Tag Archives: food

10 things I love

Just because, why not? It is healthy to focus on the positive and the lovely, especially during times of change, upheaval and boxes.

And before we begin I should quickly say that the list below, comes of course after the following:

Handsome, Trooper, Princess, Marks and Spencer’s, Sushi, my iphone and London taxis.

1. Getting lost in a sensual, evocative film and wishing it could never end. I love the movies so much it is quite an obsession, so much so that I have always told new parents that in my mind it is the only notable sacrifice to having children. Babies will impinge on that bi-weekly movie habit. When I was a teenager I remember taping Bunuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie onto a VHS tape and storing it safely in a box so I could always have it near. Thereafter I started my Truffaut habit and it just moved on from there. In another life I would be studying film.

2.My Mulberry.

It is extremely beautiful and makes me wondrously happy everyday. I shouldn’t have, because it was simply too extravagant for words, but I am so glad I did. My handbag fetish is now appeased and quietened for sometime, this is because I was hunting and finally found perfection.

3 .The sea.

Looking at it, smelling it, walking beside it, swimming in it. It is the place I am happiest.

4 .Shoe shopping. Shoes make me very jolly, and you don’t need to worry about fitting into them. Luckily for my bank balance there is no shoe shopping in Kampala. Scary for my bank balance is that Bahrain has many a yummy shoe shop. But my dreamiest shoe shop is in Montreal; it is called Scarpa and is in Westmount.  I am day dreaming about it now, even that makes me happy.

5. A hike in the woods. I am not a fan of exercise but a good walk outdoors somewhere very pretty and wild makes me very happy.

6. Teaching Shakespeare or an obscure but wonderful poem and the class just gets it, Bingo. Makes me happy every time.

7. Taking a near perfect photograph. It doesn’t happen very often but it does give the best sense of achievement.  Looking at a great photograph taken by someone else gives me the same thrill.

8. The National Gallery, London.

How lucky was I to have compulsory scheduled Art History lectures in the National Gallery? And I still love walking through those hallowed halls. You could say it is as close as possible to a church, for me.

9. The post meal conversation. Picture the scene. Great friends sitting together, the meal is over, the wine glasses still full. The cigarettes are lit and the candles low yet flickering. The night is deep and slow and there is no reason the get up early the next day. The moment is still and perfect. Memories are being made.

10. Princess and Trooper are happily busy with friends, or horses or any such fun. The house is ours, quiet and alone and rare.

Thanks to Belgian Waffle for the excellent idea.

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Great Shiny West I miss you.

I was hoping for the delivery of a package today from London and sadly it has not come. Over here in Uganda we count the days between our care packages and so it is with some disappointment that I sense it is  time for a good old fashioned Great Shiny West whine. I have not been back to the Great Shiny West for 7 months now and although I have cajoled numerous people to bring me M&S bras and Boots eye make-up remover this is no replacement for the real thing. So here is my bi-annual winge; get ready for it.

  1. A leg wax that does not take 1 hour. Today I sat and nearly bit off all my finger nails while a highly incompetent woman spread hot wax, millimeter by millimeter on my legs, then slowly, as slowly as could be, she pressed tiny bits of muslin onto my legs which she then rubbed, oh, say 100 times before slowly ripping it off. The whole process was akin to the type of punishment inflicted for treason. I did not deserve it and I nearly wept for those in and out 10 min legs waxes they have in the Great Shiny West.
  2. M&S. Yes. My personal shrine. I’d like some pretty underthings, maybe a sports sock or two, and a perusal of the shoe department. I could be in and out in an hour.
  3. Boots. My other shrine. Honestly there is nothing much I need, I just feel like touching pretty shampoos and looking. I have a problem, admittedly, and the longer I am out of a Boots the worse it gets. Last time I was in London my sister lost me in Boots and when she finally found me drooling in the Conditioner aisle she had to drag me out with promises of Sushi.
  4. Sushi. Enough said.
  5. A goat cheese salad accompanied by a chilled crisp white wine, served to me in a shiny White on White restaurant with starched white table cloths and handsome Scandinavian waiters. We all have our fantasies.
  6. A whole week without a power cut. And throw some good TV in there that I can watch with no fear of the power cutting during one of the best bits.
  7. A newspaper. Please. And a Starbucks to drink while reading it. I have come to believe that it is not about the coffee, Starbucks is not the best, it is a scam, it is all about the cup and the funny white cap with the space to sip out of. They have us wrapped in their outrageous ploy to drink $4.99 mediocre lattes because it is the adult equivalent of a baby bottle of milk. That is my theory anyway.
  8. Magazines. The greatest waste of money but such fun. Mine’s a New Yorker and an Oprah please.
  9. An old fashioned smelly cheese shop. I want cheese, with more cheese and then a little more on top.
  10. Super fast internet service. They call it Broadband here but that is more silky marketing than any sort of truth. What we have here is something slightly faster than dial up. Remember dial up, you lucky Great Shiny West surfers out there?
  11. Sidewalks/pavements/ what ever you want to call them. Just a scrap of concrete beside a road that I can walk on. Please.
  12. A bus. I would like a bus to take me from A to B. I will gladly pay for the privilege.
  13. A museum. Doesn’t have to be a big one. Just somewhere I can sit and gaze at art on a wall.
  14. Ok this one is very non politically correct so apologies in advance. If you are sensitive to such things as the cultural tradition to let the body odour simply be, please do not read on.  I would like waiters who do not smell. Please. Waiters who wear deodorant. So that when they lean over to place the pizza in front of you, you are not knocked backwards by the sharp smell of Man Sweat. I apologize for my cultural insensitivity but my olfactory sense is rather sensitive too.

