Sunday, May 20, 2012
"Baking Cakes in Kigali" was published in 2009, 15 years after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. One wouldn't necessarily expect such a pleasant, thoughtful, sweet and readable book to emerge from this country so soon, but "Baking Cakes in Kigali" was a wonderful book. Parkin's writing was really similar to Alexander McCall Smith's very popular "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series in tone and attitude. In the same way that McCall Smith touches on current issues in Botswana (like AIDS and domestic violence), Parkin also addresses the genocide, AIDS, and suicide, yet both authors manage to do so in an observant, personal, matter-of-fact way, and "Baking Cakes" is in no way a depressing book. Rather, I thought it was hopeful and uplifting and strangely not at odds with some of the sadder themes the book deals with.
The main character, Angel Tungaraza, is a Tanzanian living in Rwanda with her husband (who works at a local University) who has a small business baking cakes out of her home on an ex-pat compound. The cast of characters are what makes the book so good. There are quite a few quirky and flawed ex-pat consultants from Japan, the U.S., Canada, and South Africa, a heroic prostitute, a clueless ambassador's wife, several international volunteer/Peace Corps types, a well-liked, hard-working single mother, and quite a few more. I think I particularly enjoyed the secondary characters because I've lived in East Africa and could recognize some of their idiosyncrasies, and I've also spent time as an international volunteer and thought her character sketches of development workers were dead on.
Angel, like Precious Ramotswe in McCall Smith's novels, is a loving busybody who counsels her clients as she bakes cakes for their various occasions. Each chapter is centered around a different occasion- a funeral, a baptism, a wedding- and Angel's nosiness and empathy help her attempt to solve her neighbor's problems. Angel has a firm sense of right and wrong and it's fun to see her creatively "correct" injustices and connect hapless lovers.
I didn't want this book to end. I'd gladly read anything else Parkin has written. I initially read this book because I thought it was food-centric and would have recipes for cakes or inspire some cake-baking... and it might, but the cakes were really secondary to the beautiful stories in this book. I highly recommend this book, particularly if you're interested in reading something positive and uplifting about Rwanda.
Posted by Jordan at 11:18 AM
Thursday, May 17, 2012
A year ago this week, Nathan and I woke up early, dressed in our finest, stood in a freezing rainstorm on the beach and became legally committed to each other. (Luke was an 8-month-old fetus at that point, so we were already quite committed in every other way.) I'd like to say the day was perfect in every detail, complete with gloriously warm weather to highlight the promises we were making to each other. However, I was enormously pregnant and soaking wet and shivering my way through the ceremony while our witnesses clutched umbrellas and endured an uncharacteristically frigid May day. Despite the ridiculously awful weather, it was a beautiful day.
Our good friend John performed the ceremony, speaking beautiful words about marriage equality, adventure, and commitment. Nathan and I held hands and spoke our carefully thought out vows and we all had a champagne toast. (Yes, even pregnant me. Because my wedding was not happening without a few sips of celebratory champagne.) Afterwards, John, his wife Freddie, Nathan and I and our other guests had a delicious brunch together and celebrated with french toast and smoked salmon eggs benedict.
A year later, our whole family --Nathan, Luke and I-- went over to Freddie and John's for dinner. We sat on their porch in the glorious evening sun, chatted about life, food, Luke's little quirks, and their new house. Most importantly, Freddie introduced us to this salad. The salad that is likely to become a fixture in our family's regular rotation of meals. The salad that will feature prominently on our table this summer. A one-bowl salad that covers all the necessary food groups: vegetable, protein, starch and bacon. Satisfyingly crunchy, salty, tangy and creamy, this salad blew my mind.
It blew Luke's mind, too. As you know, my dear adorable son is sadly not a foodie. This crushes me. Every time I fix a savory stir fry, a fruity pancake, or a tasty soup and he flings most of it on the floor, I'm crushed. But this salad? Luke ATE this salad. He ate bits of smoked salmon, bites of roasted potato, the (accidental) odd piece of green bean and even some crumbles of bacon. Not only when we ate it the first night, with Freddie and John, but two nights later when I was so fixated on the deliciousness of the salad that I had to make it again- a huge bowl of it that Nathan and I nearly polished off in one sitting.
I can't think of a higher vote of confidence for this salad: My son ate it.
The recipe came from the PCC website, but I made quite a few changes and additions. It's a perfect salad for Eyeballing it because you can make whatever tweaks suit your fancy. No measurements are necessary and winging it is highly encouraged. (In fact, this salad is kind of a perfect analogy for Nathan's and my first year of marriage: winging it got us through this year, and we sure didn't do anything by the book but here we are on the other side, all the better for it.)
Creamy Potato, Green Bean, and Salmon Salad
1/2 lb green beans (cooked in boiling water for 4 minutes, then blanched immediately in ice water, chopped into 1" pieces)
1.5-2 lbs roasted new potatoes (roast salt/pepper/olive oil-covered wedges for about 20-30 minutes at 400F)
4 oz crumbled smoked wild salmon
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup red or green onion, finely diced
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup nonfat yogurt
juice of one lemon
1 T red wine vinegar
salt/pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3-1/2 cup fresh herbs- whatever you've got- minced
Mix all aioli ingredients together.
Put the green beans, roasted potatoes (best if they're room temperature), salmon, walnuts, green/red onion and bacon in a bowl, then add the dressing and gently stir to combine.
