Thursday, July 27, 2017

Caribbean Kombucha: Organic Dominican Guarapo de Piña Recipe

Caribbean Kombucha: Guarapo de Pina
The rise in popularity of veganism in the Western World, a movement characterized by animal rights as its guiding philosophical root along with continuing the unhealthy culinary tradition by which the Western diet has been defined: fast food, has given way to an imagery of health taken from other culinary traditions.  Adapting the inherently unhealthy fast-food based diet of the United States in its vegan versions puts into question the true health qualities of these vegan processed foods and real liberation of body and mind from the idea of fast foods.   Transition is indeed important (by using mock meats made by extracting plant protein or the gluten from grains).  However, the constant processing of whole products to construct vegan versions of the comfort foods westerners grew up eating continues to feed the addictive psychology of the people transitioning.  Only when these foods become about 25% of the meal and is complemented with complete whole foods, can it aid in a full transition.  So, the application in meal planning is key here.

There are certain food products that have become the "face" of health foods, of which are included Kale, Quinoa and Kombucha. The association between these foods, health and veganism is immediate.  Like one hit wonders, pseudo-health geeks are packing their homes with these products to join the fad and/or feel just a tad bit healthier.  So, now you add quinoa to your swine chops or slowly swallow your Synergy kombucha and strategically place your empty glass bottle for all to see your pro-health stance.  However, these foods have origins far removed from the latest trend in the predominantly white (in genes and mind) health movement.  These foods are part of the gastronomical tradition of different Black peoples around the world who have harvested and prepared these foods for thousands of years, becoming the heart of the culinary traditions in those ancestral cultures.  For example, Quinoa is the sacred grain cultivated by the Andean peoples of South America.  Most notably, the Inca civilization of Peru.  In the same fashion, Kombucha is an ancient Chinese fermented elixir whose recipe was taught to Westerners who visited China and took it with them.  It could have also reached the Western world through travels of the original peoples, as well as the adaptation of half originals inhabiting Russia and Eastern European countries.

SCOBY fermenting Tea into Kombucha

Kombucha is fermented black or green teas achieved through the incorporation of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, called a SCOBY. The population of bacteria and yeast interact with each other, in a give and take relationship, where they feed off another producing a fermentation resulting in enzymes and probiotics.  The SCOBY resembles fungi or a large wet mushroom.  The Chinese refer to it in mandarin as xiaomu and haomo in Cantonese, meaning "fermentation mother." We see here a biological organism being named through its feminine reality (The Black woman), another creation of God (the Black man).  In essence, it is the SCOBY and its process that births Kombucha.

Fermented drinks are not unique only to the Asian Eastern World, other original peoples have traditionally practiced making fermented drinks as well.  In the Spanish and English speaking Caribbean, you find a variety of these drinks, ranging from fruit peels, roots to barks.  In Trinidad, you find ginger beer made by fermenting the extract of the ginger root for about a day.  In Jamaica, you find fermented sorrel (Hibiscus) drink made by boiling rice, allspice, citrus peels, and cloves, the rice is what aids in the fermentation while it sits for a few days. Some folks like to include additional spirits.  In Cuba, you find guarapo de caña.  This drink is made by fermenting the skin of the sugar cane.  Puerto Rico is known for its famous mabi.  In Mexico, they make guarapo de maiz through the fermentation of toasted corn, panela (sugar) and water.  Truly, one can find a version of a guarapo (fermented drink) in most South American countries. It is important to note that an association with a particular country is done by popularity only, as you can find mabi and guarapo de caña all over the Caribbean and parts of South America.

In the Dominican Republic, the fermented juices I grew up drinking were guarapo de piña and mabi also known directly through its Taino origins as bejuco indio.  Bejuco referring to tree bark and indio to its indigenous Black roots.  It's name let's you know it's fermented by dealing with the bark of that particular tree.  In Quisqueya, the names vary depending on the town you are in.  Some refer to guarapo as simply juice without the fermentation.  The origin of the tree of the bark used to make mabi comes from one area of the D.R. called El Seibo.  Very much like how Agave is only grown in Tequila, Mexico.  In earlier times, this delicious juice was sweetened with melao (sugar cane syrup) or honey.  Currently, people use various sweeteners.  The taste is truly unique due to the fermentation.