    I think we are done here. I have drooled over the food while writing this and I have, in my mind at least visited a few shiny shops, read a paper and rode a bus, so I feel a bit better.

Onward.

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Ugandan Cake

Handsome Husband had a special weekend devoted to his birthday. He deserved it and we were just so happy to pack up and head to Jinja for the weekend. I have been in Uganda for 16 months now and have only been to Jinja twice. This, I do not understand and having spent a deeply relaxing 26 hours staring at the Nile I resolve to go more often. It is only an hour and a half from Kampala, an easy drive by Ugandan standards and the rewards are sweet once we arrive.

Throw a few good friends together, mix in a lovely place to stay, a campfire, happy children in tents, plenty of drinks, hammocks and books and add a fabulous view and a good weekend is guaranteed.

The only down side to the weekend was the birthday cake, worth mentioning since it has to go down in history as the Worst Birthday Cake in the World. I had emailed in advance and asked for a cake to be organized.  After all who can have a birthday without cake? I didn’t think I could conjure up a cake since I was supervising a Guy Fawkes Night at school on the Friday evening and then had Pantomime business to attend to before leaving Saturday morning. Anyway I thought I could trust a restaurant kitchen to bake a cake. Who was I to know?

I went into the kitchen to light the candles and promptly saw that this cake, being turquoise and wrapped in a shiny red bow had come from a store in downtown Jinja.  Okay, I thought, it is from a Cake Shop. Can’t be that bad, can it? Camera, ready I went to wait for the waitress to carry out the cake. 5 minutes later, I was still waiting as the staff thought it would be best to bring out all the plates and forks before hand, with little care for the candles which by now were mere stumps. Finally, out it comes, in all its turquoise spendour.

When the knife wouldn’t go through, that was the first indication that we had a problem. Then finally after some strenuous sawing action the cake snapped, sending shards of royal icing flying across the table. The cake inside looked like brown stone, drier than saw dust, harder than a brick. I gingerly put a small crumb in my mouth and nearly gagged. It tasted like nothing I had ever experienced before; more like pulverised and re glued mouldy brick than anything else.  How long had that cake been sitting on the shelf of “Jinja’s Best Cake Shop?”

A wise teen to my right cleared up the confusion. “All Uganda cakes are like that.”

So now I know.

Once we arrived back in Kampala we set matters right and sought out the best Death by Chocolate Cake we could find. No one can miss cake on their birthday. Even in Uganda.

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This is Africa. A public moan.

T.I.A

There are days when it is not all smooth rolling; in fact it is rather more bumpy and potholed. On those days I have to just sit back, bit my tongue and think to myself T.I.A.

This Is Africa. We say that a lot here, especially anytime there is an aberration of the service industry and a reminder, once again, that there is no service industry here. Not one little bit. Take as an example my Sunday. I woke up with the happy intention of going out for a family lunch. We selected a restaurant, one that handsome Husband specifically Did Not Vote for, I might add, and hopped into the car.

Upon arriving we realized that although it was a Sunday, a day customarily reserved for that wonderful North America invention called brunch, breakfast would not be served after 10 am. However, eggs could still be arranged and I settled on an omelette. And how silly was I to choose something so confusing that no one could ever wrap their head around the concept?  I wanted a cheese omelette with tomatoes and onions. Yes, call me picky, I wanted some added zing in my cheese omelette that day, especially since I had prior knowledge of the rubbery and tasteless cheese served in these parts.

