Tag Archives: cooking

On Matapa, and female friends

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One thing that I became immediately aware of when we got to Mapinhane was that our neighborhood is full of males. We only have 2 female teaching colleagues at our school, and only one of them lives in the neighborhood. It became clear to me that I am going to need some female company, and that I am going to have to make an effort to find it.

There are a lot of women in the town of Mapinhane. They are always working in their mashambas (gardens), going from here to there, carrying many items and at least one child, or tending to their shops. They are busy. But they are friendly too. Upon greeting them, they usually break into a big smile and an enthusiastic greeting back. If they have a moment they will stop and chat with us. Or if we have a moment (of which we have many right now) we stop and chat with them at their stores and market stalls.

After 6 weeks here, there a couple of women that I have really come to enjoy and I wondered how I could continue to build friendships with them outside of our daily shopping needs and small talk conversations. Like I said, women here are very busy. And also, Mozambican culture is not American culture. At home, if I wanted to build a friendship I would probably suggest meeting for a drink or coffee or a meal or going for a hike or a ski. But none of these things are things here.

One way I thought of to make friends with the women here is to work with them on whatever they are doing. Another way is teach them something, like English or baking, if they want to learn. And a third way is to ask them to teach you something.

It was in this third way that I went out on a limb one day recently, outside of our bread shop. We were talking with Celia, the woman who sells bread in Mapinhane, about Mozambican food. We told her that one of our favorite Mozambican dishes is Matapa, and we asked her if anyone in Mapinhane sells prepared Matapa that we could buy for lunch once in a while. She shrugged and said she didn’t think so.

The next day when I went to buy bread, I asked Celia if she would teach me to make Matapa. There were a few seconds of anxiety, you know, that fear of rejection when, reminiscent of first grade, you ask someone if they want to be your friend. Despite my desire to eat Matapa, my request for a cooking lesson was more grown-up, Peace Corps, living-in-another-culture code for “PLEASE, be my friend!!”

She smiled and got a little embarrassed. She agreed with a drawn out “oooookkkkaaayy” that indicated at least a bit of reluctance. But, she agreed!

Just as giddy as a first grader in those early days of a new friendship, I looked so forward to my cooking lesson with Celia. After assuring Celia that Alex would not be upset about my spending a few hours out of the house, (another topic of discussion for later: husbands in the eyes of Mozambican women…) I passed a few hours Sunday afternoon, learning to make this delightful Mozambican dish and smiling to myself as she told passersby, “I am teaching my friend to make Matapa.”

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We began by pulling leaves off of the Matapa plants in Celia’s yard. She taught me to pull from the top, as the lower leaves are older and bitter. This is the same plant as tapioca or casava, as it is called in other parts of the world. The root is like a potato and has many uses as well.

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We then had to pilar, or smoosh, the Matapa leaves. As you may recall, pilar-ing was one of the skills we learned during our homestay in Namaacha, but we had only ever done it with peanuts.

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Next we pilared raw peanuts to make peanut flour.

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Throwback to that time in Namaacha when I learned to ralar, or shave, fresh coconut. This is what we did next in the Matapa making process.

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Then we added our peanut flour to the shaved coconut, poured a bit of hot water over it, and squeezed, producing the first, sweet coconut milk. We poured the first milk into the Matapa pan, and then repeated this coconut milking 2 more times, with each subsequent milk getting less sweet.

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We used a very fine strainer to add the coconut milk to the Matapa leaves.

 

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Let it boil to thicken…

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And Voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Professora Celia giving me some of our finished product to take home.

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Weekend Kitchen Experiments: Curry “Man” Soup, Oatmeal Cakes, Sweet Potato Hash Browns, and More!

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This weekend turned out to be a weekend of near-constant cooking. To me, it seemed like great timing to hang out in the house. It’s mud season in Fraser and, while the weather has been pretty nice, there’s not as much primo outdoor recreating as there is in the height of summer or the height of winter. It’s still far too wet and muddy to hike, and the snow is slowly but surely melting away so snowboarding and cross-country skiing are wrapping up for the season. Bike riding seems to be our best bet, and we did that on our day off on Friday. But mostly, I spent a lot of time playing the kitchen. Here are our weekend kitchen experiments:

