Month: January 2013

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Okra Stew with Beef & Eggplant

“WE YU YεRI PIKIN SE “MAMA DE KUK כKRכ”, PAPA BIN DכN TכK AM. If you hear a child say “Mama is cooking okra,” it’s because Papa said it.”*  When I read this old proverb from Sierra Leone, I get goosebumps. The truth is, children pick up everything from their parents, from what’s for dinner to more serious considerations, like world views, either loaded with prejudice or full of grace. While sipping soup or nibbling rolls, they overhear snippets of conversation; verbal jabs and eye-rolls are noted. And nowhere is this more noticed, than at the dinner table. In fact, I’d like to suggest that this is one and the same: what’s for dinner reflects, in a very serious way, our world views. At every meal, our kids get a double whammy as they witness the foods we eat and refuse to eat. They notice when we squirm and mock our way through other people’s “normal.” Friends, we have the power to shape our children’s very thoughts, yet we so often forget that the main way …

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Menu: Sierra Leone (& Giveaway)

Next time you see someone doing or experiencing something especially grand (or perhaps even showing off a bit), say with wide eyes: “The salt has climbed the hill.” It’s the way people in Sierra Leone express amazement over something they weren’t quite expecting. Like how we had two days in the 70’s in January. Totally unexpected. Or when I found out I’d secured a book deal with National Geographic. The salt and the pepper both climbed the hill on that one. As for this menu? She’s plain and simple, but full of rich, comforting flavors, perfect for hot or cold weather, so no need to watch the radar. The recipes and meal review will be posted throughout the week. Beef, Okra & Eggplant Stew [Recipe] Bits of unctious beef in a thick, veggie-loaded sauce, bragging an entire eggplant, okra, tomatoes, and onion. Perfect ladled over a bowl of rice. West African Peanut Bites | Kanya [Recipe] Just three ingredients make up these peanut bites: peanuts, sugar, and rice flour. The perfect Valentine’s Gift for the vegan, gluten-free …

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Woman and child in Mile 91, Sierra Leone. Photo by Annabel Symington.

About the food of Sierra Leone

I recently watched a video from the BBC about Sierra Leone in preparation for today, which asks the question “Is the Global Media too negative about Africa“? Great question. I have my answer, and if you’ve been around this blog for more than five minutes, you can probably guess what it is. My mission is to build up the positive stories, for every country, no matter what. Please note, you should not ignore the negative. We need to be aware. To do our part. This is vital. But you’ll just have to seek out those stories somewhere else. Hopefully, one day, balance will be restored so that all people can be seen with the dignity they deserve. That’s called love. And, with that, let’s begin. On the curve of West Africa lives Sierra Leone, a country whose capital, Freetown, clamors right up to the water’s edge. Freetown is a symbol of hope, a place whose population is made up of both African tribes and freed slaves (called Creoles). As you wander the crowded streets, you’ll …

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Monday Meal Review: Seychelles

I was an hour into researching the food of Seychelles when it hit me – hadn’t there been someone in my writer’s group who went to these amazing islands a year or so back? Images of suggestive two-lobed coconuts and pirate stories popped into my brain. Yep. That’s right. Barry had been there. Barry who lives the life of a wandering bachelor, who jets off at the drop of a hat to see this place or that, and who loves to tell the tales almost as much as going. Barry who might be in the Pacific islands next week, but isn’t quite sure if he feels like going yet. Barry, Barry, Barry. One email later, and our dinner date was confirmed; he’d be happy to join the family for a bite of the Seychelles. A little stovetop travel to bring his tastebuds back to that beautiful place. When he walked in he sported a thick, white beard and, thanks to the twinkle in his eye and the gifts he bore, it felt a lot more like …

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Massalé Spice Blend

The spice drawer is the most sensual part of any kitchen. On the inside seemingly innocuous  dry, brittle seeds rattle around, each with the power to take our minds from continent to content, country to country. All we need is a little warmth to coax their magic out and something like a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Today’s daydream takes us the Seychelles where they enjoy this haunting spice blend called “massalé” (a variation on Indian garam masala)  in coconut fish curries. The heat is fairly mild, but can be quite hot if you add more chili powder. As always, spice blends make great DIY gifts. And, really, what better way is there to “heat up” Valentine’s Day? (Don’t answer that)   Makes about a 1/4 cup Ingredients: 3 Tbsp coriander seeds 1 Tbsp cumin seeds 1 Tbsp black peppercorns 8 cardamom pods 1 tsp whole cloves 1 small cinnamon stick, cracked into pieces 1 tsp chili powder, or more to taste 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg Method: First, get in the mood by setting …

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Creamy Coconut & Banana Tart

Imagine sitting by the sea one lazy afternoon, focused on the tattered nets of nearby fishing boats, when something big and hard bumps against your foot. When you look down, you see a giant, two lobed coconut has washed up, onto the sand. From end to end, this coconut is as long as your forearm, with tufts of hair poking out between the brown, oblong lobes. She would have traveled hundreds (thousands!) of miles to reach you, all the way from the Seychelles. And you’d know she came from there, because it is the only place where these incredible coconuts grow. Once you saw her, you’d never forget her.  She’s called Coco de Mer, or coconut of the sea. And she really is quite… shall we say… graphic. I had the awkward pleasure of sitting next to one this week, hand delivered from the Seychelles by my friend Barry. Weighing in at 40-50 pounds, these are the world’s largest coconuts, stars of countless legends and pirates tales (one of which we’ll hear from Barry in a …

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Coconut Fish Curry | Cari de Poisson

