How to make: a Salvadoran-style wooden box

How to make a Salvadoran-style wooden box

As a member of Lowe’s Creative Ideas Network I received gift cards from Lowe’s in order to purchase supplies to complete projects. All opinions are my own.

If you’re Salvadoran or if you’ve ever been to El Salvador, you know that little wooden boxes are a common handicraft made and painted in the traditional style – I own several little “treasure box” style ones and at first I wanted to try to make one of those complete with a lid for this month’s woodworking challenge. Once I started planning it out though, I decided that for my first attempt I should try a more simple design, so with Carlos’s help I made a medium-sized wooden box without a lid. The supplies and method I used are below if you’d like to give it a try!

How to make: a Salvadoran-style wooden box

What you need:

jigsaw
utility square
pencil with eraser
paper
heavy duty bar clamp
2 pieces of craft board 3/8 x 4 x 24″ (to be cut for the 4 sides: Left, Right, Front, Back)
1 craft board 1/2 x 6 x 24″ (to be cut for the bottom)
newspaper
sandpaper
Elmer’s Carpenters wood glue (interior)
painters tape
Q-tips
paper towels
paint in various colors (I used Valspar samples I already had on hand)
small craft paint brushes
permanent marker (black)

Directions:

1. Measure and mark your wood for cutting using the utility square and pencil. Very important! Remember to include the width of the front and back pieces plus the bottom for the measurement you need for your two sides. These are the measurements I ended up with:

Bottom: 6″
Front: 6″
Back: 6″
Left side: 6 1/4″
Right side: 6 1/4″

Tip: Craft wood is sold with a UPC sticker on it. When you remove the sticker it might leave behind a sticky residue. This can be removed with a little dab of peanut butter on a paper towel. (Yes, peanut butter!)

2. Wearing eye protection, carefully use the jigsaw to cut our your pieces. You should have 5: bottom, front, back, left side, right side.

Carlos-cutting-1

Carlos-cutting-2

3. Make sure all pieces are the correct size by doing a dry assembly of the box to see that the corners line up properly with none of the pieces being too long or short.

4. Lightly sand any rough edges if necessary.

5. On top of a layer of newspaper, glue the front and back to the bottom. Use Q-tips to remove any excess glue before it dries. It’s really helpful to have a second person helping you at this stage. One person should glue and hold the pieces in place while the other lightly secures the clamp. Do not secure the clamp too tightly or they may lean in. To ensure the sides are at a 90 degree angle, you can use a triangle square. Leave the clamp on for at least an hour to ensure the glue has dried. Now repeat step 5 to attach the other two sides. Note: Really try to avoid using too much glue which will cause your box to stick to the newspaper. If this happen, the newspaper can be sanded off with sandpaper.

Glue-Box

6. Once the glue has dried you should have a completed wooden box ready to be painted. Gently tap the sides to make sure you’ve done a good job and the box will hold together.

7. Practice a design with pencil and paper. Once you know what you want to paint, draw your design directly onto the box with pencil.

box-sketch-design

8. On a layer of newspaper, paint your design. Tip: Painters tape is helpful for making clean lines.

Tape-box

Paint-box-halfway-done

9. Once the paint is dry your box is ready to display or use!

Salvadoran-box-4

Salvadoran-box-5

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Arroz con Pollo Estilo Suegra

salvadoranarrozconpollo_latinaish

This is one of those recipes for which I don’t have exact measurements. I learned it by watching my suegra and she made this almost once a week so I got plenty of watching practice over the years. The chicken is first boiled until cooked and then browned in the pan with plenty of seasonings. Sliced onions and chunks of potato soak up some of the delicious flavor and are served alongside the chicken with colorful mixed veggie rice and thick handmade tortillas. When I think of Salvadoran home cooking, this is usually the meal that comes to mind.

Arroz con Pollo Estilo Suegra

Ingredients for the chicken:

1 chicken, washed and cut in pieces (I use 8 chicken thighs)
1 medium onion, sliced
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
2 cups cooked potato, cut into chunks or wedges
yellow mustard
Worcestershire sauce
salt
pepper
achiote powder
oregano
canola oil
water

Directions:

1. In a large pot, boil the chicken pieces until cooked through. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate to cool slightly, reserving the chicken stock to use on the rice.