Possible modifications: Use more yogurt/less mayo to make it more healthy. Use Greek yogurt to make it more creamy. Use less garlic to make it less pungent. Experiment with the herb combination- I used mint, basil, and parsley, but Freddie's version used sage and thyme and it was awesome! Leave out the wine vinegar to make it less tangy.
Posted by Jordan at 4:00 PM
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Oh, my. I love a good smoothie. At first, I'd prepare one blender's worth of smoothie, which was enough for a large glass each for Nathan and I. Then, I discovered the joy of the immersion blender, and now I'm not even sure why our regular blender even gets a spot on the counter anymore. Immersion blenders are vastly superior to regular blenders.
I like to make things in bulk: soups, cookie dough, muffins, pot stickers, enchiladas... and then freeze large portions for later. There's nothing quite like the thrill of being absolutely tuckered out--so tuckered that all you can imagine cooking for dinner is Annie's mac'n'cheese-- and then remembering that you've got a dish of homemade chicken and sweet potato enchiladas sitting in the freezer, just waiting to be popped in the oven. Hooray!
Last weekend Nathan and I scored a small chest freezer off of Craigslist, and we've started filling it with casserole-y type dishes, as well as bags and bags of frozen fruit.
Currently, we buy most of our frozen fruit at Trader Joe's. It's inexpensive, and they have a decent selection of organic fruit. It's important to buy organic strawberries and raspberries rather than conventional, because conventional berries tend to have large amounts of pesticides on them. We can't afford to buy everything organic, so I use the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen list as a guide to prioritize our organic purchases.
Every few weeks, I dump a couple bags of strawberries, mangoes, blueberries and/or mixed berries in a bowl, add a few scoops of yogurt (the only way I can tolerate the stuff) and some hefty pours of juice. Maybe a big scoop of flaxseeds if I'm feeling fancy. Give it a solid whir with the immersion blender, and I've got smoothies for a week! I pour the smoothie in jars, put them in the freezer, and every night I put a jar in the fridge to defrost. So easy!
When I wake up in the morning and start my day off with a smoothie, I find that I'm more motivated to eat healthy throughout the day. Why is that?
And, magical awesome bonus? Luke LOVES smoothies. I should start sneaking other foods into them, like salmon, or oatmeal, or squash. I do add extra yogurt to his to boost the calories.
(The purple detritus is remnants of a perfectly good blueberry pancake that Luke used for a gravity testing experiment.)
Posted by Jordan at 9:07 AM
Monday, May 7, 2012
I have fond memories while growing up of eating Apple Dutch Babies made by my mom. These were a huge treat at my house -often they were a special weekend breakfast, but occasionally they made their way onto our dinner plates, which was fine by me! They seemed so complicated- the batter would puff up to great heights in the oven, only to quickly deflate once it emerged, and my mom would make a sweet and tart mix of apple, lemon, butter and powdered sugar to top the Dutch Baby with.
This is another one of those meals (like Carrot Cake Pancakes) that you can delude yourself into thinking is an entirely healthy meal- it's got 2 eggs per serving, so it's full of protein and Omega 3's, and plus- it's topped with apple! Fresh apple! Fiber! Plus lemon, so you won't get scurvy.
(In addition to baking me many an Apple Dutch Baby, my mom also taught me the fine art of justifying your food: Ice Cream? Yes!! It's got calcium- every woman needs more calcium! Wine? Yes- it's so good for the heart! Chocolate? Hello anti-oxidants! Chips? Salt is an essential mineral! Plus, my mother is gorgeous and in great shape, so her food justifications are that much more believable: Eat ice cream and chips, and you can only hope you'll look as fit as she does.)
But really, Apple Dutch Babies don't need justification beyond this: They're delicious, and they're really easy. They look fancy and pretty, but really only take a couple minutes of hands-on time.
Preheat oven to 375.
combine 4 eggs with 1/2 cup milk and a generous dash of vanilla extract, then add 1/2 cup flour and whisk well.
In a pre-heated oven-proof dish (like a cast iron skillet or glass pie pan) coat the sides and bottom of the dish with 3 T melted butter, then pour the batter in, and place in oven. It should bake about 20 minutes, but check it at 15. When it's a beautiful light golden brown, remove it and watch as it deflates.
Filling: I sauteed 3 chopped apples in 1 T butter with the juice of one lemon, a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a spoonful of powdered sugar, plus a little more powdered sugar to make it pretty when you plate it.
This is the time to eyeball it, though- if you like more lemon- do it! (Vitamin C!) Want more butter? (Great source of mono-unsaturated fat, AND Vitamin A!) Think a little scoop of vanilla ice cream will round this dish out? (And, oh, it does. Hello, calcium!)
(Happy Mother's Day, mom!)
Posted by Jordan at 2:00 PM
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Luke won't eat much, but he will eat dirt. Weirdo. He loves to watch us garden and get in on the action by grabbing fistfuls of dirt and munching on it before we can get to him. You've seen what I cook- I can't believe this little man would rather eat dirt!
He also loves mango, in all its forms. Last week it was so warm and sunny, he had a little nekkid time in the backyard and I gave him a mango pit to munch on. He was in LOVE. It kept him occupied for at least half an hour. I think he also consumed quite a bit of grass, too, since the pit kept squirting out of his hands and falling on the grass. Oops.
Big news, though: I made the Carrot Cake Pancakes again this morning for breakfast, and Luke actually ATE a significant quantity! Better than dirt, I guess!
Posted by Jordan at 3:34 PM