dinner and other stories

Food, spice and everything nice

One-child policy vs Decree 770

Frog, by Mo Yan is a book with which I have a love-hate relationship. When I read the back-cover, I found it quite intriguing. The leitmotif? China’s one-child policy. A midwife’s lover defects from the communist party to Taiwan, and her own loyalty to the commies is questioned. To show her allegiance, she devotes herself to implementing the one-child policy, in unimaginable and cruel ways. However, due to the author’s writing style, I couldn’t finish the book. Still, I looked beyond what I disliked and gave the subject some thought.

A myriad of words has been used to describe it, each with a positive or negative connotation: “birth control” gives the woman power over her own body, “abortion” turns her into a murderer. Doctors prefer more neutral terms, such as “contraception” or “family planning”. For what was introduced in China in 1979, “family planning” is the best definition. The government’s greatest fear was overpopulation and a major decline in economy. Social engineering could temper this, they thought. And so, after having had a first child, women were obliged to place a contraceptive intrauterine device. Should they have a second child, sterilisation by tubal ligation was imposed. Noncompliance was punished with loss of employment, and limited access to schools for the children.

The Family Planning Policy had devastating consequences. Human rights were violated. The government went as far as chasing women, and forcing them to abort, as far along as 8 months pregnant. They even murdered babies, while the woman was in labour. Needless to say, maternal mortality also went through the roof. Abortion in China was not a right, it was imposed to execute government policy.

Romania is the other extreme. In the ’50s, contraceptives were scarce, so abortion was the only option for birth control. Women then also enjoyed greater access to the labour market, working longer hours. But living standards were quite low, which made it difficult to raise children. Consequently, the population was notably decreasing. However, government officials saw the decline as a result of the legalisation of abortion in ’57. The election of Ceausescu as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1965 was a turning point for women in Romania. Decree 770 was born: abortion and contraception were illegal, with very rare exceptions (in case of pregnancy after rape, for example). This led to a burst in unsafe, clandestine abortions which resulted in a shocking rise in maternal deaths.

Is there no golden mean, then? If imposing and banning abortion result in increased mortality, what is the solution? Once again, I come with my favored argument: education. Of women as well as men, of government officials, of doctors, of parents and teachers. People should know the risks they take when they don’t use protection, bureaucrats shouldn’t be negligent about possible life-threatening consequences of their laws. Doctors must promote prevention, instead of abortion: the condom really works miracles, you know. Parents and teachers should do the same. I am not promoting abortion here. We can and should interfere long before we reach that stage. China and Romania are a living proof that extremes don’t work. Instead of fixing a problem, why not forestall it? And prevention is carried out the most efficiently by and educated society.

DSC_0056

Classics are classics for a reason: they are timeless. Boeuf bourguignon is a dish that pleases most tastebuds. The meat is tender and has a full taste. Served with some fried potatoes, it becomes comfort food, but à la française. This is one of those dishes that you put on the stove after brunch on a Saturday morning, and you let it simmer away through the day till dinner, just in time for when your guests arrive. They’re in for a treat, alright.

Ingredients (serves 4)

800g stewing beef, cut into large chunks

200g bacon (cubes)

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

4 carrots, sliced

200ml red wine

400g canned tomatoes

olive oil, butter

a handful thyme

2-3 bay leaves

1 tbsp honey

salt, pepper

In a cast iron cooking pot, heat up some oil and butter. Turn the heat up, and give the beef a colour on the outside. Take the meat out and set aside. In the same pot, fry the bacon, until it starts to darken. Add the onion and garlic, and season with some pepper. When the onion gets a golden brown colour, add the carrots and continue frying till they start to soften. Then, add the beef back to the pan. This is when you add the salt. It’s important not to season the meat before, since you will drain it of all its liquid. Turn the heat up, add the honey and let caramelize. Deglaze with the red wine. Add the herbs and canned tomatoes, stir and taste to check the seasoning. Turn the heat down, and let simmer between 2-4 hours. The longer, the better.

Serve with some questchies“. Bon appétit!

DSC_0063DSC_0080

 

The next champs of the world

Nearly one out of five people lives with some form of disability. Yet even with such a large number, our society does too little to make them feel like they belong. Since the beginning of time, disabled people have been rejected. Tortured, murdered, isolated, experimented upon, you name it. Although we’ve come a long way, our job isn’t done yet. ‘Abnormal’, ‘incapable’, ‘stupid’, ‘retarded’…these are just some examples of the words used to describe them. But such belittling terms contradict their achievements. Derek Paravicini, blind and with advanced autism, plays the piano like no other. Self-taught, he subsequently perfected his skill with the help of a teacher. He quickly got the hang of improvisation, playing the same song in different keys and at unimaginable velocities. Matthew Williams is a Special Olympics champion. These are just two stories, out of many more.