Guarapo fermentation taking place on its 2nd Day 

Fermentation is simply the metabolic process of living bacteria converting sugars into acids, gases or alcohol.  Fermentation also occurs with the growth of microorganisms in bulk on a medium that promotes this growth to create a specific chemical product.  In drinks like guarapos what is most likely taking place is a fermentation where the bacteria already present in the fruit skin are starting to use the sugar and convert it into cellular energy, in turn, creating organic acids.  These acids become part of the byproduct alongside other compounds like the enzymes produced.  That's why in drinks like guarapo the indication that a biochemical process is taking place is through the white froth that develops on top of the water.  Literally, what is happening is the creation of enzymes and probiotics.

Due to the properties achieved during fermentation, guarapo de piña has many health benefits. It helps in fighting parasites, with fluid retention, constipation and inflammation.  Pineapple skin is high in bromelain, which is an enzyme that aids in digestion.  It extends to the other parts of the digestive process by aiding intestinal functioning, including the protection of microbial flora in the colon and alleviating hemorrhoids. It helps with the healing of injuries, cleanses the blood, fights cellulite and gets rid of excess fluid. It also has anti-carcinogenic properties, keeping your skin smooth and youthful.  Truly a drink of the Gods and Earths!

The beauty of this drink lies in the process of fermentation, which differs greatly to the processing of the European wine, alcohol and beer, known as the spirits.  Literally, the techniques employed in the making of these drinks, while ancient in origin (especially with the methods of making wine-where literally it use to be a fermented grape juice), are creating a product where all the aiding elements are essentially dead, making it toxic and poisonous for the body.  You are literally left with the alcohol component of it, all other properties die in the process.  Fermented drinks in the fashion of guarapo de piña are living, for they retain the enzymes and probiotics that form as a by product of the chemical process.

The rise in popularity of these drinks comes at a cost.  Companies that are mass producing brands for profit are causing environmental hazards that are hurting the plants from where these drinks originate and the wildlife that depends on these plants to live.  Of example, is the cacheo de oveido, a palm tree from which another mabi-like drink is made.  This tree takes about 100 years to mature, yet they are using so much of it that the tree dies and wither.  Our ancestors used the plant in moderation and most likely knew from what parts of the plant to take knowing it would regenerate.

It is in the fashion of this right and exact practice of our ancestors that I base the recipe provided below.  My own practice and consumption of what I call this "Caribbean Kombucha."

More Guarapo sweetened and served chilled 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hijabista Africaning: Intersections of Black Headwrapping

The creative process in headwrapping is endless for it depends on the individual who practices the art as part of their culture and how they perceive and relate to the world.  Some women practice the art to showcase traditional fashions that counter and provide alternatives from the limited global Eurocentric fashion world, such as the African headwrap.  The African headwrap and its fabrics provide pride and visibility to the undesired Black body as an extension to the world sentiment of Anti-Africanism.  Anti-Africanism has penetrated into all Black societies since European conquest and pillage.  This created unreal and illusionist racial caste systems, furthering dividing our people even in one small area.  The African headwrap serves to reignite the beauty and love for the African phenotype, specifically referring to Blue-Black skin tone, wide facial features, and "kinky" hair.  It has proven successful in its Pan-African aim at uniting the diaspora, although much work remains to be done for the inclusion of phenotypes not traditionally considered African, vital to truly unite the African family.  

(feature diagonal cross at the top, two tail tucked in african styled and two remaining tails make the hijab style)
Nebula W5 Hijab Crown

 (features diagonal cross at the top, two tails tucked on top in an African style with accentuating yellow tail going up and two remaining different colored tails come around neck to make the hijab style, no pins needed, just tuck ends into sides)

Creating a headwrap also depends on the material of the fabric being used and the best way to use that fabric to achieve a desired design that goes in accord with the personality and style of the woman wearing it.  So, in the case of the African headwrap, it features a style that is high on our heads with techniques that come from the bottom up.  The actual material of the fabric allows for manipulation that can add dimension and detail by using just one scarf that can stand tall without falling off the head.  The hard, which I characterize as rooted, material is essential to knot, twist, cross and tuck all in one without ever needing other fabrics. The skill employed to achieve such high complex and beautiful works of art is entirely related to learning the simple motion of bottom up using the material that stays up.  Looking closer, the scarf or fabric material is a direct reflection of the diversity of the African hair and its strength.  African hair features hairstyles that no other Black culture can ever recreate simply because of the hair texture itself, just like the headwraps.

