Sunday, 27 March 2016

Mostly Non-Food Related Post

The Rain Has Arrived

I've just realised I've taken very few photographs of anything that isn't food recently.

This is just a general non-edible post. 

Life in Kigali is very good at the moment. I'm mostly a reclusive writer, but I've had a few fun days out.

Went to visit ImagineWe, an independent publishing house in Kigali. Really impressive group and I hope to be more involved in the future. Meeting up with a local sci-fi author next week to talk about all things writing and book-related. Looking forward to that.

Also went for coffee the other day with Keza, a fabulous participant on last year's human rights program. She's looking to set up her own charity for children with disabilities. We talked solidly for three hours about that, and Burundi (where she's originally from), and hiking in the mountains. Excited to see how her project goes.

Also excited about the arrival of Paul. One of mum's colleagues has quit his job and decided to go travelling. He's booking his flight to Rwanda and will be staying for a month from mid-May. We met briefly when I was back in the UK. There's talk of going to see the gorillas, and I'm sure we'll take a break by Lake Kivu.

And I'm all aglow as my favourite priest is back in town in about a week. Going to introduce him to Keza as I think there might be partnership opportunities there for project collaboration. I last saw him in October, when we were getting trollied on communion wine. It will be really good to see him again, passing through Kigali on route to projects in DRC.

Otherwise, all is going well. Really proud of my writing at the moment. I've been adding a fairly steady 10,000 words per week to my manuscripts. Finally found a routine that seems to work for me. And my Kinya lessons are slowly starting to pay off. Really enjoying my weekly sessions with my neighbour. Keeps my brain active.

We've also had a couple of really impressive thunder storms. Had to wipe half of it out of my door the other day. I have finally reacclimatised. When I first got back I was a wall of sweat. Now I can comfortably wear a long-sleeved T-shirt in 17c, though the temperature remains in the high 20s, low 30s at the moment.

A happy balance of relaxation and productive has been struck.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Mostly Food Post

I'm trying to avoid social media at the moment as there's hundreds of posts about Easter chocolate, and I don't have any. Booo. But I have been inventing things to do with various vegetables recently - in the wholesome sense. My weekly shop now costs between £10-13 for veggies, topped up with egg, milk, cheese and flour once a fortnight or so.

After my attempts at improvising an oven, I've been looking for other, inventive, ways to use up food. I try not to waste anything, putting cuttings in the soup pot. Anything I can't eat goes onto my garden. I already have butternut squash sprouting from discarded seeds.

This is that incredible dual steamer I treated myself to, which makes rice and veggies all at the same time. 

I discovered that switching water for coconut milk makes the rice lovely and sweet.

Also been living off smoothies. Tried to think what to do with all my lettuce, until my friend Ella pointed out you can add them to banana smoothies. You can - it's delicious. Also, this fell off one of my trees the other day. I'm not usually a fan of papaya. When it goes over-ripe it tends to taste like baby sick smells (except in Laos, where they always tasted nice). This one was surprisingly like a Laos papaya. Really sweet and not a hint of sick. Made a gorgeous smoothie.

This brown gloop may not look appetising, but it was the best soup I've made so far. I used the water from boiling beetroot, which made it sweet, and followed my friend Fred's advice. Apparently, if you add seven vegetables, of any kind, to a dish, it is guaranteed to taste amazing. I don't know where he got that idea from, but I tried it and it was fabulous: beetroot juice, tinned peas, chard, red onion, sweet potato, green pepper and tomato. Soaked it up with a chapati. 

This one's a bit random. Someone on Twitter was recently asking about vegetables for fussy kids, and I explained that you can purée anything, add flour, and turn it into a burger. 

Below was going to be an entire pot of mistake thrown on the garden. I hate wasting food, so I rethought it. I'd attempted to make sweet potato soup, but it was way too thick, more or a purée, and very bland. So I charged it with chillies and seasoning, and mashed it up with flour into a dough, then fried. This became sweet potato patties, which I ate for breakfast with homemade mango jam from Fresh Basket. The combination of spicy and sweet was very good, and I'd made enough to last over four days. Definitely better than throwing it on the garden.

This is another rescue dish. Again, soup gone wrong. One of the boxes contained fennel. I had a hankering for that thin, buttery soup with a little fennel floating in it. But I put in way too much butter and it wasn't good. So I chopped up loads of basil, rosemary and mint, added rice from my steamer and some cooking cream. Turned it into a really nice paella which I garnished with avocado, salad and brown bread, which is a new craze in Kigali. Finally, you can get really nice bread. It makes a world of difference.

Of course, it is still nice to pop out for lunch now and then. Here's a standard Novotel, which I ate with friends the other week.

And there are occasional issues with extremely fresh food. This little darling has had a very hard time of things. I put her in the fridge for two days! Amazed she survived. I've named her Squidgy, but haven't seen her since she thawed out. Think she's gone in search of somewhere with better room service in which to pupate.

I just hope that when she's older she knows to keep away from the geckos. I have a couple of hungry companions on my porch.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Improvised Oven

Well, I've gone a bit food nuts recently since joining Fresh Basket. Thinking up inventive new ways to cook vegetables. There really is a limit to what you can fry, so I decided to have a go at making an improvised oven. I had a hankering for quiche.