Disabled people are more than capable of excelling. They just need the opportunity. In the early ’60s,  Dr Frank Hayden did research on the effects of sports on the intellectually disabled. Needless to say, he came to the conclusion that exercise benefits the mind. Even the disabled one. His studies later contributed to the foundation of Special Olympics, offering disabled people a chance to exceed all expectations.

So what if instead of focusing on what they can’t do, we would concentrate on what they can? I believe that everyone has an ability, a skill valuable to mankind. But we must make that possible. We need to shift our thinking towards designing a society that by default includes disabled people, not one that diminishes them.

Though such inspirational stories like Matthew or Derek move us deeply, we can’t stop here. We need to act on that feeling. Sitting in front TED talks, smiling behind your tears, and saying how sorry you feel for them won’t make any difference. So what can you do? Start small. First of all, start noticing them in your proximity. Without a doubt you know at least one person with a disability, be it physical or intellectual. So be aware, then reach out. Talk to them, they have the most amazing stories. Help them gather the courage to engage in a hobby – sports, music or cooking – you never know what they might be good at. By investing more time and effort, you can also make an impact on a larger scale. For example, my parents founded ASPIS, an association that provides assistance to the disabled and the needy in and around Arad, Romania.

We must change matters on a small scale first. It has to start with the people. It has to become a movement. Because if the people don’t believe in the cause, how can governments?

Sources:

WHO

dsc_0025

When receiving 10kg of smoked home-made sausage from grand-ma, you have to be inventive. And so after many omelettes with sausage, potato gratin with sausage, sausage with mustard,  it was high time for change. Pasta proved to be the best solution. Bon appétit!

Ingredients (4 portions)

400g linguini or spaghetti

1 onion

3 pickled paprika’s, roughly chopped

250g smoked sausage, peeled and cut in small cubes

a handful of rucola

2 tbsp double cream

Parmezan

Chop the onion finely, then fry in a bit of heated oil. Add the paprika. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, then transfer to a food processor and blend. Meanwhile put water on the boil and cook your pasta, less longer than the package instructions. Fry the cubes of sausage on low heat. Add the paprika paste, turn the heat up and add the pasta, with a splash of the cooking water. Finally, add the cream and mix. To serve, top with rucola and Parmezan.

 

The kick

Not long ago during an internship, I visited an addiction rehabilitation centre. It was a modest building, with mildew on the ceilings and doors that didn’t close properly. Yet it made one feel like home. I went through some of the patients’ files and only one question came to my mind: if you’d have led their lives, how would you have turned out?

When encountering drug addicts, all too oftem we display prejudice and hostility. We blame them for the state they’re in. However, as physicians – even as human beings – you have the obligation to dig deeper. Science has demonstrated that no drug will make you addicted after trying it for the first time. Morphine is used during surgery at low doses, and patients go home just fine. Teenagers try recreational drugs once, they don’t like it, so they stop. So the question is: why do some end up addicted? The same patterns pop up: physical, sexual or psychological abuse, poverty, unstable families or a major lack of affection as a child. Any kind of trauma during the early days of life leaves permanent scars.Think of your brain as a block of clay that’s constantly being moulded. A child’s brain is extremely ‘malleable’, but as it gets older it acquires a fixed shape. Anxiety and trauma are great architects of the brain. As stressful experiences accumulate, the person reaches a threshold after which he just can’t take it anymore. They can’t turn to family, because nobody’s there. They don’t have friends, because they were marginalised in school. And so society hands them cigarettes, alcohol and other substances. Addiction is their substitute for love and affection.

A group of scientists once did the following experiment: they placed one rat in a cage with a drug. In another cage, they placed a group of rats and the drug. In the first cage, the rat has no other option than the drug, so it takes it. However, in the second cage, the rodents turn to each other for company. Thus, when given an attractive alternative, drugs stop being the first choice.

So what can we do? We must create a society that can provide those attractive alternatives, one that gives addicts a sense of value. We can do this through support groups, by investing in ngo’s that offer psychological assistance or by creating enterprises that offer meaningful jobs. We have to make them feel like they matter, and let them contribute actively in society. Finally, we must dare to talk openly about consumption and inform the public.