I was visited by another waiter, who, like the first, looked bemused. He wanted to verify that I did indeed want a cheese omelette and not a Spanish omelette. Yes, I replied, fearing the worst, cheese, but also with tomatoes and onions.

I got cheese and cheese only. Apparently the extra zing was just too confusing, a mystery that could not be conquered that morning in that kitchen.

In addition there was no salt and pepper, Handsome Husband did not get what he ordered, and the whole lunch, what was intended to be a happy family Sunday lunch, came off feeling like a disaster.

Then: feeling  a trifle sulky I thought a Bloody Mary would be a fine accompaniment to our weekly Sunday Scrabble game. “NOT spicy.” I requested, having experienced the sensation of losing the roof top of my mouth two weeks previously.

Despite asking, I did not manage to get what I wanted for the second time in one day and the roof top of my mouth was once again scalded by spices of a variety not encountered elsewhere.

And what about the time I made the HUGE error of ordering a four cheese pizza at a fashionable pizza establishment? Yes it did have four cheeses. Only it was four times the same cheese, melted and applied to pizza dough only when it resembled the heel of my shoe.

This morning, reading the New Yorker (kindly brought back from the US by a friend) with my coffee, I felt terribly homesick for the Great Shiny West. Imagine this: a Sunday brunch in a restaurant featuring white table cloths, a large airy wall, mammoth windows, lots of green plants. A Bellini would be pleasant and perhaps a Frittata containing Feta from Greece and fresh pesto made with pine nuts. After wards I would go for a walk in a park, listen to some jazz performed on a band stand and finally walk into a gallery to see what is showing. A movie would finish the day nicely, in a large cinema with comfy velvet arm chairs and warm pop corn with just the right amount of salt. The movie would be something that recently visited a festival and would not have the descriptor of Blockbuster attached.

I miss the US, with its energy, its anything can happen and yes we can attitude. I miss the bright optimism and the eagerness to help the customer, an eagerness that I have previously found irritating. But how lovely it would be to hear today, with his chirpy drawl and college stance,

”  Hello! My name is Brad and I will be your waiter today!” “May I help you?” “Is everything to your liking?” “Is there anything else I can offer you?”

But no, this is not to be. I will be fine; I will sit back and breathe. T.I.A.

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Photo # 12 A heavenly moment in a shop

There is a very special shop in London known to many a tourist called Fortnum & Mason. They happen to have the best champagne truffles in the world. When we approached the Truffle Counter we noticed some divine chocolates laid out for tasting. It was a moment akin to heaven.

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Shoebox cooking

I have been cooking. All sorts of delectable treats have come out of the shoebox kitchen and it just goes to show what can be produced with limited ingredients in a tiny kitchen without any of my fancy appliances. However I did have to purchase a blender and an electric whisk.

Gazpacho: Terribly delicious and easy. Only problem was when my blender broke and I had to buy a new one. I added tons of fresh dill and a splash of vodka but I didn’t have any red wine vinegar so I used balsamic and added the juice of one lemon.

Tuna Pasta Salad: The trick here is in the sauce. I combined Dijon mustard with Mayonnaise, tons of fresh dill and plenty of salt and pepper. Toss a red onion, finely chopped, the mayo mustard mix and a tin of tuna with a bag of penne. Easy, delicious and something good to bring to a BBQ.

Homemade ice-cream: Basically it is chocolate mousse frozen. But that is my secret. Everybody adores this. Back in the great shiny west I used Lindt, here I used Bournville cooking chocolate. Still divine.

The best chocolate cookies: Chocolate chips do not exist here so I made my own. My oven is gas and I have had the worst luck, finding it constantly too hot. This time I stood over the batches of cookies like a hawk and they came out perfectly. I only burnt myself once; must get oven gloves. These cookies went marvelously with the ice cream.

Butternut squash and carrot soup: I add red lentils to this; they cook the quickest and a tin of tomatoes. I also use a few bay leaves. Once everything is cooked I blend it. It is thick and creamy and makes you feel all warm and nurtured. Best served with a soft, warm white bun.

Vegetable curry: I am giving all my secrets away here; the secret is the Patak curry sauce in a jar. Now that I have found it here I am in heaven. Lots of chopped veggies, anything at hand but I find cauliflower and carrots work very well, a handful of red lentils, fresh chopped ginger and a red onion, lots of garlic and a few good tablespoons of Patak. I also add a tin of tomatoes and a tin of water, or two.

Fresh Pesto: Pine nuts are a real rarity so I use cashews instead. I blend them with two good handfuls of basil, four-five cloves of garlic, fresh grated Parmesan and olive oil. Toss with pasta. For an added twist I like to add some finely chopped sun dried tomatoes before serving but I am in the only one in the family who likes this.

