty!

I’m not a biker by nature. I was always a runner- until the day I couldn’t run any more. Though I didn’t really want to, I got on my bike for the first time in years and found a new way to get around. While it’ll never be the same as running for me, I’m glad I’ve found an alternative to keep me moving.

ride a bike

I didn’t know much about biking (I mean, I believed the bike shop when they told me a hybrid bike was great for racing…bahhhaha), so I’ve learned a lot along the way.

I thought I’d leave you with a collection of some of my best biking knowledge, whether you race, ride for fun, or are just thinking about picking up a bike for the first time in years:

How to Change a Bike Tire (or a more “correct” version of how to change a tire)

Bike Parts & Basic Maintenance Seriously, bikes have some oddly named parts. I couldn’t tell a sprocket from a derailleur to a cassette and was too embarrassed to ask…

How to Adjust Your Bike so it fits you. I knew exactly how to set up a spin bike at the gym, but I was clueless as how to go about adjusting a “real” bike.

and finally….

Using Clipless Bike Pedals I’m already in love with mine. Let’s hope I don’t have any bike-tastrophes this weekend.

change bike tire bike tire

Any tips to add? Any funny bike stories? Don’t be shy 😉

I used to be scared of bikes because:

a) I was riding on the bike of my dad’s bike when I was super little & he crashed- I crashed with the bike and my head bounced on a sewer grate like a ping pong ball. (Wear your helmet!!)

b) I was biking up a hill on a crowded road when I was maybe 10 or so, and the car behind me got annoyed with going slowly and drove into me.

But I’m over it 😉

And don’t forget to enter my hydration giveaway! Ends tonight!

Lessons Learned: What NOT To Do

This is when you should wish I had a video camera. If there was an America’s Funniest Home videos for YouTube, I’d certainly have won with my pedal clipping antics yesterday.

learning to clip in

Here’s what not to do:

1. Do not proceed outside if you have not yet mastered the pedals indoors. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

2. Do not think ripping your knee & ankle joints apart to get your shoe off the pedal is normal.

3. Do not get stuck in your pedals when there’s no one to rescue you.

And above all else:

4. Never, ever, ever trust the instructions.

See, my mistake was trusting the directions. They said they pedals came automatically set at the lowest tension (read: easy to get out of). Did I think to double check this little statement? Oh no.

pedal instructions

After almost dislocating most of the joints in my lower half, I decided to double check. They were at the max setting.

Oops.

Once that was taken care of it was smooth sailing. I mastered them indoors, and even bumped the tension back up. Then I hit the grass. I perhaps had 2 minor tumbles, but I graduated to riding in the street without catastrophe. (Knock on wood.)

So don’t be scared of the pedals. 🙂

Here’s how to use them:

To clip in: point your foot downward, toe first. Catch the front of the cleat on the pedal. Stomp Press your heel down to lock the cleat in. Easy peasy.

To get out: Twist your heel out (away from the bike) to unclip. You can adjust the setting on your pedal to make this tighter or looser (aka harder or easier). Go with easier. Trust me.

clipless pedal tension

Tips:

Practice on a trainer, in a doorway, or with someone holding the bike still.

Graduate to grass. You’re going to fall. Grass hurts less than asphalt. Again, trust me.

Get cleat covers (if you have Look style pedals)

Since I don’t have much real life experience yet, for more practical tips see Savvy Julie’s post. The golden rule seems to be unclip early!

No Pedal Left Unturned: Swap Your Bike Pedals

While I’m waiting for my ‘road bike piggy bank’ to fill up, I’ve been making adjustments to my hybrid bike to make it more race friendly.

I’ve already changed the tires from knobby to smooth. Now it’s time to embrace clipless bike pedals & biking shoes.

road pedal

Why? It increases the power & efficiency of each pedal stroke– you can not only push down, you can pull up on the pedals.

3 main perks about bike shoes:

1. Hard sole: you don’t lose power from a flexing shoe

2. Snug fit: so foot doesn’t slip-slide around

3. Attachment to pedals: let’s you use your hamstrings & pull up on pedals

To use bike shoes, you’ll need special pedals that let you clip in, called clipless bike pedals.