When the sun dips low and spreads her rouge all over the sky, I enjoy knowing that this glorious watercolor of light travels around the world like a comet, leaving behind a glowing trail for all to see. No matter where they are from, or where they are going. The sun has universal beauty. It makes me smile to know that, somewhere in the Seychelles – half a world away – they, too, see her rose and curried colors curl through the clouds, right before bedtime. And I imagine that maybe, just maybe, they watch the darkening sky at the edge of their sandy shores, while spooning Coconut Fish Curry among friends. Considering fish curry is one of the most popular recipes  in this African island nation, this is a gamble I’m willing to take. Everyone on the islands, from weather-worn fishermen to stern grandmothers, serve up the day’s catch like this, with a little bit of India, China, and France, in the form of homemade curry powder (called massalé), fresh ginger, garlic, and thyme. …

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Menu: Seychelles (& giveaway)

Mr Picky flew to Washington D.C. for work, so Ava and I are spending this week “mother-daughter” style. We’ve already made banana muffins, hot cocoa (Guatemalan-style), and stuffed artichokes (my mother’s recipe from Italy). And there’s the coconuts. Coconut milk. Shredded coconut. Toasted coconut. We’re surrounded, thanks to our stovetop travels to the Seychelles. While we ate this particular menu before Keith left, I’m considering recreating it one more time since I still have plenty of  Massalé left over, and Ava’s on a real kick with fish. At the very least, I’m going to add the spice mix to some lentils. You’ll love the fish for an impressive, but super quick weeknight dinner (just whip up the spice blend ahead of time), and the tart is a real crowd pleaser, especially when served with a traditional cup of lemongrasss tea. So join us, we’re having a spiced, whipped, and banana topped kind of week. All recipes and meal review will be posted throughout the week. Coconut Fish Curry | Cari de Poisson [Recipe] The catch of the day gently simmered in …

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The spectacular beach of Grand Anse on the island of La Digue, Seychelles. Photo by Tobias Alt.

About the food of the Seychelles

“Water, water, every where. But not a drop to drink.” This week we’re stovetop traveling through the lush, greenery of 115 African islands, whose soft sands and coral beds peep out between the waves of the Indian Ocean. This is the Seychelles. In this tree carpeted and sand brushed landscape, fresh water is so scarce, it’s presence is officially designated as “negligible.” Looking outward towards the turquoise ocean, there’s a sense of calm. Looking inwards towards the granite outcrops, which jut like obelisks among palm trees, there’s a sense of wonder… as though our very spirits have moved into an ancient world of secrets. Yes, these islands more than make up for the lack of water. Bottom line? Her inhabitants know their corner of the earth is special. Many of the islands remain pristine – completely uninhabited – with 50% of all land designated as national parks. This is unprecedented. And wonderful. I should warn you. While saying “Seychelles” feels like a sing-song, lullaby, this was once the land of pirates passing by, legends and lore. Dinner …

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Monday Meal Review: Serbia

Oh, goodness. Where to start? As you may already know, tremendous, life-changing things are in the works with National Geographic. I don’t have all the details yet, but what I do know I shared our Facebook page, so go take a peek. Friends, this is pure insanity. All I can say, is that it’s amazing where a little imagination – a little stovetop travel – can take us. Rest assured, when I know more, I’ll be writing it up here on the blog. Until then, we’ll have to settle ourselves with the requisite happy dance and a healthy dose of humble gratitude. What else can we do when National Geographic is on the line? Ironically, everything else this week was pure chaos. All three of us were ill (in day-long, misery-laden shifts, I might add), my cooking was in shambles – I had to remake the musaka twice (the first time Ava gobbled it up eagerly, the second time was post illness and, well, the results are in the video), worse yet, I made the cake three times and at no …

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Serbian Salad

Although the air still hangs crisp with winter, seed sowing season is nearly upon us – that time of year when the window sills of the industrious are stocked with small, peat lined plastic containers. With careful gifts of water and radiant window light, small seeds will crack open and send vivid green shoots through the black, crumbling soil, into the glow. In a few months time, these brave seedlings will make their way outdoors, into the deep, hot sunshine, where they will mature into edible gardens.  Food for our souls. Today, we’re imagining ourselves in this garden, though winter is still upon us. And we’re doing it by nibbling upon a Serbian Salad. This isn’t a recipe, so much as a guide to freshness. The key to a beautiful Serbian salad is simplicity – cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, topped with oil and vinegar… and especially cheese. You want to grate the cheese over the top until your salad looks like a snow-capped mountain. Serves 4 Ingredients: 3 vine-ripened tomatoes 1 cucumber 1 bell pepper …

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Potato Musaka

Every once in a while we need chow down on good, ol’ fashioned home cooking. The kind that reminds us of mom, checkered aprons, and creaky kitchen chairs. We all need this edible comfort, especially when the wind chill drops down into the single digits. Keith informed me that, against all odds, I happened upon one such recipe when I selected Potato Musaka for our Serbian Global Table. “This is kind of like my mom’s ‘Hobo dinner,’” Mr Picky said, after his first taste. “Hobo what?” I asked, brow furrowed. I need not have worried. Clearly this was a good thing; he forked bite after bite of the layered potatoes and ground pork into his mouth, working quickly, looking more like a teenager than a 40-something who generally shows more restraint around food than I can fathom. After scraping his plate clean, he went back for seconds. Then thirds. He’s in good company. Potato Musaka is much beloved in the Balkans, especially in Serbia. She’s quite similar to her somewhat sloppier cousin, Eggplant Moussaka which can …

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