Dinner: butter lettuce, tomato, cucumber, chickpeas, parsley, roasted vegetables (eggplant, fennel, potatoes, carrot, onion, garlic + oil, dill & oregano), green olives, feta, tahini and lemon juice dressing, salt and pepper. I wanted to make croutons, but didn’t manage that.
Everyone’s going crazy about ‘Zwetschge’ these days. They’re all over the market and the grocery store. Bakeries are featuring them in their cakes and tarts. This fruit is new to me, and I had to look up the English name. It’s damson plums. I bought a punnet to try. They’re bright and sharp tasting.
I’ve been so into citrus fruit recently. I guess you could call it a craving. But I get like this every year when the citrus fruit is good and in peak season. So even though I don’t think it qualifies as an official pregnancy craving, I’m chalking up my current passion for all things juicy and tangy to my little babe.
Just recently, I’ve been noticing a lot of things that are designated as ‘St. Clements’ flavor. I looked it up because I didn’t know about this flavor combination. Apparently, foods and beverages that have orange and lemon flavors can be called St. Clements. And it is apparently an established British tradition, harking back to a nursery rhyme. You can have it in baked goods, such as St Clement’s Cake or St Clement’s Shortbread. Of late, I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes for St Clement’s Drink, too. If I’d have known about the St Clement’s cocktail when I was little, I definitely would have ordered that sometimes in lieu of a Shirley Temple. To make up for those lost opportunities, I think I’ll try and order a St. Clement’s next time I’m ordering a drink.
I’m here to tell you that they do. But here it’s 70 degrees and not a firework or rib in sight, alas. My 4th of July celebration has entailed lunch with an English friend (just to show there’s no hard feelings) and working. I’m going to go to yoga tonight. So pretty much a plain old day.
So just in case you’re looking for a meatless recipe for today’s feasting, here’s one of my favorites. It’s super easy and astoundingly tasty. You can always have the ingredients on hand for an easy supper. I tend to make a big pot whenever I make beans and then freeze the rest in 2 cup portions in Ziploc bags. Homemade chickpeas taste a lot better than canned ones. But still this is good, no matter where your chickpeas are from. Also, I freeze herbs, and it’s just fine to use frozen parsley. I don’t have a picture of this meal because it doesn’t look nearly as good as it tastes, and I wouldn’t want you to be put off by that. Also, in this rare instance, somehow the breadcrumbs are even better than the cheese. Or a combination is probably the ultimate best.
One of the things I like about the German language is the expression ‘Warm Essen’. Literal translation: Warm eating. If you spend time in Germany, you’ll inevitably be asked by a German if you’ve already eaten warm? What they mean is: Have you already had your big meal of the day? Some people eat their substantial (usually cooked and therefore warm, except it can also be a big salad) meal at lunch, and some people eat it in the evening. On the other meal, most Germans eat bread topped with meat or cheese. But the general idea is that you eat “warm” once a day.
That’s kind of how we do it, too, but we don’t have an expression for it. It’s very useful. If, for example, you’ve been invited to somebody’s house, they might mention that you’ll eat warm together at lunch. Then you know you don’t have to plan anything for supper that night, because you can just eat a sandwich. Try it next time you make plans to get together with friends, being very clear about the general temperature of the food you’ll enjoy together.
I haven’t been back to Germany since we came over to England last August, but I know that all over Deutschland everyone is enjoying white asparagus these days. It’s eaten (warm, of course) with cured ham and buttered new potatoes. Absolutely sublime.
My bud, Mark Bittman, recently wrote about a bowl of disappointing, overly sweet granola. (Mark Bittman isn’t technically my bud, but I do love him, in that author/reader-kind-of-way.) Seeing his Brussels sprouts breakfast reminded me of Mom, for some reason. Eating Brussels sprouts in the morning sounds like something she would do – probably with brown rice.
Anyway, MaBit would be happy to know that I make a very nutty and marginally sweet version of his granola all the time. Granola is the most delicious, satisfying, filling breakfast. When I was making a fresh batch this weekend, I remembered the note from his post about using some molasses for the honey. I didn’t add the ginger as he suggested, but I loved the subtle depth of flavor that the molasses added to the granola.
I had molasses on hand. I bought some recently because I wanted to try something different on cream of wheat. I didn’t taste the molasses before I put it on the cream of wheat. I handed H his bowl, and he took a taste, then he asked very politely, “Did you put soy sauce in this?” The next time I made cream of wheat, I went back to the trusty brown sugar and butter topping.
I would also like to take a moment here to say how much I love living with someone who speaks English as a second language. Anyone who knows my husband knows that his English is perfect. However, he does make the cutest little mistakes every once in a while. I adore these little riffs on my language. For example, the blustery English winter has reminded me how much I love cream of wheat. When I made it for the first time in a long time, H gobbled it up and said that he had never had it before. A couple of Saturdays later, I asked him what he wanted for breakfast, and he asked me, “Do we have any more of that Power of Wheat?” Why, yes we do. And, by the way, Power of Wheat is a way better name than cream of wheat.
But I’m mixing up my breakfast food stories here. Back to the granola. Here’s my variation. The best thing about granola is that you can always tweak and fiddle around with the recipe.