Hijabi Crown 
 (Bottom-Up simple diagonal cross, first scarf tucked in and around head, second scarf placed to showcase diagonal cross, and both tails wrapped around neck to feature the one color Hijab)

African style headwraps are also a direct reflection of the state of mind that still lives and lingers in the continent from where all life started and all the shades of Black came to be.  "Where the knowledge and wisdom of the original man first started" (4:14).  The innate action of creation, bringing forth something from the unknown to the known.  It comes from the bottom up.  It coils upward as it is brought into manifestation by the thought who visualized it.  The duality of light slowly extending itself up from the darkness of the All, that carbon based, melanated origins of the Black, Brown and Yellow woman.  This is the essence of the African headwrap.  It even shows us, in its design process,  one creative reality from the infinite ways to wrap that originates from the source of who we are, which is our Blackness.
Grape Hijab Crown
(Purple scarf placed from the top to the bottom, tails brought together on left side and looped into sparkling scarf, one tail brought down and other to the right side to accentute half a bang. The sparkling scarf was brought around tightly in oval shape to cover neck and it was tucked in on right side to create a bang)

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad always articulated and left us behind with the idea that there were two main phenotypes of the Black seed.  The first phenotype is the wide facial features with coarse hair.  The other dark phenotype is narrow facial features with straight hair. From these two main Black skinned phenotypes we get variations of coarse to curly hair to straight hair, as well as mixed wide and narrow facial features. This means that when we add skin tone, which he also taught varied into 16 shades and more, we get a diversity of Blackness less rigid and limited in categories.  The messenger wanted us to know that the Black family was much more diverse than what we think of today and we must continue to enlighten ourselves to reach the truth to what being African or Afro-descendant means.  It is an entire people that we might not even consider African because the dominating cultural Eurocentric mentality has erased it from our minds. 

Lake Shore Hijab Crown
 (Featuring left diagonal cross, looped bow on lower right side, and two constracting color tails to create the Hijab style on neck)

One such culture are the religiously informed Islamic societies that encompass parts of the Middle East and Asia.  These people vary in shades of Brown, Olive, Yellow, and their invisible Black hued people due to anti-Africanism. Issues aside, these too are Black people labelled with different racial-ethnic names.  As of note, we know that before Islam became a religion, it was a way of life rooted in mathematics and science to reinforce our nature as man and woman.  This is the aspect of Islam that went North into Europe with the people we refer to as the Moors.  The more religious, regulation-based Islam went further South in Africa and spread East.  Both inevitably influenced and reshaped the culture of its people.   

Braid Hijab Crown
 (Brown scarf wrapped from top to bottom, two tails hanging, pink scarf diagonally tied, two more tails hanging, Sari scarf placed horizontally on top and crossed at bottom, braiding starts on right side, then diagonally brought to the bottom left, braiding continues on the left, and braid tail brought around neck towards right and tucked in under entire wrap.  

For the people who adapted this religious lifestyle, specifically for the women, as time went on questions on modesty and the role of women in Islam was questioned.  Eventually adapting the veil to create a unique Islamic modest identity, called the Hijab, was established.  This also coincides with the overt Masculinization of our respective societies.  The Hijab has been adapted to meet the needs of the practicing woman and her environment, although the covering of the head and neck remain an unchanged aspect of Hijab covering.  Hijab covering is not just a religious law, it has always been a cultural marker as well.  Different Islamic communities adapt the Hijab uniquely, depending on their ethnic roots.