I am not rooting for addiction. But we have to look at the ‘why’ of the problem, instead of directly condemning people. I am aware that some will never change. They deceive by inventing stories to take advantage of the system or abuse your trust in unimaginable ways. My hope is that, in time, we’ll manage to distinguish between the liars and the needy to provide adequate help.

Sources: Gabor MatéCarl HartJohann Hari

dsc_1495

 

Paella valenciana comes in many forms. Each Spanish family must have their own version. Though we are not Spanish, here comes another one. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Ingredients (4 portions)

6 rabbit shoulders

300g white rice

1L water or stock

200g spanish chorizo, sliced

1 onion, diced

1 garlic clove, diced

2 spring onions, chopped

salt, pepper

olive oil

1 lemon

100ml white wine

400g snow peas

2 tbsp red pepper paste

1 tbsp honey

1 handful of thyme

Fry the onion and garlic on a low heat. Add the red pepper paste. Then add the chorizo, and lower the heat a bit. When the onion has taken up the smoked flavours of the chorizo, turn the heat back up and add the rabbit. Season with salt and pepper. Fry until golden and slightly crunchy on the outside. Add the honey for a caramelised crust, then deglaze with the wine. Add the thyme and stir to release the flavours.

When the meat is done, add the rice and fry for a minute. Gradually add the water. Work in small batches, and let the rice absorb the liquid each time. Taste occasionally and stop adding water when the rice has the consistency you like. There should be some sauce, so don’t let it get too dry. In a separate pan, cook the snow peas for 2 minutes in boiling water, then transfer them to the paella. Finish off with lemon juice and spring onions. Serve with pickled peppers, and a glass of red wine.

dsc_1502

The importance of self-education

I went out with a very good friend of mine recently, and the conversation – as always, with us – shifted to a discussion about today’s society. Long story short: what’s up with the narrow-mindedness of today’s millennials? In a world that offers access to so much information, how can you possibly stay stuck in your comfortable box?

I’m not talking about ignorance, here. Schools solve the ignorance problematic to a certain extent. It’s unjust that it isn’t available to all, and something needs to be done about it. (See here and here.) I mean narrow-minded, focused on what I do, and nothing else. Be it that you study economics, law, medicine or architecture. Most of the students attending university, study the subjects proposed to them by their program, and are killing time during their breaks. They are so focused on what they do, so stuck in their world because it is imposed on them by society. It’s this curriculum and you have to know it for the exam. But what about investing in their authentic passions? What about finding out what they genuinely enjoy learning about on the side?

There are two kinds of education: an imposed one and deliberate, voluntary one. The former is dictated to us by our parents, by the school, by our work. Imposed does not necessarily mean negative. I chose to do medicine, and in order to succeed, I must study the subjects that were elected for me, in order to achieve my final goal. And that is fine. However, to practice ‘self-education’ is to deliberately choose to learn something that isn’t demanded of you. It’s a personal decision to develop the departments in your life that you consider essential. Self-education is is not only about mastering information, like history, politics or science. More importantly, it’s also about manners, social interaction, beliefs. It’s about teaching yourself patience and wisdom. It’s about developing a worldview, formulating a well-founded opinion about something. It’s about finding your way to thrive, to reach your maximum potential, to discover what you’re really made for.

At first, his might seem a very egocentric perspective. You ask me: how can you serve society if you only care about what you want to know? I say, how can you not? By investing in your strengths, you become a better person. You grow, you slowly start to become an expert in different area’s of your life. By exploiting your talents for the benefit of others – to me, that’s a form of altruism.

Imposed education is an essential component of society. But dare to think bigger, don’t neglect your passions and interests. Think outside the box. Learn from others. Read. Watch documentaries. Be critical, don’t just swallow what you’re told – especially in school. Question everything. And above all, do it for yourself – because it gives you pleasure. Don’t expect bravo’s  and good job’s  from the people around you. It will only cause frustration when you don’t get it. Instead, be content with what you learn and the way you evolve. Then, with all your knowledge and capacities, be of service to society, in all the ways you possibly can.

Photo: Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis

 

 

La soif du monde: when every drop counts

 

Documentary: La soif du monde

Recently, our water pump broke, which resulted in small inconveniences in the household. Toilets didn’t flush, the washing machine stopped working – patience now, until someone comes to fix it. Though living in a developed country, the mere thought of lacking water frightens us. In 2008, Barcelona experienced one of its worst droughts: the whole population was in uproar, they felt powerless. Eventually, they managed to import water to provide for the civilians. But what if water stopped running from your tap for good?