Alex’s curry “man” soup

I had been fighting a creeping cold all weekend, and by Sunday at lunchtime my throat was really starting to hurt. I told Alex I wished our Indian food restaurant was open for lunch so I could go get some curry. This warm spice always seems to help soothe a sore throat. Alex didn’t hesitate for one second. He got right up and declared that he would make me a curry soup. What a good hubby, hah? 🙂 Alex is really good at making something from nothing, at putting together a bunch of random spices and ingredients into something scrumptious. So, he set out to concoct a curry soup using whatever we had in the fridge! I was on the couch, being a “backseat driver” to his soup-making, giving him little lessons on the basics of making soup from scratch (I make soup A LOT..almost every week!) “This is a man soup,” he kept saying. “It’s a man soup.” I am not sure on the meaning of this, but I can only assume it meant that he was just throwing it all together. But man, did his man soup turn out good! When I sat down to write this post, I asked Alex what he did to make that soup. He refused to tell me, saying, “Nope, nope,” then, with a smirk on his face, “Ummm I cannot just prostitute my man soup.”…ahem…Then finally, “I don’t even know what I did.” Sorry guys, we obviously are not very diligent “recipe developers,” but that’s why this post is about experiments! Anywho, from what I saw from my vantage point on the couch Alex coined and sauteed 1-2 carrots, then added some strips of red and green pepper and a few diced green onions. It smelled to me like he seasoned all of this with curry, and I would later find curry, ginger, and mustard seed left out on the counter. Lucky for me he rarely cleans up after himself, so his kitchen secrets aren’t too hard to figure out 😉 While the veggies softened, he seemed to be melting some frozen chicken stock cubes in a saucepan and perhaps adding spices to this as well. Next, he put the veggies into the chicken stock, and began to saute and spice some tofu. This is when I dozed off a little. But I know that he added Udon noodles and the cooked tofu to the soup at some point. He woke me from my doze with a steaming bowl of curry soup. It was sooooooo delicious. It was spicy and hot, sweet and soothing. I devoured it, and enjoyed a 30 minute reprieve from my aching throat. If Alex ever decides that it is, in fact, acceptable to “prostitute his man soup,” I will be sure to share the official recipe with you.

Oatmeal Cakes:

The idea for this was to have a kind of dense and filling pancake item, made out of cooked oatmeal! First, I put about 2 cups of quick oats in a bowl and mixed them with boiling water, making sure they weren’t soupy at all, but sticky instead. I then added a handful of raisins and a handful of pecans. Next, I formed balls out of the mixture and squished them between my two hands, making one cake at a time and using a spatula to get the sticky cake off of my hand and into a pan. I had greased the pan with coconut oil, and now cooked the cakes, letting them get golden on one side and then flipping them and letting them get golden on the other side. When the cakes were done, I drizzled them with honey and served Alex his with yogurt. These were yummy! With crispy outsides and dense, packed insides, they had a different texture than regularly-prepared oatmeal and were still just as filling. Success!

 

Sweet Potato Hash Browns served with tomatoes on a fried egg.

Sweet Potato Hash Browns served with tomatoes on a fried egg.

Sweet Potato Hash browns

I love sweet potatoes, and I love hash browns. So, one morning, I thought I would try my hand at combining these two glorious things. I used one sweet potato, and started by peeling it and cutting it in half width-wise (this sounds like a very weird term…but I cut it the way that wasn’t lengthwise. Is that called width-wise?? Somebody help me out on this one.) Then I grated one half into a bowl using a cheese grater. Next, I spread the grated product onto a paper towel, topped it with another paper towel, and pressed out as much moisture as I could. I recently learned that sweet potatoes have a very high moisture content, so I thought taking some of that water out might speed up the browning process. I then repeated the grating and pressing with the other half of the sweet tater. After I squeezed out as much moisture as I could, I tossed all the hash in a bowl with some cinnamon and a little bit of corn starch, which is another technique to remove moisture (I learned this when making sweet potato fries on Thursday night, following this recipe from A Couple Cooks….they were AMAZING)Next, I heated up some coconut oil in a pan and, once it was melted, I add the sweet potato hash. Using a spatula, I pressed it down until it was like one big cake. Then I let it sizzle for quite a while, at least 20 minutes. I cooked it until it was starting to brown on one side. Then I flipped it and let the hash brown on the other side. It was definitely getting crispy, but was still pretty soft in the center. I turned up the heat a little so they would really crisp on the outside and, after flipping them multiple times so neither side would burn, I served them up with some eggs. Overall, these turned out being pretty yummy. But I would like to try this experiment again and see if I can get them crispier, maybe by baking them for a while first to get ride of moisture and then frying them quickly for crispiness?

 

Squash and Zucchini noodles.

Squash and Zucchini noodles.

Squash and Zucchini Noodles

For this experiment, I followed a super easy recipe. I bought three zucchini and two yellow squash. I peeled them. I used my julienne cutter to cut each one, top to bottom, into “noodles,” taking care to stop the cutting when I reached the center/seeds. I then lined two baking sheets with paper towels (don’t worry, nothing caught on fire!) and baked these zoodles on 200 degrees for 30 minutes. When they came out of the oven, I let them cool for a few minutes and then wrapped the paper towel around them and squeezed out a bunch of moisture from the zoodles, which had begun to sweat during the baking process. Next, I sauteed them in olive oil until they reached the texture I wanted, and added some tomato and spiced, cooked tofu to them. It was much like a spaghetti squash dish, and I loved that it was fresh and still filling. Next time, I will try these with pesto. Yum!

