KNOM volunteers sometimes receive care packages from friends and family in the lower 48. When these packages come, boy, it’s like a party at the post office. I’m not kidding. Mail pick-up is one of the most exciting things to happen to us, right next to summer temperatures and village travel opportunities. For me, the content of the boxes doesn’t matter as much as the love behind someone filling a medium-sized flat rate box full of the silly things I miss. Could I live without a stuffed purple lobster or glow sticks? Maybe. I’m glad that I don’t have to find out for a little while longer.
We are big foodies at the KNOM volunteer house and most of our packages contain, you guessed it, food items. I appreciate what everyone receives because we end up sharing our goods as a house and community. My foodie contribution has been the introduction of Bolivian cuisine into our diet, which must be kind of weird since none of the volunteers probably thought to themselves, “great, I’m moving to Alaska, I finally get to try Bolivian food!” To make this happen, my older sister has taken it upon herself to find hard-to-find Bolivian ingredients (even by continental US standards) and mail them to Nome. Granted, many items we grew up with are unavailable even to her, but we make do with what we have.
I’ve compiled a small Bolaskan menu over the last year. That’s right. Bolaskan: a mix of Bolivian and local western Alaskan ingredients that dance together, sometimes trip one another by the shins, and create a funky little dance in your mouth. I’ve made pique macho with muskox and moose meat instead of beef. One day, I was cooking silpancho for dinner when I realized we were out of bread crumbs, so I used crushed Pilot Bread instead. I’ve baked empanadas instead of deep fried them (vegetable oil is expensive and rather unhealthy) and baked cuñapés with Mexican cheese instead of Bolivian.
I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting both with flavor and presentation. I’m a sucker for aesthetics and aim to make everything both look good and taste good. Yup. Against everything I was taught as a child, I like to play with my food. I’ve used whatever latte art techniques I remember from my hipster coffee shop days to draw on api, mixing the white and purple corn drinks together. Of course, my roommates are patient guinea pigs and test everything I make. It’s hit and miss. I’m glad they handle my failures better than I do.
For generations, immigrants have found ways to keep their cultures alive by mixing, blending, and adapting to new environments. In this, I guess I am no different.