1 in 9 people do not have access to clean water. 1 person in 3 lacks decent sanitation facilities. In developing countries, as much as 80% of the diseases are linked to contaminated water and gruesome hygiene. The numbers are unacceptably high. We must do something.

In 2010, water was declared a human right by the UN. In our western societies, where we carelessly permit ourselves to spend at least 10 minutes under the shower, we take water for granted. Yet what if you had to walk for hours every day  through marshes, with leeches sticking to your legs, to reach a well? And, mind you, you do not have the assurance that the water is drinkable, but since it’s the only source available nearby, you don’t have much of a choice. You don’t even know what ‘drinkable’ water tastes like. “But don’t you get sick?”, reporters ask. It happens…but what can I do?

In the dry countries of Africa, wars have been waged on water. Tribes are fighting to have access to something that shouldn’t be considered a privilege. But when a society runs out of its sustaining resource, wouldn’t it be smarter to share it and work together to overcome the challenge, instead of exterminating entire communities? Countries are gradually making progress using H2O’s full potential. Instead of ceaselessly digging new water wells, old ones are being restored. Moreover, people continue to use water as a means of trade. On the Congo river, for instance, villagers have floating markets, called bargesThe possibilities are endless, but one must be fearless and creative.

Despite the dreadful sanitary conditions, it is hopeful to see that the locals don’t give up. In Nairobi (Kenya), the madame pipi is proud to work in the public toilets. “It’s important to encourage people to be clean,” she says. Kibera is Kenya’s largest slum. Everything is contaminated. Children play in the dirt, get infected, and inevitably have diarrhea. In Kenya, it can be fatal. So public toiletsare lifesavers. In Cambodia, education campaigns are booming. Since the water supplies are massively polluted by large industries, tap water is contaminated. Sadly, people seldom know they drink polluted water. Thus, Cambodia attacks the problem at its roots.

You think we’ve exhausted the subject of drinkable water and clean toilets for all? Rest assured, we haven’t. And we won’t have until every person has access to drinkable water and a WC in his home. In the words of Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation: “Personne ne veut parler de merde. Mais il faut parler de merde! Il faut prendre des mesures pour résoudre le problème…et il y a des solutions!”

(Nobody wants to talk about shit. But we need to talk about shit! We must take measures to solve the problem…and there are solutions!)

Sources statistics: https://thewaterproject.org/water-scarcity/water_stats

dsc_1385

When I was in Vienna, in a desperate moment of craving, I went to the supermarket to buy some chocolate. I was in the mood for trying something new, so I went for Lindt’s dark chocolate with lime zest. I liked it so much I had to turn it into a cake.

Ingredients (serves 8-10)

200g dark chocolate

160g butter

pinch of salt

5 eggs

Zest of 2 limes, juice of 1/2 lime

120g cassonade/brown sugar

60g flour

120g almond powder

1 tbsp powdered sugar

Separate the eggs, and beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and the butter over a bain-marie. Grate the lime zest in the chocolate, and squeeze out the juice of one half. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Add the almond powder and flour, then slowly add the chocolate. Finally, fold the egg whites into the mixture, taking care not to knock all the air out. Bake for 20 minutes in a preheated oven (175°). You’ll want the cake slightly undone, so the middle remains soft. To serve, grate some lime zest over a piece, and sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar over it. And why not – if you really want to make it gourmand – add some vanilla ice-cream. And a coffee, of course.

dsc_1377dsc_1379

 

MSF: go where no one else wants to

In summer I had the opportunity to do an internship with a GP in a clinic that worked with the poor, the homeless, the prostitutes, the refugees – people who couldn’t afford a doctor. One particular physician caught my attention: someone mentioned that she just came back from a mission with MSF in Congo. I went to talk to her on the spot, and asked her about her experience. We connected immediately. To me MSF was something you read about in the papers. Now it was right in front of me, so I couldn’t miss this chance. She sent me her journal that she had kept in Congo. My enthusiasm was sky-high.

Working in third-world countries has always been on my to-do list. I guess it’s the feeling that you’re making a difference in a society that is on the brink of collapsing. The newspapers are chock-full of stories that just make you want to do something. Refugees, war, epidemics, poverty, hunger, HIV – you name it. We debate around the table, we feel sorry and – above all – we complain about the problem. Yet I aim to be part of the solution.