Tiger Prints Hijab Crown
(Featuring taupe scarf placed and tied from top to bottom, two tails hanging, right tail tucked around and into its own pocket, left tail out. Cat scarf placed diagonally from upper right to lower left, right cat tail merged with taupe left tail into a diagonal twist.  Longer left tail brought from around loosely and tucked right under right ear).
Dealing with an aspect of Islam and tracing roots to the Moors, in my 9 year covering journey, I've always embraced the Hijab, although not as with the same love as my African and Indigenous styles.  However, the Hijab covering process brought me to question and extend my awareness of my upper body.  I started to look at my Crowns as an extension of my head.. There was this innate idea that had been sparked, but I hadn't become aware of yet in regards to my Crowns.  This was the idea that a Crown could extend and incorporate your neck area. The Crown is not just composed of your head, it is held by the neck and supported by the shoulders, extending into your chest.  The nervous system, your bio-electrical system, carrying thoughts and ideas, spreads through these areas.  The head is a part of this system.  Water, a natural symbolism of Wisdom travels through the body as our thoughts originating from our mind through our brain. Obviously, Muslim sisters had already incorporated this scientific reality into their practice whether knowingly or not.  It was with this framework I started to think about my Crowns.

Galaxy Nebula Hijab Crown
(Israeli scarf placed diagonally from upper right to lower left. Sari scarf placed diagonally from upper left to lower right. Tails hanging.  Right sari tail brought up diagonally showing part of Israeli scarf on right.  Israeli scarf on left side brought up diagonally and tucked under Sari. Right side Israeli looped lower knot on sari and brought around neck towards left side. Left sari tail brought around neck towards right, both tucked in). 

Like water, who also carries an electrical reality in it, the Hijab flowed smoothly from the head down towards the upper body. The material of the Hijab reflected that movement as well.  To create Hijab styles the fabric, usually a scarf is arranged in circular motions and pinned multiple times until final design is achieved.  This circular motion of creation (as with African hairwrapping) resurfaces once again, but in a different way.  This time, the coil goes downward and in bigger loops.  The material of the scarf or fabric reflects an aspect of Black hair as well.  For the women with curly to straight, it reflects their hair texture, a variation Black hair.  Hair again partly informs head covering. The richness of our Blackness and diversity in headwrapping is also illustrated in how the Hijab is created.  In this case, from the top to the bottom.  Coiling, again being an intrinsic part of creating the head cover.

Mustard & Ketchup Hijab Crown
(Mustard scarf tied from top to bottom, both tails brought up and tucked in, burgundy headband placed diagonally from upper left to lower right side, Mayan stripped scarf tied into mustard scarf and tied circularly from upper back of left side to the upper right side with a loose Hijab around neck).

These thoughts greatly influenced the way in which I create my Hijab Crowns.  Just like hair when long and of any texture, naturally is brought down by gravity, the neck inevitably was adorned and covered with it.  Being ethnically so-called "Latina," which encompasses the clashes of so many original people around the world (Moorish, African, Indigenous) and knowing these were all just variations of Black, I unconsciously showcased all that in my Hijab styles.  My Hijab Crowns featured both African and Islamic elements on my head, which reinforced that Islam is indeed a Black religion, as well as the differing realities of Blackness.  The environment I live in and the changes in weather, like in previous times, also influenced the style of the Hijab Crown.  Some are obviously better suited for colder or warmer weather.  Each Hijab wrap styling, shows the interconnections and relations of all the original people around the world. It is evidently celebrated all throughout, the reality of Blackness as diversely one.  Islam is an African-rooted religion and its extension to the Middle East and Asia have added new Black ethnic elements to the religion and headwrapping style that when combined with African headwrap techniques burst into explosions of beautiful encounters seen in the creation of my Hijab Crowns. This Hijabista stays Africanizing...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Saritelling: Stories of Nature

When I was about 10 years old, playing in my apartment building lobby, I encountered a neighbor that was not quite like the other kids who lived in the building.  "Not quite" because in my child's mind the whole world was Dominican. I can't remember his name today, but he was an Indian boy who had recently moved in.  We instantly became friends.  The unfamiliarity of this new immigrant inner-city environment bonded us.  Like all kids, we played all kinds of games and went over each other's houses. 

I remember going into his apartment and like for every young child, each new experience is like going through an overgrown maze/puzzle embedded with the sensation of the four senses.  Going over to his house allowed me to see into a new culture, which was not too unlike my own.  Like in my apartment, his mom would spend time in the kitchen.  The spices filled the air in the rooms (I thought of it as an Indian Sazon) the music his mother played sounded melodically rich and reminded me of the boleros or bachatas played at my house.

