My other life, aside from raising 2 kids (and blogging/cooking), is dancing. I am an African dancer. No, I'm not African, but I teach and perform African dance. When people ask me why I do African dance, I ask them if I looked like I was having fun. In fact, usually my face hurts from smiling while performing. I love it!
I took my first African dance class in high school, and that was that. I hate to admit it (to the many people who supported me in myriad endeavors along the way), but pretty much every decision I made after that had to do with African dance. Should I travel to Brazil? Well, sure, there are lots of African descendants there and a lot of African-rooted dancing. Should I go for my master's degree? Heck yeah, I think you can study things like African dance in grad school. What program? Well, let's see, this interdisciplinary environmental studies program offers lots of possibilities for designing your own program. How about African Dance for Environmental Education? Perfect.
And study I did. I set out on the quest to perfect my technique. I traveled to West Africa four times (and counting) to learn dance. I wanted to be exact, to replicate movement, style and rhythm. To learn the dance traditions inside and out. A standard I have only recently relaxed. You know what I learned? Even in Africa dancers make stuff up. They put together moves that look cool, and play new rhythms that simply sound good. Recently, I admit, I have been playing around with fusion dances. Dances that blend a bit of African, hip-hop, salsa, and whatever else looks and feels good.
Fusing African dance with other styles is not a cop-out or disrespecting tradition, in my opinion, but alternatively taking a depth of knowledge and transforming it.
I've been doing that with food lately, too.
When I traveled I learned to make dishes, and tried to stay as true to the traditional dish as could when I cooked it at home. I even ground spices by hand that I sought out in funky import stores to keep it authentic.
But lately I have been having more fun with the foods I learned to cook abroad. Especially Latin foods. And I'm highly inspired by my friend Lori, the mastermind behind Mango Cafe on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I think she would like my corn tortillas and chicken with green enchilada sauce? Why not corn masa crepes and tamarind-glazed chicken with some local goat cheese? Instead of traditional empanadas, how about local root veggie puff pastry with cream cheese and tomatillo salsa?
I am also inspired by a recent read, Modern Caribbean Cuisine by Wendy Rahamut. So much so I even tried to style my food like she does:) She provides Caribbean recipes with a multi-ethnic twist. Last week, craving the flavor of fried plantain, but wanting to use a local veggie, I made baked sweet potato wedges with Caribbean influenced spices. An Asian inspired dipping sauce offered just the right complement of sweet and spicy. Both of these recipes are variations on recipes in Rahamut's book.
Hey, I'm having fun. That's what life's about.
Caribbean Spiced Sweet Potatoes
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Oil cookie sheet
3. Peel and slice potato into wedges about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches long.
4. Mix together spices and place sweet potatoe wedges in bolw with mixture.
5. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 20 -25 minutes, turning once or twice during baking, until golden brown and soft.
1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cardamom
1- 2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp annatto
1/2-3/4 tsp cumin
To make dip, simply mix following ingredients in a bowl and chill until ready to serve.
2 tbsp blood orange jam
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp or more sambal chile sauce