2. You can leave the skin on or remove it – whatever your preference, but this is when we’re going to season the chicken before browning and this is when the measurements aren’t going to be exact. On each piece of chicken, give a good squeeze of mustard, a few good shakes of salt, pepper, achiote powder and oregano. Use your hand to make sure the chicken is coated. You can repeat the spices on the flip side as well.

3. In a large deep frying pan over medium-high heat, add a few tablespoons of canola oil so that the bottom of the pan is coated. Add the chicken pieces and try not to turn them over until you’re sure they’re browned, (or they get stuck to the pan.) Flip the chicken pieces over and add a few good shakes of Worcestershire sauce over each piece. Add the garlic, onion and potatoes. Once the chicken is browned on the bottom, move them aside within the pan so the onions can caramelize and the potatoes can soak up some of the flavor.

4. Remove from heat and set aside. Time to make the rice.

Ingredients for the rice:

1 cup white rice (although I use Jasmine, personal preference)
about 2 tablespoons canola oil
salt
oregano
chicken stock
1 small onion, diced
1 small Roma tomato, diced
a large handful frozen “mixed vegetables” (peas, corn, green beans, carrot)

Directions:

1. Put the canola oil in a medium pot over high heat. Add the rice and onion. Stir for a minute or two.
2. Add the tomato and frozen mixed vegetables. Add chicken stock until the rice is covered about 1/2 inch, (or about 1 1/2 cups chicken stock.)
3. Add a large pinch of salt and a few shakes of oregano. Bring to a boil. Cover and lower heat so that the chicken stock is at a steady simmer. Do not open the pot. Allow the liquid to simmer away, (about 10 to 15 minutes.)
4. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork.

Serve chicken, rice, potatoes and grilled onion together with fresh handmade tortillas.

Salvadoran-style Birthday Cake

salvadorancake

Being married to Carlos over these past 15 years, one thing I’ve learned is that American birthday cake and Salvadoran birthday cake are very different.

Carlos will eat American birthday cake, but he doesn’t really like it.

Today was Carlos’s birthday and for the past few weeks, all he’s been talking about is Salvadoran birthday cake. I got the hint and asked him plenty of questions about it so I could make him one. Carlos says that growing up in El Salvador he always got a cake from a bakery called Flor de Trigo on his birthday. The cake part was moist but didn’t have a strong flavor, the frosting was only very slightly sweet. The cakes were usually layer cakes with fruit decorating the top.

I did some research, (even found the Flor de Trigo website!) and this is what I came up with.

cakecollage2

The cake is a white cake (from a box mix just to save some time), and the “frosting” is a homemade whipped cream. Sliced almonds decorate the sides, and the fruits I chose were strawberries and apricot. Carlos gave me muchos besos and said it’s just like a Salvadoran birthday cake. Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a try!

Salvadoran-style Birthday Cake

Ingredients:

1 box white cake mix (I used Duncan Hines Classic White)
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1/2 to 3/4 cup white sugar (more if you prefer sweeter)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 cups sliced almonds
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
1 can apricot halves, drained and sliced
1 can (12 oz.) “apricot cake & pastry filling” (I used “Solo” brand)

Directions:

1. Make cake according to package directions. If you have two round pans, use those. If not, you can do what I did – Put it all in a well greased 13 x 9 glass baking dish. Once baked and cooled, carefully turn onto a clean surface and slice in half to create 2 square layers. (Since the edges get browned while baking, slice those off so it’s uniform on all sides.)

2. This is how you make homemade whipped cream. (I recommend making this and assembling the cake the same day you plan to eat it.) First, it’s best if you have a large stainless steel bowl, but a plastic mixing bowl will work. Metal is better because you can get it nice and cold. Cold is your friend when making whipped cream! … Whichever bowl you’re using, stick it in the freezer along with the metal beater(s) from your electric mixer. The heavy whipping cream should be kept in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. To make the whipped cream – pour the quart of whipping cream into the bowl. Turn your mixer on high and beat until stiff peaks form. Add a 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and sugar according to your tastes, (1/2 cup to 3/4 cups makes it just barely sweet by American standards.)