Warm in a small saucepan on the stovetop:
a little bit less than ½ cup vegetable oil*
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup honey
Less than ¼ cup water
1 bag Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Scottish oats (about 7 or 8 cups)**
1 cup cashews
¼ cup flaxseeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup sesame or poppy seeds
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine dry ingredients. Pour warm liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients. Scrunch up with your hands. Try to make sure that there are no patches that are left dry.
Bake at 350F (180C) for at least 30 minutes, stirring about every 10 or 15 minutes to ensure that you get lots of crunch.
*If you do the oil before each of the ¼ cups of honey and molasses, then the sticky ingredients will slip right out of the measuring cup. You could make the granola without the oil. But I think starting out the day with a little healthy fat is good for you and helps you stay full until lunch. So I like having the oil in there.
**I have found it surprisingly difficult to get proper rolled oats here. A lot of the oats that say rolled aren’t substantial enough for my liking. Jumbo or Scottish seem to be good keywords, though.
H doesn’t like raisins, but I do, so I add golden raisins to my bowl. We both like to add some bran flakes to the bowl sometimes. I find that the flakes give the granola a bit less of a dense ‘mouthfeel’ and give the bowl a little lift. It also stretches the life of the granola. I learned this trick using Corn Flakes in TZ. I make a double batch, usually, and it lasts us about 3 or 4 weeks, even though we both eat hearty bowls of granola every day of the week. Then we try to have something different on weekends. If you ask me, weekends just beg for a little breakfast variety – and Power of Wheat should definitely be in the mix.
Abbie, you said you wanted some details on my bread routine. I’ve been baking bread about once a week. I use the Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day master recipe, more or less. It's essentially their recipe, but I change some things. I don’t put seeds on top, for example. I’d like the seeds, but when I’ve tried it, they just fall off. I’m sure I could figure out how to make the seeds stick, but I just haven’t spent much time on it.
I make half a recipe and mix it up the night before I bake. Then I put it by the heater to rise overnight. Mixing the dough really does take zero effort. I like that they have you dissolve the yeast and salt in the water first because then you know that those important ingredients are evenly distributed through the flour.
I don’t use the vital wheat gluten because I couldn’t find a good source for it. I tried, but the health food stores thought I was nuts. They said people want gluten-free, and they didn’t really understand why I was asking for more gluten. Then I tried ordering it online. With one order, the courier refused to deliver because I live in the city centre (?!). I cancelled my order with that company. With another company, they were selling something for fishing bait, but said it was the same thing as vital wheat gluten and thus could be used in baking. I don’t know about that.
But anyway, it doesn’t matter because the bread works just fine without the vital wheat gluten. I don’t know if it makes a difference that I can buy ‘strong’ flour here. Apparently 'strong' means more gluten, when it comes to flour. Also, I replace some of the whole wheat flour with Hovis granary flour, which has little chunks of malted grain in it that taste really good.
I make half a recipe because two loaves last us about a week. I save fridge space and oven energy by making both loaves at the same time. When I’ve made dough the night before, I roll out of bed early in the morning to take advantage of the off-peak electricity rate that we have until 7:30. I shape the loaves and turn on the oven to preheat. (Sometimes I roll back into bed while the loaves are resting and the oven is warming up. It's early, but something about bread-baking and early-morning just jives.) The bread bakes for about 30 minutes and smells earthy and nourishing while it’s baking. The best part is having delicious bread for lunches every day!
It’s really an easy routine, once you get it down. I like other methods of bread making, too, but out what I've tried, the 5 Minutes A Day method is the perfect nexus of easy and yummy. I think my main nugget of wisdom about bread baking is that it's an art more than a science. Recipes and equipment are good, but really baking good bread is about intuition. And that only comes with practice. I loving having a hobby where I can learn something nearly every time I do it.
Two new BBC food ‘programmes’ started airing recently. I’m sure they’ll hit the Food Network sooner or later. Here’s my advance take on the shows.
Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals
Jamie Oliver’s new show is really fast-paced and practical. I like it. If you watch the video above, Jamie describes the concept in his loveable, tousled style. For me, personally, I think it would be a stretch to do these menus in 30 minutes, but they look so good, that I would gladly give it a go. About half of the menus look like they would be great for company. Even if it took me double the time, I would be pretty happy about making dinner for company (main, sides, dessert – everything) in an hour. Seriously, it usually takes me like nineteen hours to cook for company, no matter what I cook, it seems. So I am watching the shows when I can, and keeping track of the recipes and menus that go up the Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals website. I’m sure I’ll be cooking up some delicious 30 minute – 1 hour meals in the nearby future.
The second new show is called Nigella Kitchen, and it is simply bizarre. I used to like Nigella, but this show is putting me off her altogether. There are all these shots through a weird fuzzy lens, like cheesy wedding photos, with Nigella narrating in the background – like a cooking show dream sequence. In one segment, Nigella bakes a cake dressed in a black satin robe, and in another, she wears a trench coat while she prepares a soup. Strange. There are way too many lingering shots where her well endowed chest seems to be the only thing in focus. And to top it all off, she uses words in exceedingly odd combinations – a bit like she’s working on a weekend homework project to use interesting adjectives & adverbs. “Throw the salt, glisteningly, into the pan.” That’s really something she said. To me, this show is taking the celebrity chef / “food porn” industry a few steps too far.