Although the lady who rented my house made off with a mosquito net, all my knives, my books, spare keys and a frying pan, she did leave two giant silver buckets in the store house. These are usually used for cooking rice, potatoes, beans - whatever - over a charcoal stove. 

It's an old VSO trick that you can cobble together a makeshift oven if you put a small pot inside a larger one and elevate it so that it's not in direct contact with heat. I have friends who made cakes and pizza in them, but never tried it myself. 

The only other items I had to hand were two metal plates, so I put one upside down with the other - the flan tin - on top.

(I realise I'm using flan and quiche interchangeably here - a pastry dish.)

First Plate

Second Plate

I brought it inside to my gas hob, because I don't have any charcoal. 

The next challenge I faced was making pastry with ghee, as I didn't have any block butter. I'd never tried this before, so I was a bit nervous.

The pastry turned out really well - extremely silky soft to the touch. 

Not being too sure of the temperature of a makeshift oven, I decided to blind bake whilst I friend up the vegetables with a little olive oil: onions, Chinese chives, garlic, tomato and aubergine. 

The pastry looked and smelled really good after blind baking, so I filled it up with the veg and whisked a couple of eggs with some milk before popping it back in the oven. Topped it off with some fresh rosemary and basil (who thought I would ever be saying that in Kigali?).

It was hard to resist taking the top off every few minutes. When it smelled, and looked, cooked, I sliced up some cheese and let it melt whilst cooling.

How amazing does that look?

There was just one problem.

When I pulled it out, the bottom of the flan was absolutely black. I have two theories about this: firstly, that I shouldn't have bothered blind baking, and secondly, that the surface of the first plate was too broad. It was like introducing direct heat. Next time I'm going to top and tail three tin cans and use those as a stand, reducing the heated surface area.

The up side was that using ghee to make the pastry had left it crumbly to the touch. I ran a knife across the bottom and the entire burnt area just lifted off in one piece. The result didn't score high on presentation, but it was extremely edible, and my taste buds rejoiced to have something new to chomp on. 

The only issue was that my kitchen stank. I've been talking to my neighbour about sourcing charcoal. It's difficult because there's a huge push towards gas at the moment, trying to wean people off charcoal to improve air quality or something. It's not a bad plan. When my neighbour cooks on charcoal, my whole house fills up with the smoke, but if I was going to do this again, I think it needs to be outdoors. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

Buzz Off

I've had a tragic death in the family.

The hand blender that Patrizia donated to me before she left last year. It died horribly - the blade popped out whilst making hummus from a tin of chickpeas. I was bereft. 

Managed to replace it for about £28 at Nakumatt. It's hard to remember a time when Nakumatt didn't exist. It was back in the days when many other things that are now plentiful didn't exist: water, electricity...

I celebrated by making avocado chocolate mousse, then taunting my friend Harri with it after a Skype conversation where she was boasting about the amount of wine she would drink! Wine is fine, but avocado chocolate mousse is divine.

It's been somewhat warm lately. 29-30c every day, and only one major thunderstorm. Though it was a very impressive one. The house physically shook. It has made for some nice skies.

Had fun celebrating Jo's 40th birthday the other day. It was fancy dress, so I went as a cat, using one of my ties as a tail. I think it may have been the first time the staff at Sawa Citi have ever seen a cat purchasing a 3ltr box of wine...

Had a follow-up meal at India Khazana, one of the best restaurants in town. First time I'd been there since getting back. Had enough leftovers in the fridge for two days. It's been a good week. 

Despite the heat, I've had to sit with the doors closed for a couple of days because every time I opened them, this mad insect (about the length of my little finger) flew in and started building itself a nest on the ceiling. It was collecting up mud and making a hive a bit like a swallow's nest. When the mud dried it was rock solid - really hard to scrape away. I felt really guilty destroying its work, but I don't relish the idea of sharing my living room with its offspring.

In other news, had a bit of a Couchsurfing fiasco. Offered my spare rooms to a couple of Spanish couchsurfers who were on a tour of Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa. They were only going to be here for two nights, but never made it in the end.

Originally, they said they'd be here 00:50 Sunday 13th March, so I sent Senga to the airport with the spare keys to collect them. I was headed to bed at that time. He waited until 1:30 but no show. Turns out they got confused. It was 00:50 Monday 14th March.

Senga was all ready to return the next night, when just before midnight I got a message saying they'd been refused boarding because they didn't have a visa. Turns out you only get a visa on arrival if you're British, American, German, Swedish or Australian. Everyone else is supposed to purchase before they leave. Never ceases to amaze me what a privilege it is to own a British passport. 

So, my rooms were made up with no one to sleep in them. The house was also spotless, for the first time since my return, so I took a couple of snaps.

Probably won't look that neat again for a while.

Got my second FreshBasket delivery today. So in love with that company. It's brilliant. So far I've boiled a beetroot, made soup from the water and a large amount of vegetables, and eaten a salad.

Later this week I'm going to construct a make-shift oven and attempt to cook a flan on a metal plate. This could prove very entertaining. If I don't post again, the entire house has burnt down with everything in it.

Pretty sunrise...