3. Put one cake layer on a base – this will be the bottom layer. (Ideally your base would be the bottom of a cake container which you can cover with a dome lid.) Spread the can of “apricot cake & pastry filling” on the top of the bottom cake layer. On top of the “apricot cake & pastry filling”, spread a layer of whipped cream. Top with the top cake layer.

4. Frost the entire outside of the cake with the whipped cream. Carefully toss the sliced almonds onto the sides of the cake.

5. Decorate the top of the cake with the sliced apricots and strawberries. (This recipe will work great if you decide to use different fruits or a different “cake & pastry filling” – so get creative! Other options include fresh or canned pineapple, fresh kiwi, canned fruit cocktail, and other kinds of berries.)

6. Cover cake and refrigerate for a couple hours then serve!

¡Feliz Cumpleaños! (or as I like to say, “Sapo Verde!“)

Chanchona

“What is the music of El Salvador?” you might ask a Salvadoran, and most Salvadorans will answer “Cumbia” – but the less famous Chanchona music is an often overlooked, under appreciated, (and sometimes just plain unknown!) genre that is uniquely Salvadoran.

The word “Chanchona” basically means “big pig” – an affectionate yet amusing name given to the large stringed bass that is at the heart of this music. Other instruments heard in the always upbeat Chanchona music include violins, güira, guitars, conga and other percussion.

In 2011, Smithsonian Folkways Magazine did a fantastic feature of the Chanchona group, Los Hermanos Lovo. Check out this video, and then to learn more, I encourage you to visit the link below where you can read some really touching stories and interesting history from the musicians about the music. If you end up loving it as much as I do, there’s a link down below to song samples and downloads.

Smithsonian Folkways Magazine: The Sound and Story of the Salvadoran Chanchona by Daniel E. Sheehy

¡Soy Salvadoreño! Chanchona Music from Eastern El Salvador by Los Hermanos Lovo (samples & downloads)

Please refrain from throwing tortas at Chicharito

I didn’t think I’d be making a public service announcement today regarding the El Salvador vs. Mexico game, but a conversation with a friend this morning made me realize there are some issues that should be discussed, and if this helps change the behavior of even one person, pues, vale la pena.

Okay, guanacos, you know I love you all con todo mi corazón, right? You know I’m cheering for La Selecta in tonight’s game against Mexico, even though I also cheer for El Tri when they don’t play El Salvador. I’m aware that you guys have issues with each other and that Mexico can be equally disrespectful when El Salvador plays on their turf, (yes, I remember las abejas en la porteria), but where does it end, hermanos?

If Salvadorans are disrespectful to the Mexican team and Mexicans are disrespectful to the Salvadoran team, the cycle will continue to repeat itself. Look, I know it’s difficult. I have two sisters and when we’d get into a slap fight, we would keep slapping each other back and forth – always wanting to be the one to get the last slap in. Usually at some point I would slap my sister and run off until she forgot to slap me back later… (“Haha! Got you last!”) – But this situation is a little different. Someone has to have the maturity and self-discipline to let the other have the last slap.

Didn’t your abuela tell you, “Ojo por ojo y el mundo quedará ciego”? … Wait.. maybe that was Gandhi that said that. Gandhi would have made a good abuela. Anyway… Okay, your Nana probably told you, “Eh! Vos! Pórtate bien, cipote!… Qué bicho más malcriado, hijueputa…” – That’s not as inspirational, but good enough.