I guess it’s the adrenaline – that kick. Extreme situations and challenges bring out the best in you. It’s doing a lot with the little means you have, for others who are in desperate need of help. The education we get here is a privilege; one we need to share with those who don’t have access to it. Sure, there will be major cultural clashes. Patients will refuse transfusion out of religious motives. Parents will not accept medical treatment for their child, because they believe it is possessed by an evil spirit and only exorcism can cure. Despite that, you still struggle tot treat. Perhaps I’m too idealistic. To you this may sound like the dream of an 8-year-old to spare humanity from all evil. MSF is risky business, too. But I’m young, I have energy, I have passion and perseverance. And I have dreams I want to fulfill. I know that controlling hypertension in an old lady can save her life as much as treating malnourished children in Africa can. But at 22, almost fresh out of medical school, I need to be shocked. I want the world to slap me in the face, and see if I have the guts to hit back. I want to go out there. I want to take action. At 22, it is only natural that one should hope to change the world, don’t you think?

MSF documentary

dsc_1361

When baking something in a salt-crust, it will never cease to impress. The simple fact that your guests won’t know what’s hidden, does half the job. People love to be surprised. So go ahead, stun your guests with this imposing, yet ridiculously simple dish!

The fish (serves 6)

3kg coarse rock salt

4 large breams, with the skin left on

6 eggs

A handful of parsley

2 lemons

Pepper

Mix the salt with the eggs and lemon zest. Clean the fish, then stuff if with lemon slices and parsley. Season with pepper. Put a layer of salt on the bottom of a pan, then arrange the fish on top. Cover with the rest of the salt. Bake for 40 minutes in a preheated oven (200°). When baked, let it rest outside the oven for 10 minutes. Break the crust before serving and take the fish out on a separate plate. You want to be gentle so the skin won’t break, but fast, so the salt doesn’t get to melt into the fish.

collagedsc_1348dsc_1353dsc_1356

The potatoes

8 medium sized sweet potatoes

Olive oil

Salt, pepper

Slice the potatoes in wedges, and brush with olive oil. Bake until golden on 220°. When ready, season with salt and pepper.

dsc_1346

The aioli

3 garlic cloves

400ml olive oil

A pinch of safran

1 tbsp of maple syrup or honey

1 tsp white wine vinegar

Crush the garlic cloves in a mortar with the salt. Gradually add the olive oil. Transfer to a small bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. To serve, drizzle a generous portion of aioli on your fish, and finish off with some lemon juice. Serve with a simple tomato salad to balance the flavours.

HashtagNotATarget

A little over a year ago, America made yet another brilliant move in the war with Afghanistan: a bomb on the one building in the city that is seen as a safe haven, a hospital. MSF was outraged. The bomb did not just fall on the hospital itself. It fell on the whole vision of MSF. If we destroy sanctuaries, can you really say that ‘even war has rules’?

Air strikes on hospital are not new. The Germans did it in the World Wars, the Americans did it in Japan, and the British also played their part in Germany. Now, the main victims are in besieged Aleppo, Syria. While the city’s gradually turned into rubble by the Syrian and Russian military, neither medical staff nor supplies reach the health facilities in what’s left of the city. Patients can’t be transferred to safer zones anymore because of the siege. Doctors are obliged to admit everyone in the few clinics that still stand, but they are outnumbered. On top of that, they have air raids to fear. By dropping bombs on hospitals governments send a certain message: stop treating people, you’re interfering with our work.

If you say war has rules, you have to play by them. Look closer, and you see that in every single conflict the world has seen, there was nothing but chaos. War is not a board game with pawns to be moved, and a tidy instruction booklet. War is anarchy at the expense of the innocent – men, women, children, grandparents, brothers, sisters. They get attacked, they seek shelter in a hospital, and still the bomb falls on their heads. Where are they safe? And why do they have to suffer because of the frustrations, ambitions and greedy desires of powerful men?

Thousands of journalists, bloggers and writers have expressed their opinions on the situation, and they’re all the same. My point isn’t to be yet another one among them. My point is to make you aware. Dare to look at the images, dare to follow the news, don’t be ignorant. Confront the reality. Talk, debate, and above all, doWe have our neat lives here in the West, but what about the others? Some of us do not have the power and the authority to make difference on such a large scale. But if you do, it’s your duty. Send letters, make phone calls, scream, negotiate. Do whatever is in your power. Because even at war, hospitals still need to fulfill their purpose.