Just kidding, I didn’t learn how to cook everything… only breads, vegetables, and beans. .
I carefully selected two new cookbooks to bring with me to Tanzania, and I was overwhelmingly happy with one.
After careful consideration, I selected Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I spent a lot of time browsing through the Deborah Madison book, and there’s a lot that I am looking forward to making but there were only a few recipes in that gigantic book that I could use in Tanzania. For a number of reasons, Deborah Madison’s book just wasn’t very practical for life in Africa.
Mark Bittman, on the other hand, taught me how to take whatever was at hand and make a meal I could be happy with. I was limited by access to and variety of ingredients. Plus, meat and poultry were very poor quality, and it wasn’t a very good idea to eat raw foods (uncooked veg for example). That meant that there several sections of the cookbook that I wasn’t able to try out, but I hope I’ll be able to fill those gaps in the coming years. The cookbook has so many good recipes. Almost everything I’ve made from How to Cook Everything has exceeded my expectations, taste wise.
I really do think I learned to cook while I was in Tanzania, even though I had followed a lot of recipes before moving to rural Africa. For one thing, I had to cook. With no takeout and practically no prepared foods available, I really had to commit to making a lot of meals from scratch. That meant looking after three meals a day – making granola or omelets for breakfast; baking bread and making spreads to eat at lunch; and some combination of beans and/or vegetables for dinner.
I also had to find a way to make good meals out of the things that were available to me. I couldn’t rely on inspiration from magazine spreads or thinking back to what dishes my mother combined for our meals growing up. I couldn't get ahead of myself and make a fancier meal than was actually necessary, because I didn't have access to pine nuts or goat cheese or fresh cilantro. I've got my whole home-cooking career ahead of me and can certainly gussy up a meal anytime I so choose. Yet there's something to be said for being able to cook a pot of perfectly-tender beans, or make a good tomato sauce out of just oil, onions, & tomatoes, or to make a simple but delicious batch of roasted vegetables. Basically, I had to become more flexible, creative and fundamental in the kitchen, because I had to see what was at the market then figure out from there what I could make.
So thanks, Mark Bittman, for coming to Tanzania with me to teach me to cook!
Okay, so you’ve got your fresh coconut down from the tree and husked. What next? You probably want to snack on some coconut flakes or cook with coconut milk. Yum. But wait. First you’ve got to remove the coconut meat from its shell.
Easier said than done. I remember back in our first few days of living in Tanzania, I bought a coconut at the market. This was before I’d seen anyone work with a fresh coconut. At the time, my experience with coconut was either buying shredded coconut out of the freezer section or opening a can of coconut milk. You should have seen me: 1) trying to cut the coconut open with a kitchen knife; 2) trying to pry the coconut meat out of the shell using any utensil I could think of – assorted knives, spoons, screwdrivers. Nothing really worked. I enlisted MacGyver’s help, but even his creative mind couldn’t think of a good way to get to the coconut meat. Needless to say, we didn’t get much coconut satisfaction that day.
But now I know. Here’s how you get fresh coconut meat. First of all, you don’t cut the coconut open, silly. You crack it – perhaps by dashing it against a rock. Or you can hold it in your hand and use a panga to give sharp taps to the equator of the coconut globe. You can try to catch the coconut water, but most people here don’t bother.
Then you get out your coconut grating contraption. At first, I thought it was a cookbook stand. (That was before I realized that Tanzanians don’t cook from a book; they learn a handful of dishes from their mothers, of course. In which case it was pretty ridiculous to think they were selling cookbook stands all over town.) The coconut grater is a foldable stool with a grating hook on one end.
Girls in Tanzania start learning to grate coconut when they are ten years old or so. Once you’ve accrued some experience, you’ll develop your own quick rhythm for grating the coconut. You'll be able to grate a whole coconut in 3-5 minutes.
If you don’t have experience, then you’ll probably end up with some scratches on your wrist. That grating hook is sharp. And it will take you approximately one hour to extract two cups of shredded coconut.
If you want to make coconut milk, you heat up a little water. Only warm water works for pulling out all the good coconut fats and flavors. Let the shredded coconut sit in the warm water for a few minutes. Work the coconut in your hands a little bit. Then squeeze the liquid out of the coconut, over a strainer. Repeat one or two times, until the liquid that you squeeze out starts to look thinner and not so milky anymore.
You’ll end up with about 1.5 cups of coconut milk and are ready to proceed with your “recipe” for coconut rice/beans/spinach/bananas/etc. from there. The remaining shredded coconut has lost most of its flavor now, but your pigs and chickens will gladly gobble up your coconut compost, if you let them.
With all the steps from tree to table, this is really one of those things that makes me wonder how “they” (our human ancestors) ever realized that coconut was fit for consumption. I don’t know how they came up with the idea, but I am glad to benefit from the tropical kitchen wisdom passed down through the generations, so that I can eat coconut flavored dishes.