Let’s clear up this misnomer: yes, you clip in to clipless pedals. Don’t ask, I didn’t make the rules. (It means as opposed to toe cages you can slide your sneakers in to.)

kinds of pedals

Changing the pedals is easy:

1. Choose your bike pedal.

There are 2 styles of clipless bike pedals: “SPD” & “Look (brands, but that’s how you’ll probably seem them.)

The kind of pedal you need depends on the bike shoe you have (or want). It’s easy to tell which shoes need which pedals —> turn the shoe over:

– If there are 3 holes in a triangle, you need Look pedals

– If there are 2 oblong holes, you need SPD pedals

– If there are both, you’re in luck- you can use either kind of clipless pedal

tri fly iii

If you don’t already have biking shoes, pedal choice comes down to personal preference. Mountain bikers tend to use SPD pedals, because they get off the bike a lot and the SPD cleats can be recessed. (More on cleats later.) Road bikers tend to use Look pedals, but more & more are using SPD. So it’s up to you.

When I got my pedals (on sale a looong time ago), I chose SPD because they tend to be double-sided–meaning you can clip into either side, making it a bit easier to learn.

However. In July, I ordered tri specific bike shoes that never came. (Tri-bike shoes the same, but tend to have one big Velcro strap & a loop at the heel to aid in quick transitions. Plus you can wear them without socks.) Note: the ones I ordered used both SPD & Look cleats.

When the shoes weren’t on my doorstep when I got home from Chicago, I panicked. With a tri (still in denial) & a 24 hr bike ride coming up, I needed my shoes! Long story short- after many major fails, I found myself in the hands of a customer service god who managed to get an awesome pair of shoes on my mom’s doorstep free of charge. From now & forever, I will love Pearl Izumi.

I immediately tore into the box only to find the shoes were Look style only. No worries. One pedal exchange later and I was good to go.

Now back to how to change pedals:

2. Remove old pedals.

Use a wrench to loosen the bolts. Throw righty-tighty, lefty-loosey out the window- the left pedal is reverse threaded, so righty-loosey it is.

remove pedal

3. Put the new pedals on.

It’s like a screw. Tighten. Yes, it’s that easy.

crank arm look pedal

4. Put cleats on shoes.

pedal & cleat

The final piece to the shoe-pedal puzzle: cleats– the actual piece that attaches to your shoe so there’s something for the pedal to clip on to. Cleats will come with your pedal, so you should have the right ones. (Look for Look, SPD for SPD- capiche?)

pedal with cleat

Follow the directions for your pedals, but basically just screw the cleats on to the shoe- you can fine-tune adjustments later. Note: attach tightly, or you’ll unscrew them when you try to unclip from the pedal. Don’t ask how I know.

pedal cleats

5. Learn how to clip in & out.

More on that final (& key) step later, if when I master it. For now, you’ll find me practicing in the doorway so I don’t fall on my face- goodness knows I’m injured enough.

learning to clip in

Whew. That was long. I promise it will take you far less time to change your pedals than it did to read this post.

Any experience with clipless pedals/bike shoes?

Prevent Injury Before Your Next Ride: 4 Keys to Perfect Bike Fit

Just like it’s important to make sure you’re wearing the right shoes for your feet to prevent running injuries, it’s just as important to make sure you have the proper bike fit when cycling.

While biking is definitely a lower impact option compared to running, it can lead to it’s own set of injuries- many of which you can prevent with a few bike adjustments.

proper bike fit

Bike Frame Size

Did you know bikes came in sizes (besides kid & adult)?! I didn’t until I bought my first bike. I don’t know too much about this one, but it has to do with your height & leg length. Usually whoever you’re buying your bike from can help you with this.  Unless you buy your bike from Walmart…

Take the time to get the right size because you can’t do anything about the size down the road- however, other sizing factors can be adjusted:

Seat Height

It’s as easy as 1-2-3:

1. A good starting estimate is to have the top of the seat level with your hip bone when standing next to the bike.

2. Sit on the bike with your heel on the pedal in the “down” position. Your leg should be fully extended. Adjust the bike seat as needed.