So stop targeting doctors. They have their own war to wage.

dsc_1278

French cuisine never disappoints. We wanted to get a bit adventurous, so we went for duck. Confit? Yes, please!

Ingredients (serves 4)

The duck

4 duck legs

3 garlic cloves

a handful of thyme

1 kg of duck fat

2 tsp salt

pepper

Melt the fat in a cast iron pan. Season the meat with salt and pepper, and rub it well in. Place the meat in the fat, add the thyme and garlic and put a lid on. Bake for 2 hours in a preheated oven (160°C). Take the meat out, let it cool down till the fat is solid again. Before serving, put your oven on grill. Take the duck legs out, leaving a coating of fat on the meat. Bake until the skin is golden and crispy.

dsc_1256

dsc_1244dsc_1267dsc_1281

The choux

1/2 red cabbage

1 sour apple, grated

2 cloves

2 juniper berries, crushed

1 onion

100ml red wine

salt, pepper

a handful of thyme

Chop or grate the cabbage finely. Dice the onion, and fry it in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Add the cabbage, and stir. Let it become soft, then add the grated apple. Add the cloves, juniper and thyme. Leave with a lid on a low heat until tender for about 40 minutes. Turn the heat up, add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Turn the heat back down for a couple of minutes, then serve.

dsc_1247

The potatoes

8 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and sliced

the fat from the duck

Boil the potatoes until they have softened a bit, but are not cooked through? When inserting a fork, it should still be hard. To finish off, fry them the fat from the duck, while the meat is on the grill, until the potatoes are golden. Season to taste.

dsc_1279dsc_1284dsc_1289

Diarios de motocicleta

“Why did you want to be a doctor?”, the leper asked him. “I wanted to be useful, somehow.”, Che answered.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara was many things. He went from medical student to ambitious traveler and writer to the fierce leader of guerrilla warfare. His life has been portrayed in many books and movies, the most famous being The Motorcycle Diaries.

As a young student, ready to discover the world, Ernesto set out with his friend Alberto on a voyage that would eventually lead him to become a revolutionary activist. Traveling from Argentina to Venezuela, the two globetrotters saw in eight months what few witness in a lifetime. Architecture, nature, culture, but also multiple asthma-attacks, unforeseen motorcycle crashes and biting cold. On the road, Che was appalled by the extent of social inequality and injustice in the different countries. The sick were not taken care of, the poor were left to fate and the indigenous people still carried the scars of greedy colonialism. And so, after returning home, he decided it was time for a change.

I find Che an inspiring figure. Yes, he had firing squads. Yes, his actions weren’t always ethical, yet he realised that to be a strong leader, you have to be among the people. Che is yet another living proof that traveling changes a person for good. It just depends how you travel. Of course, you can book yourself a ticket with a tourism agency to Peru, stay two weeks in a five-star hotel, visit Cusco and Machu Picchu, and have a guide give you a glimpse in the life of the indigenous tribes. Or you can do it Che’s way, by traveling on tight budget, for almost a year, relying on people’s generosity for shelter, food and transport. For me, it’s Che’s way…or the highway. Especially when traveling to countries so different than your own. The point is to absorb the culture, not to see it from a distance. Besides, it makes you realise that you’re actually drowning in the western luxury and that it is, in fact, possible – sometimes I even think, better – to live a simpler life with only the bare minimum. Most importantly though, it increases your awareness for social inequality. This awareness will become a frustration, which will eventually turn into action. If traveling can motivate people to change the way society and corrupt governments work, than I say to you, dear reader: go. And hey, viva la revolucion!

dsc_1147

When having friends over, it is a pleasure to experiment with food. Especially with people who appreciate every bite, and are open to taste new dishes. Preparing the meal together on a lazy Sunday afternoon makes it even better. Add Céline and Kevin to the recipe, and you get the best Empanada-dinner you ever tasted. Lovely food for even lovelier people.

Ingredients (8 large/12small Empanadas)

The filling

300g minced beef

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or any other hot spice)

1 tsp cumin

5 garlic cloves

2 onions

olive oil

handful of raisins

1 tsp salt

pepper

Heat the oil in a pan. Fry the onion and garlic until golden. Add meat and crumble it with a wooden spatula. Season with the spices, and cook until the meat turns lightly brown. Set aside to cool a bit.