Last night Salvadorans stayed up all night making noise outside the Hotel Real Intercontinental in San Salvador where El Tri is staying. The intention was to disrupt the Mexican team’s sleep – but can I tell you something? I stayed at that hotel last summer and I can almost guarantee that the Mexican team didn’t hear a peep. The windows are really thick and I couldn’t hear anything down on the street below when we were there. Besides, even if it was loud enough to be heard, the Mexican team is already hip to this trick. Don’t you think that by now they’ve invested in some nice noise cancelling headphones? El Tri probably slept very comfortably, meanwhile, the Salvadorans down on the street missed a whole night’s sleep. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

If these kinds of “pep rallies” were all that went on, then I would say está bien, it’s harmless, but things can get a lot more disrespectful and even violent. Apparently someone threw a torta at Chicharito. It sounds funny but come on, let’s talk about this seriously for a moment. Gente decente no se hace eso. First of all, Chicharito is a person with feelings. This was just incredibly rude. Second, this stupid act by one person reflects badly on all Salvadorans. Third, this happened when El Tri got off the bus in front of the Real Intercontinental. I have walked down that street, (Boulevard de Los Heroes) and I can promise you that there were at least three hungry people begging within a half block of that torta hitting the pavement. As my suegra would say, “Qué pecado” … Shame on you for wasting food like that.

This is a beautiful game. Use your passion to support your team in a positive way – not on negativity. Whose with me?

Chicharito image source: Ed Schipul

Salvadoran Semita – Recipe!

My first taste of Semita, (a Salvadoran jam or marmalade filled pastry) was many years ago. Suegra had brought it back in her “encargos” from El Salvador and this one, although I didn’t know it at the time, was of great quality and very fresh. Suegra brought many Semitas with her and to keep from eating them I put them in the freezer – I soon found that they taste just as good frozen, (though that’s probably a very gringa thing to do.)

Once my stash of Semita ran out I was forced to buy some at the local Salvadoran-owned Latino market. I then discovered one more thing – Not all Semita are created equal. The Semitas bought locally were low quality – either because they were made to have a longer shelf life or because they weren’t and had gone stale. I vowed that one day I would bake my own Semita but I didn’t get around to it until a few weeks ago. The results were so fantastic that I would say this is one of the best things I’m able to make, (and Carlos fell in love with me all over again.)

Here is my recipe – I read a dozen Semita recipes and created my own. Sometimes straying from already established recipes while baking is asking for disaster, but in this case, it was sweet success. By the way, this recipe can also be used to make Empanadas de Piña, Pasteles de Piña or Pineapple Hand Pies.

Fun fact: There are different kinds of Semita. “Semita Alta” is thicker and other fillings include guayaba [guava] and higo [fig], but Semita de Piña is my favorite and it’s the most common.

If you mention Semita to a Mexican, they might think you’re talking about Cemita – a type of sandwich from Puebla.

Semita (Salvadoran Pineapple Jam-Filled Pastries)

Ingredients:

4 cups of flour
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature and chopped in pieces
2 tablespoons yeast
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 pinches of salt
1 jar pineapple jelly, jam or marmalade (if you can’t find at the regular grocery store, check the Latino market)
1/2 cup water

Directions:

1. In a very large mixing bowl, add the flour. Create a volcano with a hole in the center for the rest of the ingredients.

2. Into the volcano, add butter, yeast, eggs, sugar, salt and water. Mix all the ingredients by hand, kneading them together. (These measurements worked perfectly – I double checked by making the recipe a second time, but if for some reason the dough doesn’t come together after a couple minutes, you can add a little more water – If too sticky after a few minutes, you can add a little flour.)

3. The original recipes call for rising time – I skipped this completely. Don’t be afraid – keep going!

4. Remove a baseball-sized amount of dough and set aside, then break the remaining dough into 4 equal balls.

5. On a lightly-floured surface, roll a ball of dough out until it’s as thick as pie crust, (not too thin or you won’t be able to pick it up.) Use a knife to cut the dough into a rectangle shape. (It doesn’t have to be perfect but you can use a ruler if you want.)

6. Place the rectangle on a greased baking sheet. Top with a nice layer of pineapple jam, (a little thicker than you’d put on a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.)

7. Create another rectangle with the second ball of dough. Place this one on top of the jam.

8. Repeat with the 2 other dough balls. You should now have 2 rectangular Semitas on separate baking sheets, 1 ball of dough and dough scraps from when you cut out the rectangles.

9. Take your dough scraps and create a ball. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut into long strips as you see in the photos. Place on top of the 2 Semitas in a criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle each Semita with a tablespoon or two of sugar.