3. Put the ball of your foot on the pedal (the way you would ride). There should now be a slight bend in your knee. Make slight adjustments as needed, but this should get you pretty close.

It might be helpful to mark where you put your bike seat with a Sharpie or electrical tape- my seat falls all the time (awesome, I know) and having it marked on the seat post makes it really easy to fix on a ride.

bike seat post

Seat Position

When sitting on your bike with the pedals parallel to the ground, you should be able to draw an imaginary line from your knee to the pedal. If it’s not perpendicular to the ground, adjust the seat forward or backward as needed. (It might be good to have someone to help you look at this one- it can be hard to tell when you’re looking down at your leg.)

*Make sure your seat is level, i.e. parallel with the ground. Tilted up can hurt your hoohah and tilted down can put too much pressure on your knees and elbows.

Handlebar Height

Handlebar height is largely based on comfort & type of bike, but they’re almost always lower than your seat. A general guideline for road cyclists: handlebars should be 1-4 inches below your seat; for mountain bikers/casual riders: handlebars should be 0-2 inches below your seat.

Note: You can always get a bike shop to help you with bike adjustments to ensure a proper bike fit, but it’s good to have an idea so you can make tweaks & adjustments down the road.

Also, it’s helpful to wear the shoes you’ll be biking in when making adjustments. More about shoes & pedals in the AM!! 🙂

Let’s Talk About Bikes

Last night I went to bike class #2, intermediate mechanics (yes, different shop than the bike kidnappers).

Even if you’re never going to work on your own bike, it doesn’t hurt to have a vague idea how things work. Kind of like your car- you may not change the oil yourself, but you do know that your car uses oil, it needs to be changed, and it’s under the hood.

The most useful thing we talked about last night was probably adjusting the derailleur. (I’m biased- I think this is important because it’s one of the things that contributed to my chain falling off during the triathlon.)

Let’s go over some parts, shall we?

bike diagram

A sprocket is one of the round, spiked-looking disks the chain rests on. Each sprocket is a different size- the smaller the sprocket, the higher the gear. The cassette is the whole series of sprockets together.

The derailleur is what knocks the chain from sprocket to sprocket when you change gears.

A silly but useful analogy is that it’s like derailing a train- it knocks the chain off the “track”.

There are front & rear sets of all of these things. (Cassette, derailleur, etc.)

bike cassette

These are the adjustment screws- they let you adjust the derailleur from side to side so the chain lines up with the sprockets correctly.

adjustment screws

The “H” is referring to the high gear, which is the smallest sprocket. The “L” is talking about the lowest gear, or biggest sprocket.

[Got that? High gear = small sprocket and vice versa. High gear = harder to pedal. Still confuses me sometimes.]

Adjusting these screws essentially sets limits for where the derailleur is lined up in the highest & lowest of gears.

How do you know where it should go? If you stand at the back of your bike and look down the length of the derailleur, the chain should be centered in the middle. (On the same plane.)

front adjustment screws

Those are the screws to adjust the front derailleur.

So the screws set the alignment for the highest & lowest gears- what about all the gears in the middle? Then you need to adjust the cable.

But we’re confused enough now. We’ll stop there. 😉

Do check occasionally and make sure your derailleur isn’t bent– it can lead to disastrous events: If the derailleur gets to close to the wheels, it can hit the spokes and rip the whole thing off- if you’re lucky. If you’re not lucky- it’ll bend your entire bike frame & then you’re screwed. So it’s worth checking, ok?! 😉

Chances are you don’t need to know this, but do get familiar with changing a tire. I promise it’s not hard, and you never know when you might need to do it!

Bike update: the person I need to talk to won’t be back til Saturday now. Humpph. Guess who goes out of town Saturday? Yeah, me. 🙁