On New Resolutions

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If you’re anything like the vast majority of people, somewhere right around the first of January you probably thought in your head something along the lines of “I’ll get a gym membership”, “I”ll pay those parking tickets”, “I’ll finally go bungee jumping/fishing in Alaska/discover “myself” in a nudist commune, and so on and so forth… But maybe as the fireworks went off and you clinked those champagne glasses, you never thought, “I’ll ditch the high-salt, MSG-loaded, additive and preservative-ridden stock cubes” and why should I blame you? It the last thing on anyone’s mind especially if you’ve grown up as I did, never questioning what really those little cubes were that everyone popped liberally into the soup/stew/egg/whatnot. For many of us, especially in British West Africa, our moms cooked with them and even our moms’ mothers cooked with them. Today, every villager, Read more of this post

The cast iron miracle

I had no idea Walmart could change my life. I mean, all I did was buy a forty dollar, 5-quart, Lodge cast iron pot which I thought looked charmingly old school and reminded me of the tripod, round, iron pot my grandmother would have set upon her wood-burning cooking hearth or Adogan in Yoruba. The Adogan is still the quintessential symbol of the ever-popular owambe street parties where roads are blockaded, giant speakers are set up, tents, stages and chairs are wheeled in and a cow, goat, turkey, chicken or all of the above is slaughtered in real time. My fondest memories of growing up center around the sights, smells and general euphoric buzz of these street parties. The word owambe itself means “it is there”.”it” in this case meaning something different to everyone from catching money falling like rain on the heads of dancers to gorging on alcohol and meats till you’re dizzy and delirious. Suffice it to say Owambe’s have something for everyone. Read more of this post

Food Attitudes

One of my best friends said to me ten years ago: “you know you seem so normal – until you eat”. Of course he was a Nicaraguan who grew up in Honduras and now lived in America, but that neither detracts from the validity of his point nor changes my life-long ideas about how to eat. Many Africans (me included) will swear that eating with their fingers somehow makes the food taste better. Does it? I have to admit that I’ve been known to get slightly peeved when someone asks me for cutlery to eat eba or some other “stiff dough”. “Its just not done”, I’m thinking. Some will say none of it matters as long as it all gets to the stomach. So really tell me, do any of the little, special rituals we impose on ourselves make any difference at all to the pleasure of eating?

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(Long Overdue) Update on Dine for Diabetes

Happy New Year folks! After a short, unavoidable break (blame my boss), ThatchRoom is back and there is SO much to report! Some time has passed since we participated in the Eko Club medical mission to Lagos State by providing Diabetes Education and empowering rural Lagosians to prevent and fight diseases through healthy eating. (more on that soon!).

Many thanks to those who were able to donate towards this cause or attend the fundraising dinner. Thanks especially for opening my eyes to what is possible given a pot, a fire and some grain. For the first time, I was cooking not to celebrate my birthday or to host my friends but to make a diference in the lives of people I may never see again. The feeling was better than Read more of this post

African Salads: Not an oxymoron.

A popular Nigerian joke goes: President Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ozumba Mbadiwe attended a stately dinner in Europe whereupon they were served the first course (a salad, naturally) and all proceeded to eat – except Ozumba. After looking around bewildered, tossing the leaves, first this way and then that way, he finally tapped his friend in a panic: “Zik, dem cook ya own? My own no done oo!”.

Of all the things we Africans are accused of, being a people of salads is not one of them. We are a fiercely carnivorous lot it seems. Bring on the suya please, the kebab, the isi-ewu, the nyama-choma, the Nkwobi, the kilitshi, the dambunama, the asun, the tinko eran.. and the list goes on. When we are not delicately braiding cow intestines for peppersoup, we are chewing and sucking on chicken bone marrows. We romanticize our meat, christening animal body parts with the same vivid imagination, sense of humor and attention to detail that makes us oh so African. Names such as roundabout (for tail skin), Read more of this post

Coffee & Ceremony

So, its a random evening and I’m eating my dinner. I’m also sprawled out on my couch, flipping TV channels impatiently, talking back at the news, laptop alternating with my plate every few minutes on my thighs, blackberry within grabbing distance, my mind faraway, wondering when I’ll finally get my laundry done.

This routine is fixed regardless of who or what else is present and/or talking. For more and more of us, this is the norm. We eat on the hoof, barely noticing what we are eating or with whom. In the good old days, Read more of this post

Drinking to the gods

There she was, seriously head-geared, too full of energy (considering it was over 100 degrees outside) and chanting in Liberian Grebo: Abli ware a bati oooo..!”

“Bati oooo!” We all responded as we had been told. Whatever I’d expected when I left a nail-biting Ghana v. Uruguay match to watch Vera Oye put up a “culinary theatre production” at Martha’s Table, the “life-imitates-Nollywood”, libation-pouring exercise I was now witnessing was certainly not it. In less than two minutes Vera had taken us from downtown DC to an Orunmila festival. I felt bad for the non-Africans, they looked like they were about to make for the door (if you fall in this bucket, please see crash course on libation here). I put on my “I’m tough” look and whipped out my camera. This was getting interesting.

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