 

 

 

Pizza on Cauliflower Crust.

Pizza on Cauliflower Crust.

 

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

This is something odd that I’ve heard and read about a few times recently. It was intriguing and simple enough to make me want to try it. Taking bits and pieces from a few different recipes, I was able to make a pretty decent cauliflower pizza crust. I bought a bag of frozen cauliflower and let it thaw. I then measured out 2 cups of cauliflower and, using my manual food processor, I ground it into a rice-like substance, being careful not to grind it to less than rice-grain size. Next I put it in a bowl, added two eggs, and about 1 cup of cheese. I mixed it all together, spread it onto a pizza stone, and sprinkled some Italian seasoning on top. Then I baked it on 400 degrees for 20 minutes. I took it out and added sauce and toppings, and put it back in for about 10 minutes. The end result was quite light and delicious. I do want to try this again, but next time I will try to make my “dough” less moist, as it didn’t get as firm and crispy as some of the recipes I read indicated it would. I would also like to make it thicker “crust” pizza next time because it got pretty flimsy after I added toppings.

Well, it was a weekend of good cooking and good eating. I am happy to say that almost everything we ate this weekend was fresh and clean, hearty and healthy. I am sad to say that, despite the efforts and healthful eating, I still ended up with a cold 😦 No fair! At least there’s leftover man soup in the fridge in case that cold persists.

PS: We got a new niece on Monday morning at 5:38am. Can’t wait to meet sweet little Beatrice this weekend!

Baby Beatrice with big sis Penelope. For those of you that didn't know, my husband's brother is married to my sister (weird, I know) and these are their kiddos!

Baby Beatrice with big sis Penelope. For those of you that didn’t know, my husband’s brother is married to my sister (weird, I know) and these are their kiddos!

 

 

 

Mom’s Easy Pizza Dough

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When I was growing up, my mom always made pizza dough from scratch. I am one of those people who likes to eat even the most plain dough and batter raw, so every time my mom was making pizza dough I would sneak bits out of the bowl and inevitably receive a joking scolding from her. Now that I have my own kitchen, I use this dough all the time for pizza and nibble freely in the process of making it!

Ingredients

1 pkg (or 2 1/4 tsp.) yeast

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1 cup warm water

2 ¼- 2 ½ cups whole wheat or white flour

Makes: 1 pizza or 4 pitas

Step 1: Combine the yeast and warm water in a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir, and let it sit for about 5 minutes, or until it gets foamy.

Step 2: Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine and knead the dough until just smooth. Be careful not to overwork it or it will be hard to roll out

Step 3: Cover the dough with a warm dish towel and put it in the microwave or unheated oven and let it rise for at least 15 minutes.

Step 4: Roll the dough out on a pizza stone or cookie sheet.

Step 5: Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, add toppings and bake for an additional 7-10 minutes.

Note: if split into 4 pieces and baked this dough can be made into a kind of ‘pita bread’ creation

Our Table: Adventures in the Food Realm

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Sharing a mini-pie at the historic Gifford House in Capitol Reef.

I don’t have many food pictures, so this will have to do for now! 🙂

If you’ve been following this blog it might be confusing to you that I am now including posts about cooking and food. Reason: This blog is growing!

Let me explain. This blog started out as a way to document all the places I’ve been physically ‘lost’ in life. In other words, it started as a way to share my travels in Colorado and elsewhere. However, it is now growing to include some non-physical places I’ve been lost in life, like the kitchen, for one. Reason: it’s come to my attention that many twenty-somethings, like myself, are pretty, well, lost.

We’re lost in love, lost in the kitchen, lost in money-handling, lost in career-growth, lost in relationship-building. Correct me if I’m wrong, please, but it seems fairly universal. Quarter-life crises abound!

But it also seems that we all try to keep in mind, for the sake of not driving ourselves crazy, that being lost is part of life’s journey and adventure.

So, I bring to you adventures with food! I suppose this will include recipes, successes, failures, thoughts on food, discoveries about food… and who knows what else! 