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Party marathon. ( my sort.)

Oh what a weekend.

I ruined a perfectly pretty pedicure by wearing closed shoes and dancing up a storm. I think at one point I may have stepped on a dog and caused a dog fight.  The night was gentle and starry at first, the martinis flowed, the food arrived, the music got higher and things became rather interesting. There were silent dialogues flowing above our heads and beneath the table all evening long; there was verbal sparring easily confused with foreplay, there were tears, recriminations, flirting and dirty dancing. Oh what a night.

The next day beckoned and with it a BBQ. Characters were tossed and delivered into a beautiful garden overlooking the city. If you tilted your body to the left next to one of their trees you could even see the lake. I met new comers to Kampala, people who were leaving, old timers who had seen it all; I met travellers, actors, the beautiful and the dammed. Food was divine, so was the wine and without a glance at a watch a midday lunch ended at 10pm. There was gentle chat, laughter and garden games. Then stolen cigarettes and cocktails as it grew dark; it was a very happy day.

Sunday and our stamina looked weak. We were operating on less hours of sleep than we needed and through our veins flowed more wine than blood, but we did it again. Another BBQ, this one more tame but a social activity never-the- less that was celebrating the achievements of one friend. It was a totally different crowd, no scary unspoken drama, just a lovely dinner.

Coming back to school feels like a rest.

Next weekend? Surprise birthday party for one 13 year old.

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Being sociable

I don’t often feel at all sociable, in fact I generally exist between school and shoe box, only going out when I feel obliged to or sense the need to shake off some unhealthy cobwebs. I find the longer I hide at home the less tempted I am to go out and actually talk to people, don’t I talk to people all day long?  Honestly, after a day battling with puberty, I rarely have the energy to do more than shower, cook and tuck myself up with a good book. However it has been a very sociable couple of weeks here in the land of 3limes.

Some recent highlights:

Trooper and her best friend made home made pizza ( including the dough) for a group of us. It was a perfect sunday evening of wine, friendship and laughter.

A dinner party, Mexican style where we sat under the stars and  ate guacamole and drank tequila Mohitos. The group was a happy clan of UN employees, a couple of teachers, some business people. We had 4 Canadians, 1 Brit and a Kenyan.

A visit to the home of The Beautiful Ones who live on the banks of lake vic, where children dip in the pool or shoot bows and arrows.  I love an alfresco dinner party, especially one that features good food, French Cheese and an international mix of people including Canadians, French, American, Brits and a recently adopted Ugandan baby.

Then  one of those evenings where everyone who was anyone was in attendance. It was the opening of an art show and old timers mixed with journalists, expats and wealthy art buying Ugandans. The evening left me a bit cold, lost even, wondering where in the grand scheme of things, I fit in.  Frequently a feeling of not quite fitting in settles on my skin. Not sure how to wash it off.

A ladies night featuring 20 or so women, some expats, some long term residents and some who were born and raised here. It was a lovely evening in a beautiful home with a generous and amusing host. Again, we ate under the stars at little tables dotted around the garden with the warmth of a cluster of candles. I am again, inspired to move to a house with a garden so we too can entertain under the stars.

Rather than squeezing 9 people into the shoe box so we can eat pizza on our laps. Yes this was another feature of the sociable week.

A night in with no Trooper or Princess is always a highlight. This one was dedicated to laughter as handsome husband and I began the Gavin and Stacy marathon, a witty and irreverent English sitcom that makes me laugh; out loud and often. Having no TV here, we rely on DVD box sets and we have now worked our way through the entire series of Entourage, Californication, Torchwood and now Gavin and Stacy.

Finally a rather bizarre evening was spent at the Casino. Yes, there is a casino here, more than one in fact. Isn’t a casino in the poorest continent rather an anachronism? This one deserves its own post so more on that later.

Tonight is opening night for Maria, singing nuns and tea with jam and bread. Tomorrow night I will be going out to see it. Very excited.


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The food situation

Tuesday evening here in the little box and half the family is singing about Maria. I am leafing through cook books having finally got back to cooking after a very long hiatus. Why the exodus from the kitchen, the self imposed exile? A combination of not having my beloved kitchen utensils, pots and pans, machines and toys with me; ( they are sitting cosily wrapped up in a Montreal warehouse) and hating the grocery stores here.