10. Pasteles de Piña: With remaining dough you could make another rectangular Semita or try your hand at Pasteles de Piña. Roll the dough out on a floured surface and then cut out circles using a large drinking glass. Roll out each circle a little more, trying to give it a more oval shape. Put a spoonful of pineapple jam in the middle. With a finger dipped in water, wet the edge of one side before folding over and sealing by pressing the tines of a fork against the edges. (Don’t worry if the dough breaks open a little or doesn’t totally seal. The jam actually tastes really good when it seeps out.)

11. Put the Pasteles on a greased baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar.

12. Baking Time & Temp: Both the Semitas and the Pasteles should be baked on the middle rack of a 350 F oven until golden brown. (You probably won’t be able to bake them all at the same time.) The rectangular Semitas need 30 to 40 minutes in the oven and the Pasteles might be done after 15 to 20 minutes – check them and decide based on color.

Makes: 2 normal-sized Semitas and 12 individual half moon pies/pasteles/empanadas.
Or: 3 normal-sized Semitas, or 36 half moon pies/pasteles/empanadas.
Note: A “normal-sized” Semita serves about 9 people.

Salvadoran salsa dancers come to Q’Viva!

I was contacted many times with the opportunity to interview any of the contestants of Jennifer Lopez’s and Marc Anthony’s new show, Q’Viva The Chosen. I responded that if they had any contestants who were Salvadoran, I’d be interested.

Well, I got my wish! Junior and Emily are half-Salvadoran salsa dancing siblings from California. Check out my exclusive interview with Junior below!

Latinaish: I saw your auditions with Marc Anthony in Q’Viva and it’s very clear that you guys are professional dancers and that you love to dance. At what age did you start learning to dance?

Junior: We love what we do! We have been dancing salsa for 12 years together. Emily started when she was 10 years old and I started when I was 14 years old. It’s an incredible feeling to do what you love and to do with your sister. To be able to travel and share amazing and unforgettable moments with family.

Latinaish: You guys dance salsa but do you like other types of dance as well?

Junior: We love all types of music and dance. Our specialty is salsa but we also do other types of social dances.

Latinaish: What are your favorite songs to dance to right now?

Junior: We love to dance to everything! As of right now we have been very into doing music by Rodrigo y Gabriela. 


Latinaish: You guys are siblings and you have a lot of chemistry when you dance together, but siblings have a tendency to argue and annoy each other. What does your brother/sister do that annoys you more than anything?

Junior: We have learned to work together. We have learned to separate the personal and the professional. We have been dancing for 12 years together so like everything else, it’s a learning process. The thing that we try and focus on most is pushing each other past our comfort zone and constantly pushing limits. We always have to keep each other positive and motivated when things get really tough because for us it’s a never-ending process to create new limits and continue to innovate.

Latinaish: Your biography says that you’re from San Francisco, California – but I also heard you’re Salvadoran. My husband is from Soyapango, so I’m curious – who in your family is from El Salvador? Your father? Mother? (From what part?)

Junior: That’s exciting to hear that your husband is Salvadorean as well! We were both born and raised in San Francisco, California, but we currently live in Los Angeles, California. We are both half Salvadorean and half Korean. Our father is from Santa Ana, El Salvador and our mother is from Seoul, Korea.

Latinaish: Have you visited El Salvador?

Junior: We have been invited to perform in El Salvador before, but unfortunately we have never been able to go because of schedule conflicts. We would definitely love to visit someday!

Latinaish: In the Q’Viva competition, you guys represent the United States, but do you also feel like you represent El Salvador?

Junior: Yes, we were representing the USA, but we definitely felt that we represented El Salvador as well. Our parents divorced when we were really young and we were raised by our father. We were brought up knowing only our Salvadorean side of the family. It was such an honor to represent both countries.

Latinaish: What else can you tell us about your part on the show Q’Viva?

Junior: Q’Viva was an amazing and unforgettable experience for us. It was so incredible to see such amazing talent from all over the world and for us to be a part of that was an honor. We definitely were extremely excited and nervous at the same time performing for Marc, Jennifer, and Jamie. It will be a moment that we will never forget!