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Soup’s On!


Celebrating while the soup is simmering.  One-of-a-kind #3031 by Edward Dieudonne

Celebrating while the soup is simmering. One-of-a-kind #3031 by Edward Dieudonne

Independence Day in Haiti is celebrated as the New Year dawns all over the world.  A hallmark of the Haitian celebration is the eating of a special soup, which Tequila Minsky describes in the following article that appeared online in “Saveur” on Dec. 31st last year.  Read and enjoy, and if you are so moved, try making this hearty, satisfying soup yourself.  You’ll find the recipe here:  http://www.saveur.com/article/recipes/Soup-Joumou-Recipe

”Soup joumou (pronounced “joo-moo”) is the soup of Independence, the soup of remembrance, and the soup that celebrates the new year. The soul-warming dish commemorates January 1, 1804, the date of Haiti’s liberation from France. It is said that the soup was once a delicacy reserved for white masters but forbidden to the slaves who cooked it. After Independence, Haitians took to eating it to celebrate the world’s first and only successful slave revolution resulting in an independent nation. 

“Today, soup joumou is such a new year’s tradition that before any good wishes, you’re likely to be asked: “Did you have your soup?” “Where are you having your soup?” or “Do you want to come over for soup?” And asking someone of Haitian ancestry about pumpkin soup opens the floodgates of their memory, both personal and collective. “New Year’s eve was the only time we could stay up late,” Elle Philippe, a New York-based chef told me of her childhood in Port-au-Prince. “I remember when I was five years old, my mother would start making soup joumou in the evening, and around midnight we could begin to taste it.”

“Asking someone of Haitian ancestry about pumpkin soup opens the floodgates of their memory, both personal and collective.

 “Philippe’s mother, like many other home cooks, started her soup with a rustic beef stock. (“You must have a beef leg bone,” one friend told me, who insisted that the opportunity to suck the marrow is part of the pleasure of the soup.) Into the broth generally go marinated, seasoned beef; loads of garlic, onions, and other aromatics; and malanga, taro, yams, or other starches. After some time, cabbage, pasta or rice, and the cooked and puréed joumou, or squash, is added. The variety of choice is kabocha, a green mottled, squat pumpkin whose nutty, bright orange flesh flavors, colors, and thickens the soup.

Though in Port-au-Prince and other cities, people generally prepare meals using indoor gas stoves, in rural areas, I’ve also watched home cooks prepare soup joumou on the traditional recho, a three-legged circular or square iron basket filled with charcoal where the pot sits directly on the coals. In the most remote parts of the countryside, the soup pot might simply be propped over a wood fire atop a rustic tripod fashioned from three stones. But wherever it’s cooked, soup joumou is left to simmer in a deep aluminum pot in amounts enough to satisfy all the family and friends who drop by to usher in the New Year, and to celebrate Haiti and its hard-won independence.”


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Let It Snow!

"Stable in Bethlehem" (Snow not included!) by Jonas Solouque.  See more of his work here by clicking on our "Haitian Metal" tab on the homepage.

“Stable in Bethlehem” (Snow not included!) by Jonas Solouque. See more of his work here by clicking on our “Haitian Metal” tab above.


Authentic photo of a camel in the snow on the Sinai Peninsula taken during a rare blizzard that swept through the Middle East last week.

Authentic photo of a camel in the snow on the Sinai Peninsula taken during a rare blizzard that swept through the Middle East last week.

Last weekend, while surfing the web, I came upon an astonishing headline, “Rare Snowstorm Hits Cairo.”  I could hardly believe it – snow in Egypt? Reading on, I learned that it actually had happened before – 112 years ago – thus making this storm a true, once in a lifetime event.  Quickly, I emailed my Egyptian friend, Heba, and asked if I should FedEx her some mittens and a snow shovel. She is a bright and infinitely capable woman, but I doubted that she was adequately provisioned for SNOW! Her reply came back to me later that afternoon in the affirmative regarding the fluffy white stuff, but negative on the offer of mittens as she was staying put until it melted and making do nicely with space heaters in the meantime.

She went on to say that several of the photographs that I had attached to my email had been “embellished.”  Though they were fun, they weren’t the real deal.  The one of the camel in the snow, however, was accurate, taken in Sinai where a good deal of accumulation had occurred.

Apparently, the snowstorm continued east and bore down heavily on Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem.  Fifteen inches, according to a Yahoo News source. Imagine that! So then I started wondering if that Holy Night – the Very First Christmas – could have been white?

