Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Meal

     While I was attending the children's Christmas Show earlier this week, I overheard the conversation next to me.  An acquaintance of ours is nursing his wife back to health after a terrific car crash and is having trouble making good meals for the family with the extra work on his routine.  We are going to be part of a list of people who are making meals for the family while they work through the healing time.

I'll gladly cook for them.  It'll be a chance for me to get back into the kitchen after so many months of daily seeking meals and cooking for myself.  I learned a lot in Kenya about the meal, the difference between a cook and a chef, and the ways that we all perceive food and eating.  Preparing a meal for others will keep me mindful of the importance of this work.

We don't think about the time that is spent every day procuring food or preparing it.  We have two choices.  Quick and easy from boxes and cans, or time-consuming from raw ingredients.  The former is the way that I used to operate in the kitchen.  Even when I had bulk ingredients, they were prepared with the aid of canned broths or boxed sides.  Now I am able to start from scratch with basic ingredients and put together a meal that looks simple but requires time and patience to achieve.  This is the starting point for the way I'll cook from here on out.

The women, and some men, in Kenya devoted a better part of the day to the preparation of the meal.  Ingredients were usually harvested from the shamba or purchased fresh at the kiosks in the village.  Then the ingredients were carefully cut and chopped by hand without the aid of appliances found in our kitchens.  The meals I prepare with the skills I picked up in Kenya don't have a lot of variety but if I add these methods to my other cooking, that will be remedied.  It's more important now to table a simple meal that is valuable not in its sophistication but in the time and care that it took to prepare it.

With time, I will present these recipes adapted to my lifestyle in the States.  Then it should be easy to present the other meals we've grown up with the same care that goes into the Kenyan meal.  In the mean time, I will get ready for my turn to cook for the busy family down the road, and the meal they get from this house will have the freshest stuff I can find and will be prepared by hand with as much time as I can find.

Kufurahia chakula.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chai Cha Jioni

Typical ingredients for coastal chai.
Chai cha jioni is a regular activity in Kenya.  It was a time to take a break from operations, relax for a few minutes, and unwind before the big meeting that was held every evening.

Quick Instructions

Get these ingredients: *
2 black tea bags
1/2 tsp ground ginger paste
A little milk
One fairly large mug.

Brew both tea bags in a mug as you would normally.  Take the tea bags out.
Stir in a half tsp (or more if you like) of ginger paste until it is well dispersed in the tea.
Top off with milk (hot if possible) and then sugar to taste.

This is a quick way to reproduce a cup of the tea you were drinking on the Swahili Coast.  Purists won't be so forgiving of the shortcuts but it's the most bang for a little time it takes.

If you want to try your hand at a pot of tea, this is as genuine as you can make it from your own grocer.  

Here is the long version.

Gather these ingredients:

Loose black tea.  Of course, Kenyan tea would be the most authentic but you may have to settle for any medium bodied black tea.
Ginger root.  This is available in the produce section of almost any grocery store.  Grate or mince the ginger finely, enough to make a pile in the palm of your hand- more if you really like the bite of ginger. It can be finely grated with the skin on since the pieces will be strained later.
Milk.  The heaviest, creamiest milk you can find is best but if you really want to make a pot of Swahili tea, un-skimmed goat milk would be the best.  Heat the milk until it is steaming lightly but don't boil it.
Raw sugar.  Again, if you can find sugar milled from Kenya cane, that would be very authentic.
And, of course, one tea pot and a screen strainer.
  • Brew the tea as you would any loose tea.  Don't worry much about the temperature of the water.  Boiling is good and make it just a little bit strong.  Put the little pile of ginger in the tea as it is brewing.  The amount will vary as you experiment and find the right flavor for your own taste.
  • After the the tea has been brewing long enough, add the hot milk and stir it in well.  The ginger will leave some oil residue on top of the tea.  the milk will help that dissipate into the tea.
  • Now add plenty of sugar to the tea and milk.  Chai is usually very sweet.
  • Pour the chai through a mesh strainer into the cups and serve with chapati.
This recipe is rough and there are so many variations that they couldn't be listed or described in one post.  Take this and work your own art on it and come up with a chai that you can call your own.


*I chose the items I did, Red Rose Tea, Spice World Ground Ginger, and Sugar in the Raw, not to promote any particular brand name loyalty, but for the fact that these items closely resemble the ingredients used on coastal Africa to prepare tea.  Not to mention that with these items, you can make a pretty good cup of ginger chai that anyone else would drink without knowing you had cheated.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dogs on the beach.

The title about says it all.

This picture gives you an idea of the typical appearance of the coastline below Mombasa.  

Look in the background and you can see three boys moving their bicycles down the beach and a guy wearing a blue shirt just sitting on the berm watching us.

Then there's the obligatory appearance of the yellow dog.  There's a yellow dog in every area we visited.  There's a yellow dog in every place you'll ever visit. 

Kukaa. Mbwa nzuri.

The bicycle guys from the first picture showed up to see what was happening.