Dominican Republic

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Hola and feliz año nuevo from the Dominican Republic! This New Year’s weekend brought us from the tiny Commonwealth of Dominica (population 73,000) to its much larger neighbor, the Dominican Republic (population 10.4 million). The two island nations sit about a thousand kilometers apart in the Caribbean Sea. The Dominican Republic is not alone, however, as it shares the vast island of Hispaniola with the nation of Haiti.

Always the consummate planner, Jess had already planned out much of the weekend’s activities long before I had even begun to consider recipes and film selections. She got up bright and early on Saturday morning to make us a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, mangú (mashed green plantains), and fried cheese, as outlined in the World Cookbook.

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Later that morning, we watched the Dominican edition of Geography Now while enjoying a bar of single-source Dominican chocolate—a gift from my aunt and uncle in Massachusetts.

For lunch, Jess prepared another set of labor-intensive yet utterly delicious recipes. First came the repollo guisado (“stewed cabbage”) accompanied by habichuelas guisadas (“stewed beans”) and rice. I guess the Dominicans like their stews!

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That afternoon, we prepared a couple of sweeter Dominican recipes. Jess tried a recipe for deditos de novia (“girlfriend fingers,” a cookie filled with guava paste) while I mixed us two glasses of morir soñando (“to die dreaming,” a drink made from orange juice and evaporated milk). I neglected to add the sugar and the ice, so we were both still alive after drinking them. The travel-themed glasses were a recent Christmas gift from my parents.

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We also watched a few short documentaries about the country, including this fascinating series of interviews (in English and Spanish) about Dominican cuisine:

For dinner, I made some plantain canoas (“canoes”) stuffed with eggplant, tomato, and bell pepper and topped with cheddar cheese. A meat-filled version of this recipe is common next door in Puerto Rico. I served it with some garlicky kale.

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With many hours to go before 2017 arrived in the Dominican Republic—which operates on Atlantic Time, only one hour ahead of Buffalo—we had plenty of time to watch a suspenseful historical drama called In the Time of The Butterflies (2000). Based on a book by the Dominican-American author (and fellow Phillips Academy graduate) Julia Alvarez, the film tells the herotic story of the Mirabal sisters, who sacrificed their lives in the fight against the ruthless Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.

As the time approached 11:00 PM, or midnight in the Dominican Republic, we tuned in to a live broadcast from the Dominican television channel Digital 15. We had hoped to witness a festive countdown from Santo Domingo, the capital city, but instead were treated to a syndicated New Year’s program called Feliz 2017 being broadcast in Spanish from places like Las Vegas and New York City.

When the Dominican New Year arrived, we nevertheless indulged in a few traditional activities such as eating bunches of twelve grapes to bring good luck in every month of the year and drinking some ponche (egg nog), a Dominican favorite.

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The next morning, now in 2017, Jess fried up some more queso (cheese) for another hearty Dominican breakfast. This time, we also made a third popular beverage from the island: coffee.

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We next caught a glimpse of Santo Domingo’s touristy colonial district, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, in this short montage. For lunch, I cooked some more rice to accompany Jess’s stewed cabbage and bean stew, leftovers from the day before.

In the afternoon, we watched the first episode in Henry Louis Gates’ 2011 miniseries Black in Latin America, which focused on the African heritage of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

There was a lot of guava paste left over from Jess’s deditos cookies, so I used it to bake my own interpretation of empanadas dulces (sweet turnovers) that were somewhat similar to this recipe from the Dominican Republic.

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We heated up some leftover canoas and kale for dinner. I tried making another batch of morir soñando, this time using regular milk instead of evaporated milk, rum extract instead of vanilla extract, and some extra sugar. Not bad. The guava-filled empanadas provided a tasty dessert.

This weekend globetrot to the Dominican Republic (our first to span more than a single year!) introduced us to a country that boasts a surprisingly complex ethnic heritage, a delicious cuisine, and some charming New Year’s traditions. Feliz 2017, everybody!

–Derek

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