Perhaps a good place to start would be to briefly explain how lost I once was in the kitchen. Sophomore year of college (about, errrr, 5 years ago now) I was so stoked to be moving into an apartment with MY OWN KITCHEN! Who isn’t excited about this after eating all that nasty dorm food? I tried and tried to cook and cook and it seemed like everything I did just made a huge mess and turned out really bland. I remember one particular attempt at making eclairs. What started out as an inspired moment to make a yummy Saturday treat turned into a very sticky, crying, mental breakdown. Guh. Who was there to offer wisdom? Alex, of course. He said something like, “It’s okay! It takes practice to learn to cook…it’s not like it’s something you just suddenly know how to do.” True story.

Wait, I forgot to mention the time in high school that I tried to make Alex an ice cream cake. Running short on time, I baked two cakes, let them cool for about 10 minutes, and proceeded to slather spumoni on them. Of course, it immediately started to melt. Gross. To try and salvage this soggy mass, I slapped the two cakes together, smeared frosting all over it and stuck it in the freezer. Maybe I thought the ice cream would return to its original state? Who knows? This did not happen. What did happen was that the frosting froze to freezer rack and when I pulled the thing out, the whole top ripped off. Sigh.

So lost. And I, of course, still have moments like this. I’m sure you’ll be hearing all about them.

Although I did successfully craft Alex an ice cream cake this past Valentine’s Day (!!!!!), I still don’t think of myself as any kind of food master (foodie), culinary expert, or kitchen miracle-worker, but I like to cook and I like to write, so here we are. 

I hope you enjoy 🙂

 

Why I want to be a Chapatti Mama

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My first try at making chapattis. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn at www.alrophoto.com

You might ask, “What the hell is a Chapatti Mama?” Well, two things.

 
First: Chapattis are a simple, delicious, and dirt cheap flatbread that you can find in the morning in East Africa. A Chapatti Mama is a woman who makes really good chapattis. In my experience a really good chapatti can start an African day off right. The mamas wrap the chapattis up in newspaper when they sell them and you unroll it and super-hot steam hits you in the face and you tear off a perfectly soft piece and the world just seems right. Why wouldn’t I want to try my hand at making a food that has such amazing effects on my mental well-being? I’ve seen mamas do it: roll out your pre-made dough, let it sizzle on an oily pan, flip,sizzle, and voila! I knew it wouldn’t be that easy, but it takes practice to become a Chapatti Mama.Yesterday I mixed up flour, water, and pinch of salt until the dough seemed to be the right consistency: stiff but still moist enough to manipulate. Then I needed to roll my dough out flat on the countertop. Having used up all the flour, I decided to sprinkle the counter with Belgian Waffle Mix and roll them out on that so the dough wouldn’t stick. Next, I needed to let them sizzle in an oily pan. I poked around the oil varieties available in the kitchen and couldn’t find any vegetable or canola oil, which seemed like the logical choice. So I had to use peanut oil. The result was a crispy chapatti- probably because of the sugar in the waffle mix- that tasted a little like peanut butter, a little like flatbread, and a little like waffle. It wasn’t a total flop, but I think I can do better. And I’ll have to do better if I truly want to become a chapatti making pro/ Chapatti Mama.

 
Second: Chapatti Mamas are independent business women. My observation while travelling in East Africa was that many of the people survive off of small businesses that they start. And Chapatti Mama’s are no exception. In Iringa, Tanzania we had breakfast at a place deemed “Mama Chapatti’s” by the Peace Corps volunteers we were hanging out with. “Mama Chapatti’s” was in the main marketplace area of Iringa, but was a little tricky to find. We were walking there with people who knew the way. From the main road we saw typical market stands selling food, shoes, watches, brooms, yogurt, etc. We turned left between two stands onto a path that I never would have assumed was a path; it was inches wide. I few yards back was “Mama Chapatti’s.” It resembled a small warehouse, with people moving efficiently while cutting meat, rolling chapatti dough, wrapping chapattis, pouring tea, and washing dishes. Mama Chapatti herself stood behind a table, her hands glistening with ever-present oil. She had a charcoal stove in front of her and flipped the chapattis with her bare hands while she smiled and joked with her customers, who sat on benches around the table. Sarah, my friend who is in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, informed me that this is her business; She runs the restaurant and has chapattis delivered all over the city every morning. In this way, she makes a living and has put a couple of her kids through college already. Pretty amazing! And she’s not the only Chapatti Mama supporting her family this way. In 2010 I saw a woman in Kenya come to the construction site of the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center every day to sell chapattis to the crew for lunch.

 

When I set out making chapattis yesterday it was pretty much because I was extremely hungry and because I, of course, really miss Africa sometimes. It was as I rolled out the dough that I realized not only would I like to learn to make this amazing food, I would like to be a creative, independent, entrepreneurial woman like all those East African Chapatti Mamas. I don’t think my chapatti-making skills are good enough to send my [unborn] children to college, but I sure can learn from the resourcefulness and skill of Chapatti Mamas.