The chimichurri

a handful of chives, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 onion, finely chopped

Chimichurri dried spices or finely chopped red chilli or red jalapeño (to taste)

50ml red wine vinegar or balsamico

150ml olive oil

pinch of salt, pepper

1/4 lemon

Mix all the ingredients, finely chopped as mentioned above, in a bowl, and let set. Ideally, you can prepare a larger amount in advance. The longer it marinates, the better.

dsc_1107

The dough

500g flour

200ml milk

100ml water

100g butter

1 tsp salt

1 egg

2 tsp baking powder

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the milk and water, and kneed. Add the butter and kneed further until you have a smooth, elastic consistency. Depending on wether the dough is too wet or dry, add more milk or flour. Divide into 8 or 12 pieces, depending on how big you want the Empanadas.

dsc_1101dsc_1113dsc_1115

To assemble the pies, take each piece of dough, and roll it out in a circle of about 3-4 mm thick. Scoop some filling over half of the circle and add a couple of raisins. Fold it over, press the edges tightly together, and brush the Empanadas with the beaten egg.

Bake in a preheated oven (200°C) for about 25 minutes, or until golden. Pour a spoonful of chimichurri over them and serve with a fresh salad.

dsc_1132dsc_1117dsc_1136dsc_1141

Say ‘cheese’

On a quiet Sunday morning, you’re out buying fresh bread from the local bakery. Along the way, you pass by a newspaper stand, and consider grabbing your morning read. Scanning the racks, you’re particularly captivated by the latest issue of Time showing the poignant image of Omran Daqneesh, shocked in the back of an ambulance. Your stomach suddenly shrinks. You hold your breath.

Pictures have a distinctive way to move the human soul. Meticulous descriptions will never achieve the power of an image. Photography is about feeling, as Don McCullin put it. It’s about absorbing the scene, about letting it get to you. But what about the one behind the lens?

mcc6800-tet01-dnRu2O.jpg

McCullin’s famous shot of a shell-shocked US marine

Not everyone’s cut out to be a war photographer. The job requires a solid amount of bravery, recklessness and emotional strength. When you go to war as a photojournalist, you stand alone amongst soldiers. Your assignment is to document. Your basic human instinct on the battlefield is to hide, but you don’t have that luxury. You have a responsibility. And that’s making the public aware of what you’re shooting. On the other hand you do have the privilege of choice: you don’t have to go, if you consider your life is at stake. When landing in Normandy, Robert Capa got in the water, but retreated after taking some quick shots. He considered himself a coward afterwards. However, if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have images of the first wave of soldiers that arrived at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

maxresdefault (1).jpg

D-Day, by R. Capa

It can also be a discouraging job: when you see doctors, paramedics and soldiers all doing something while you just stand behind your Nikon, you can’t help but want to participate. Everyday might be your last: you face life-threatening situations or the risk of capture. Combining the job with a family might prove difficult. Still, war photographers confessed that even in those situations, they kept shooting – even when they were wounded in the back of a truck, full of dying veterans. You also face situations that you’d rather not have on a Polaroid. But as João Silva – who documented the war in Afghanistan in 2010 – puts it: “I’m intruding on the most intimate moments, but I force myself to do it because the world has to see those images. Politicians need to know what it looks like when you send young boys to war.”

Censorship is a controversial subject, too. Editors refuse to let certain images out for fear of shocking the public too much. Yet as a war photographer, you want the truth out there. So if that consist of people burning alive, or getting executed in the most brutal ways, why shouldn’t the public be made aware? How else will people act? An image has the power to make people do something. In a strange way, it makes them feel they are somehow part of the conflict, and thus guilty. And besides, if you want to censor, you have something to hide. Rather than withholding information, we shouldn’t let war happen in the first place. Then, maybe, we won’t have any shameful images to display. Because, as Kenneth Jarecke wrote in American Photo in 1991: “If we’re big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it.”

My respect and admiration for war photographers has grown a great deal. I count on them to keep on providing priceless images of conflict around the world. Maybe then we can finally stop repeating the mistakes we’ve been making time and again.

dsc_1026

Belgium is know for mainly four culinary delicacies: carbonade flamande, chocolate, beer and waffles. Carbonade flamande – check. I’m not an experienced enough cook to try my hand at making chocolate or brewing beer. So I went for the last option.