One day while playing hide-in-seek, I encountered a multitude of colorful clothing. Astounded I looked around and swirl the clothes, while making sure I didn't break anything.  I didn't want to get in trouble.  I loved looking at his mother's clothes, especially the long shawls (sometimes see through) his mom wrapped around her mid-body.   These colors brought me back to my childhood island, but also took me on a journey to experience another black culture.

Indian Women Wearing Individual Saris
Eventually, my friend moved and I never heard from him again, but I never forgot his mother's closet and I yearned to find styles like it.  Years later, I found Little India, right here in NYC! I saw Tunics, skirts and scarves among other clothing styles.  I was particularly drawn by the scarves, since I was already regularly head-wrapping as part of my righteous culture.  From speaking to many wonderful Muslim and Hindu women I met, they taught me about the different types.  I was particularly drawn by the Sari Shawls, exactly like the ones I'd seen in my friend mom's closet, which usually came accompanied with a set of clothing.   I first started purchasing individual Saris and Pashminas.  Eventually, one of the women I met, told me about a technique some women used when their Saris became worn or damaged.  They saved their Saris and eventually sewed them together to make one scarf with these amazing strips of fabric.  Each individual Sari was cut into a strip of a certain width and then they were stitched together creating blends and combinations of colors.  The richness of the colors and the soft texture of the scarves provided a real treasure for the women because now they didn't have to throw away these pieces of cloth/fabrics.

Because of my head-wrapping practice, I endlessly thought about how these pieces of recycled Saris would look as headscarves.  Although the women shared this sewing tradition with me, this particular group of women didn't actually know any seamstresses actively making Sari scarves in the U.S.  So, I made it my mission to learn to make them myself or find them. I started searching online, until I found wholesale Saris available, as well as recycled big pieces of original Saris that could be used to make scarves.  I am still self-teaching how to make them, but I have found sellers on Ebay who sell them at great prices.

What I particularly appreciate about Sari scarves is that with each, there is a collective story waiting to be shared by the woman who ends up with the scarf and wears it.  Each Sari was previously owned by a woman living somewhere in the world, who's energy became embedded into this piece of fabric.  So, when we fuse together parts of different fabrics, an explosion of sorts takes place.  Not only by the left-over trails of thoughts and lived experience of its previous owner, but in how the new owner will internalize these to make new stories both in her designs/styles and her new experiences while wearing the scarf. I have fully embraced the concept and live it out with my own Sari scarves.  With each different design, places I wear it, and people I meet, my Sari scarves became a part of new stories waiting to be shared.

Peacock Crown
The blue Sari used for the "Peacock Crown" above is a luscious soft scarf filled with variations of blue.  The name of the crown was inspired by the feathers of the peacock and how the male erects them to attract attention from its female counterparts.  Using the end tails, after wrapping at an angle, I was able to use the remaining last 1/3 of the scarf to create the erect feathers effect.  Using a thin scrunchie, I tied the scarf and then opened up the ends in a circular rotation.  The strip of sari that has white stripes just added great detail and helped to enhance the "feathers."  This is the new story I created with this crown design.  The ever-ending story of male showing and proving their superiority, strength and other qualities to attract a woman that will chose him as her partner/mate. It's one of the many manifestations of Yin Yang in nature.

Potpourri Crown (1st Sari Variation)
When I looked at the varying shades of yellow with certain orange tones, I felt the cool breeze right as the sun kisses one's skin with its warmth.  This feeling only occurs during Autumn and that was what I first felt when I held the Sari.  In particular, I thought of the dried falling leaves and petals that characterizes this season.  With each falling leaf you are told that nature will be active in other forms that are not readily visible to the naked eye.  The announcement of winter, is the preparation of nature to go "indoors" to keep warm and set up a proper "coat" for protection from the harshness of the cold.  With the Potpourri Crown, I wanted to capture that image of the collection of these dried leaves and spices together in an intertwining style that is the braid. Nature is now indoors, literally, in my home providing fragrance and beauty during a time where it hides it.  This is the cycle of nature. It is everywhere and it serves a purpose where-ever it is present.  The bun at the top of the crown signifies this ability of the earth to recreate itself each time.  This is the new story that this yellow Sari is telling. 
Sprouting Roots Crown (2nd Sari Variation)
This second Sari variation, called "Sprouting Roots" Crown, tells the story of another season: Spring.  Ironically, Spring is not too different from Fall.  It is another season that marks transition. A change to come in the earth's environment. The temperature is pretty much the same, only that instead of cool, you feel the warm air entrapping you while blossoms ranging from white, pink and purple gives signs of the fertility of life.   Spring also signifies that life is becoming visible again.  The weather is accommodating for nature to do what it does outwardly.  This outpouring of life, movement and visibility is the imagery attempted to be captured by this crown.  The top part is the earth uprooting itself and expanding, signifying regrowth.  It's roots are sprouting throughout the back of my head reaching the sides of my shoulders.  The sprouting effect is created by placing the Sari on top of the head, folding the middle of the tails at the top of the forehead and using a scrunchie tying the tails and placing them the side of one of the shoulders.

