Sunday, August 9, 2009

julia child bolivia style

What do Julia Child and Bolivia have in common?  Nothing, as far as I know.

But last night as I sat in a sold-out movie theater in Roseville, Minnesota, watching the newly released Julie & Julia (based on the book by the same name that I devoured a couple months ago when it found its way into my reading repertoire), I couldn't help but feel that had Julia Child ever come to visit us at the Volunteer House in Carmen Pampa, she would've been proud of how well our group of gringos embraces the joy of cooking; the way we have mastered the art of adapting and introducing international cuisine to the Bolivian campo.

Sushi night at the Volunteer House. Not a lot of seafood to be had in our landlocked country, so we make due with steamed veggies, smoked trout from Lake Titicaca, and tubes of wasabi brought from the States.

As Americans, we're a bit obsessed with food. We have books, festivals, magazines, and entire television networks dedicated to cooking and eating. This obsession is particularly intense for those of us who live overseas--as it is in food that we often find comfort on those days when we miss home the most.  

Re-creating those comforts of home can often be cumbersome considering the limited availability of ingredients.  But it's amazing what a generation of young people who grew up on macaroni-n-cheese, ramen noodles, and frozen burritos can whip together when faced with a hankering for mom's homemade tuna casserole or a favorite curry dish from the neighborhood Indian restaurant. 

Vegetarian lasagna--filled with all sorts of organic goodness fresh from the College's garden.

In the U.S., we are a people accustomed to meals coming pre-made in bags and boxes and pouches. (I often wonder if my native country folk realize that baby carrots are not a natural phenomenon and that egg refrigeration is not widely practiced throughout the rest of the world.) But cooking from scratch in Bolivia, we come to know our food. We watch it transform from starting pieces to finished product. Joined for dinner around the kitchen table each night, we celebrate the miracle that transpires when we loosely follow recipes to create divine culinary results that satisfy our homesick palates!  

Of course, chocolate is one of the most delicious of these "miracles." One of the most popular recipes at the Volunteer House is for Julia's Never Fail Chocolate Cake. It's the all-around favorite dessert that makes frequent appearances at birthday celebrations, visitor welcomes, UAC-CP potlucks, and volunteer goodbye parties.  I have absolutely no idea whether the recipe is connected with Julia Child, but I can attest to the fact that it never fails. Ever. (And if you have ever used the oven in the Volunteer House you'd know the magnitude of that testimony). 

So the next time you're tempted to reach for a box of "Just Add Oil!" Betty Crocker cake mix and a plastic tub of pre-made Pillsbury frosting, try mastering the art of baking yourself. Make Julia proud: discover the joy of cooking...from scratch!

Julia's Never Fail Chocolate Cake

2 1/2 c. Flour
1 1/2 c. Sugar
2/3 c. Cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Vanilla
2/3 c. Shortening
1 1/2 c. Water
4 Eggs

Mix and sift dry ingredients three times. Add vanilla, shortening, and water to dry ingredients. Beat three minutes. Add eggs. Beat three minutes. Grease and flour tall tube pan. Pour batter into pan. Bake medium heat* in oven--about 40 minutes.

Mocha Frosting
3 Tbsp. Butter
3 c. Sifted Powdered Sugar
5 Tbsp. Cocoa
1 Tbsp. Instant Coffee (I use regular ground coffee produced at the College)
5 Tbsp. Cream (In Carmen Pampa, we generally don't have cream, so I use thickened powdered milk)
1 tsp. Vanilla

Cream butter with cocoa and coffee. Add cream/milk alternatively with powdered sugar until thick enough to spread on cooled cake--as demonstrated in the photo above of my godson Daniel who is a fan of helping me bake...and lick the spatula.

Bon Appétit! ...or as Julia dubbed in Spanish would say: Provecho!

*The gas oven in the Volunteer House essentially has just two settings: On and Off. But for those of you who prefer a more well-defined number--I'd say: 350 degrees. 


Nathan said...

Oh - Julia/Sr Theresa's chocolate cake... how I miss it!

Kent Jensen said...

My mouth is watering! Could you possibly post the recipe for the wonderful salsa picante that is prevalent at every meal there? I know I can't get the lokoto peppers.. but maybe I can find a good substitute! Thanks Sarah! KC