Shopping here is such a sad experience that it leaves me wanting. On the one hand there are things that were hard to find in Trinidad, such as a few good French cheeses ( although very pricey, think how far they have come), but on the other hand there are fewer gourmet shops with imported goodies than in Trinidad. Compared to Montreal, well, let’s just not go there. So with the optimistic intent of staying positive let us take a look at the grocery store situation here in Kampala. First, I must confess, I thought it would be far worse, and in the first few weeks here I kept finding things that amazed me, simply by their very presence on the shelves.

These are the things I find on a regular basis:

Chickpeas

tins of tomatoes

pasta

wonderful passion fruit, mango, pineapple

South African wine

Macadamia nuts

dried fruit

Quaker oatmeal

pita bread

green beans

eggplant

red peppers

plenty of herbs and spices, many fresh

potatoes

red onions

garlic ( from China!)

local yogurt

butternut squash

lentils

Tilapia and Nile Perch ( these are the only two fish available and they quickly become boring.)

These are things that I hop up and down with glee when I find:

Nutella

Sun-dried Tomatoes

Pesto in a jar

pumpernickel bread

lemonade

imported yogurt

Heinz ketchup

Toblerone

parmesan ( in a solid form)

Broccoli

Boursin

good brie

good bread

baguette

These are the things I long for and can never find:

Refrigerated fresh pesto in a bag

Pine nuts

Flour that is not made from wheat

Philadelphia cream cheese

Challa bread

creme freche

cottage cheese ( to make lasagna)

Tubes of tomato puree

Hagaan Daaz

Chocolate chips

A good variety of decent cheddar and everyday cheese

frozen filo pastry

Rye bread

Chocolate that tastes like I remember it

Well, that is a snippet of my compartmentalized food brain. Moving on.

When it comes time to cook there is no simple opening of a cook book or perusing the nets. Instead it is an exercise in creativity and hope. When the fridge door is opened and the produce tray is pulled out the question is not what shall I run out and buy, but what shall I make with what I have.

I cook a lot of vegetables with chick peas, chili, curry and pasta. Soup is also quite easy, especially if it is butternut squash and lentil, we have made cookies, by making our very own chipped chocolate and now that I have found self raising flour, cake is possible. I have made a yummy sort of fish pie with sour cream and dill and if the potatoes are looking good they can be baked, scooped and mashed with cheese. Eggs here can be a bit anemic but if you find a non rubbery cheese, omelets are always good. The avocados are brilliant, so guacamole is a staple although it is impossible to find real corn chips. Rather than despair the trick is to throw together some imagination with a pinch of salt. We hardly eat meat but when the non vegetarian half of my family does it is normally chicken and it is easy to throw together a good marinade. Ginger and coconut milk are readily available and both can be life savers in the kitchen. And when all else fails and the fridge lends itself more to headaches than inspiration, the are excellent Indian restaurants to be found, one great Thai place and some lovely Pizza.

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Beauty, the Beast and a pocket full of sneezes.

I am sick as a sick dog that cannot stop sneezing. I have allergies and they are bad. I believe I am allergic to Kampala.

Last night at 7pm, after 3 pills I was still sneezing and rubbing my eyes and looking like a red eyed monster, yet it was our night out and I couldn’t face another Thursday evening brought to its knees. Last week, struck with a bad case of the sneezies I had to miss out on a rather glamorous evening out with some girls. This time I could not let it beat me.

I like going out on Thursday night more than any other night of the week, despite it being an early start the next morning. It tends to make the weekend feel a bit closer and it is a wonderful relief after my 8 period, no break in sight, day.

Kampala has a special little Italian restaurant that I am happy to call my favourite place in town. It is called Mambo Point, so called for sentimental reasons to recall the neighbourhood where the Italian owner and his wife met and lived in Liberia. It serves fresh, delicious food made with ingredients shipped directly from Italy. I find it to be a quiet corner in a hectic town and there is something quiet and tranquil about sitting on their terrace, not a child in sight, adults sipping wine and speaking softly. Kampala demands that you find places like this to escape to, where you can regain your sanity and regroup. Next weekend is half term and we are heading out of town, but in the meantime this little oasis of calm has soothed my sorry nerves.

The biggest news to hit our house this week is the sale of the Beast! The Beast has gone to a better home and good riddance I say. I always feared the engine would fall out of that car while careening over one pot hole too many. There were a few rocky days with no car; taxis and drivers were pulled into help and dear F had to hop on a few Bodas too many.

Then yesterday Beauty arrived, so called for her distinct contrast to the Beast. She is shiny, newish, purrs rather than grumbles and rides like a dream. We are all very content.

Now if I can only stop sneezing, I can begin to look forward to the weekend. Tomorrow is year number 18 for F and me. If you want to see how the love story began, read here.

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