Grand Canyon Crown (Third Sari Variation)
I've never been to the Grand Canyon and seen it with my own eyes.  But this natural monument, is a wonder to watch even in pictures.  It's intricate rough brown/reddish terrain has a meditative quality to it.  It's design embodies a naturally occurring pyramid. It also gives you information about the past.  Water is an extremely powerful element.  Unlike fire, we can't see it's power immediately, but water is capable of eroding, carving, and changing earth throughout time.  It is the wisdom that water represents which is left behind in this beautiful geological manifestation of our Earth.  This awe-inspiring design is what stayed with me most.  My attempt and capturing just one detail of the grand-canyon and telling the story of the water that once roam and carved many of its pathways, was the purpose of this crown.  The yellow Sari served perfect for this because of its orangy and brownish parts.  The flat but wave-like areas of the crown encapsulates just a minuscule component of the grand-canyon and the prints its water left behind.  To capture this relationship of motion I wrap from the bottom up and then folded the last 1/3 of the tails into the flat component at the top.

Butterscotch Crown
 I've never liked the taste of butterscotch candy.  It was one of those candies given out in Halloween, and that you kept to eat last when all the other fun, good candy ran out. Butterscotch seem to be in a lot of my candy memories as a child.  They were always a component of any candy stack and so upon completion of this crown, I named it Butterscotch.  It captures the feeling of mild excitement I felt upon consuming it.  That's the purpose of the side twist with the beige scarf.  The color and the small twist represents that mildness-that the flavor is not horrible, but it still is uneventful.  What truly gives the crown the butterscotch feel to it, is this smaller Sari (it's not as wide as other Saris because less strips of fabric were sown together), which encompassed a spectrum ranging from coral to peachy colors. The contrast with the Sari and beige solid scarf just called out to me "Butterscotch."

Sandy Beach Crown
Using the same coral-peach colored Sari, I created another crown with an entirely different feel and story to tell.  I used a blue solid scarf to contrast the Sari and then I saw it.  Being at the beach with it's two major components: sand and water.  The peaceful, rejuvenating and playful aspects of the beach are the feelings being portrayed by this crown.  The intertwining twists one representing the water and the other sand, shows us that each are embedded within each other.  The sand is the floor of the beach.  It is soft to the touch, yet with the water it can be molded to provide some sort of structure.  The sand captures that there is more to be seen by the vast mass of the ocean, of its unseen creatures and all its living environment.  The sand invites us to go in and see.  It is also a resting place for the waters that have traveled long and far to reach its shores.  It is a space that we have yet to learn so much about.  This is the incomplete story of the sand and the beach.  To capture it, I left a tail hanging from the solid blue scarf and I diagonally placed the Sari.  I also left a tail out from the sari.  I twisted each and diagonally placed them from one side to another, so that they cross each other.

Each of these crowns represents a story, it evokes narratives that have a complete meaning or are still in development from my own thoughts, experiences and the sari's role in helping me tell them.  Whether it is the feelings that come with each season, my internalization of the Earth's movements, my conscious and unconscious interaction with a picture or childhood memories, the sari is a beautiful scarf whose intricate designs aids in telling these stories.  I wore each crown to different places and encountered many people. Adding these new lived experiences will continue to add depth and meaning to these existing designs and new crown designs that are already saying so much.  It really is Saritelling.