Ingredients (6 waffles)

200ml warm milk

1 egg

1 yolk

pinch of salt

500g white flour

200g butter

2 tsp dried yeast

2 tbsp brown sugar

150g pearl sugar

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 vanilla pod

Mix the warm milk with the yeast and brown sugar, and let it bubble. Add the flour, eggs, sugar, salt, maple syrup and vanilla pod. Knead well until you have a smooth consistency. Add the butter, and continue kneading until everything is mixed well. Let rise once for about 3-4 hours, or even overnight in a cooler place – the longer, the better. After the first rise, knead again and let rise a second time for about an hour or two, depending on how much time you have. The point here is to let the flavours develop. Don’t rush this. Finally, after the second rise, add the pearl sugar, knead 6 round balls with the dough and let rest for 30 minutes. Heat your waffle iron. Bake in batches until they turn golden brown. Belgians eat it simply fresh out of the waffle maker, or with crème fraîche. Tourists put a bunch of toppings on it. Your choice – but acting like a local is always the best choice.

dsc_1018-cropoutput_bam6dk

1$/day

Meet Chris, Zach, Sean and Ryan, four students determined to experience genuine poverty.

It started out as a simple Youtube-experiment, and turned out into a real crowd puller. They headed to rural Guatemala, with a budget of one dollar a day for 56 whole days. Instead of merely staying behind their books at the library, they wanted a tough confrontation with reality. No money, no bed, barely enough food. But stress, starvation and parasites – à volonté. While struggling to make ends meet, they experience the remarkable generosity of Latin-Americans. Poverty sure has its drawbacks, but on the other hand people get to depend more on each other. They can count on their neighbour when in need. We can’t always say the same in our prosperous western societies: we can manage just fine on our own, but this independence comes hand in hand with isolation, self-centeredness and avarice.

In a world that is so preoccupied with international summits, endless talks about humanitarian issues and how to solve them, it’s still important to actually go out there and face reality. Only then do we see the true impact of the problems we are trying to find solutions for. Making a difference on a small scale should remain a top priority. In the end, the poor, the sick, the malnourished won’t care much when they hear that some other meeting has been held to discuss their troubles. They want to be helped here and now, they want to see prompt action. We can give them that by becoming one of them. Nobody will put you on a pedestal, your name won’t appear in history manuals, but at least you know you had an impact on that one individual.

When you put yourself in those people’s shoes, you will see the world through different eyes. You will appreciate what you have much more. Your problems will seem infinitely small. You’ll come to realise that these people need to survive, while you can live. Of course, you can’t save them all. But it’s about baby steps, here. It’s about making it more personal. You might consider this a naive, perhaps even childish and idealistic mentality. Maybe so. But then again tell me: have you ‘been there, done that’ yet, or are you still at the ‘talking about it’ stage? Working ‘in the field’ is just as important as working in the office.

Living on one dollar is a confronting approach to poverty. Watch it, enjoy it and – why not – go see how it is for yourself, you’ve got nothing to lose. For only personal experience leaves a mark in your heart.

Home-made gnocchi are a real treat. Guests will appreciate your work when you did everything yourself from A to Z. The trick is to find the balance between the amount of potatoes, eggs and flour. After you’ve managed to achieve the consistency that suits you best, you can get creative with the sauces – the options are endless.

Ingredients (4 servings)

4 large potatoes

4 egg yolks

150-200g flour

1/2 tsp salt

nutmeg

pepper

2 handfuls of sage

60g butter

200g Gorgonzola

100g Parmezan

Brush the unpeeled potatoes with olive oil and bake whole on 180°C until golden – about 45 minutes. Prick with a fork to check if they’re baked thoroughly. Cut them in half, and let them cool down. Ideally, you should leave them overnight in the fridge so they dry really well. But don’t worry if you don’t have enough time – this works just as well. Scrape the potato out of the skin and mash in a bowl. Add the egg yolks and mix well. Be careful not to handle the dough too much. Season with salt, pepper and some nutmeg. Progressively add the flour, while kneading.

Put water to boil. To check if the gnocchi have the right consistency, put a teaspoon of dough in the simmering water and taste. If you want it chewier, add more flour. If it crumbles, it needs some liquid.

Cook the gnocchi. They’re done when they start flowing on the surface. Be careful, you want to have the water simmering, not wildly boiling, as the turbulences will make destroy the gnocchi. Meanwhile, heat a large knob of butter in a frying pan. Wash and dry the sage leaves, then fry them in the butter. Add your gnocchi, fry them for a couple of seconds, then add the Gorgonzola. Leave on a medium heat until the cheese has melted, then season to taste. Add some of the cooking water, to make the sauce creamier. Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and some white wine to wash it all down.

DSC_1052.JPG