Little documentation exists to support or refute the possibility.  The Gospel of St. Luke, the closest thing to a contemporary account available, though written approximately 30 years after the death of Jesus, states that “there were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night,” when the Angel appeared to announce the Blessed Event. However, shepherds the world over move their flocks to lower elevations as winter approaches, making it unlikely that shepherds or sheep would’ve been on the hillsides above Bethlehem in December, whether yesterday or 2000 years ago.  In fact, many biblical historians claim that the actual date of Jesus’ birth was probably in September. It wasn’t until sometime late in the third century that the leaders of the Early Church decided to mark the occasion at all, and when they did, they chose December 25th. Their choice was not based on anything they believed they knew about Jesus’ actual birth date, but rather their wish to designate a time in which to celebrate the occurrence of the Holy Birth and simultaneously draw in the Pagans, who were already whooping it up over the Winter Solstice anyway.

So there it is, unlikely at best.  Perhaps it’s the Midwesterner in me, but I’m going to hold onto my romantic notions of a white Christmas – for the First One and Forever More.  Sledding and snowmen and icicles and frosted windowpanes and kicking through sidewalk drifts in fur-trimmed boots.  That’s what feels right to me.  Let it snow!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus







Remembering Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela July 18, 1918 -  Dec. 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela
July 18, 1918 –
Dec. 5, 2013

Since Nelson Mandela’s death last week, the media has been filled with accounts of his life, his trials, his triumphs, his leadership, and his sacrifice for the causes of freedom, justice, and equality. He was a complex individual, to be sure, but in the end the tributes flow like rivers in praise of the man who delivered South Africa from apartheid, became its first elected black president and used his position of leadership to set an example of forgiveness, inclusivity, and humanity for the world.

So as I’ve read the papers and recalled his legacy, I’ve wondered, “Where do people get that kind of courage?  What inspires them to struggle unafraid toward something as daunting as what Martin Luther King called, “bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice”? I remember watching “Invictus” a few years back – the film about Nelson Mandela getting behind the predominantly white Springbok rugby team during the ramp-up to World Rugby Cup as a means unifying the nation. There was a scene in the movie between Morgan Freeman (Mandela) and Matt Damon (A professional rugby player) in which the poem, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, was said to have inspired Mandela while he was in prison.  Mandela used the poem to similarly inspire the rugby team captain to greater leadership of the Springboks in the cause of athletic glory and national unity. Indeed Henley’s stirring verse compels one to courageous heights:

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid”

(Read the poem in its entirety here:  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/invictus/  )

Yet, while Mandela was reportedly moved by Henley’s poem and did often recite it during his long years of incarceration, it was not the inspirational message that he actually did give to the young Springbok captain. Cinematic license at work, apparently.  The real Nelson Mandela gave Francois Pinaar, the real captain of the Springboks that really did go on to win the World Rugby Cup, a copy of a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910 entitled, “Citizenship in a Republic.” No doubt Mandela singled out a section on page 7 of the 35-page speech which has come to be known as “The Man in the Arena”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Wherever the spirit of Nelson Mandela goes, it will not be among cold and timid souls. As he said in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, published in 1994, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Rest in Peace, Sir.  You’ve earned it richly.

Journeys of The Magi and Me



REC498 "Gifts of the Magi" by Jonas Soulouque

REC498 “Gifts of the Magi” by Jonas Soulouque

Of all of the symbols of Christmas, my favorite is The Three Magi.  Not coincidentally, I suppose, it is their journey that moves me.  At heart, I am an adventurer, and I know that they were too; undertaking a commitment of great distance, following a star to an unknown destination. What marvels did they see?  What hardships did they endure?  What lessons of men and mountains did they learn along the way?

According to what little historical background we can attach to their story, The Magi were Zoroastrian priests of Ancient Persia, an empire that at the time of Christ’s birth extended from what is now Central Turkey southward to the United Arab Emirates and east to Mongolia and the Indus Valley in India. The priestly class of the period was particularly avid in the study of astrology and astronomy and that these three apparently dropped everything in quest of a star could be equated to going abroad in the name of scientific inquiry.  Anticipation of discovery and the thrill of the adventure to unfold must have filled their hearts. What excitement they must have felt as they set out on their overland voyage!

Indeed, their journey was on my mind few years ago, early in the holiday season when I set out to run a quick errand.  I had been in the middle of decorating and had carefully arranged my Nativity set; The Magi leading their camels just so across the console table. Upon critical examination, however, I decided that I needed a couple of poinsettias or greenery at least, to complete the scene.  I jumped in the car to head out in IMG_1130 (640x480)search of same when I passed a Christmas tree lot that had the added attraction of offering camel rides. By golly!  I couldn’t drop everything to follow a star for months on end, but I had 15 minutes to stop and ride a camel.  So I did. Discovery and adventure do not belong only to The Magi.  It is something we share.


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus




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