Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Yule Greetings


Beautiful wallpaper at Soy restaurant.

Another mostly food-related post as there hasn't been much else to do lately. The swimming pool and restrictions lifted briefly, but we're experiencing another spike so everything's closed again. My Danish friend wrote to wish me a happy solstice today...

So, what's been going on since bonfire night?

Well, the scoby has taken over the world. 

I made the mistake of buying a 3 ltr barrel for it and it's huge. 

Bear in mind it came in a jam jar.

I really enjoyed it for a while, made some very nice kombucha. It's basically as fizzy as any soda you buy in the shops, but you can decide what flavour and it's supposedly good for your gut. I made a lot of tree tomato and passion fruit kombucha, and went a bit wild with dates and Chinese bayberries - I'll get onto that in a moment.

Clockwise: passion fruit, bayberry and tree tomato

It's really nice but I rarely drink fizzy drinks, especially in the rainy season when it gets a bit cold. The problem with scobies is that they not only turn the mixture to vinegar if you don't feed it tea and sugar everyday, but it actually multiplies, so one scoby becomes two, becomes three, and so on. The more scobies, the faster it consumes the sugar and turns it to vinegar. I can't consume that amount of kombucha, yet alone that amount of vinegar. But, because it's a living thing, you feel bad about throwing any of it away. I need to have a think what to do. 

In other jar-related news, I also took a stab at making kimchi. I am absolutely besotted with Korean soaps at the moment and I kept hearing about kimchi - mostly from cooking programmes - so decided to give it a go. It must have been beginner's luck, but it's absolutely sterling stuff. Bad news is, I made 2 ltrs of it. Good news is, it doesn't appear to go off. So, I've been happily munching my way through it in crepes, with noodles, and on baked potatoes. I used this method and it was super easy. I used apples for sweetness and a tub of Korean red chili paste from T2000. It involved a lot of chopping: carrots, spring onions, daikon and Chinese cabbage. 

Oh my gods, though. Nobody warns you about the smell! Those days when you leave it out to ferment - wow. The tub just sits in the corner farting. It's not a bad smell exactly, it's just a lot of smell. Then you put it in smaller jars and stick it in the fridge. The smell gets a bit less but it's still whiffy. I was just really glad it turned out well, otherwise I would have endured all that for nothing. As it is, I'm still enjoying it a month and a half later. 

I also had a go at plain old salt fermentation of beets and garlic. 

It worked with the beets, but I wouldn't say it's my favourite way to eat them. I haven't tried the garlic yet, but I'm really hoping that went well as fresh garlic goes moldy faster than I can eat it. I buy a lot of vegetables in bulk, so ways to preserve them are appreciated. 

Homemade kimchi with veg on noodles. Also added homegrown avocado and home-blended hummus, which is just chickpeas with curry powder, pepper, salt, olive oil and lemon. Or just chickpeas and olive oil if you're feeling really lazy.

You have to get creative because imported foods are crazy expensive. I adore pesto, and was going to treat myself for Christmas, but the only shop I could find it in was charging 10k (£7.50) for a small jar. There's a normal bar of Belgian white chocolate below for 11.5k (£8.70) and a jar of feta chunks for 13k (almost £10). I was about to buy some blue cheese which was labelled at a reasonable 4k but discovered, only after they rang it through the till, that it was now 6k, so I returned it. If it isn't a locally grown fruit or vegetable, it's usually a serious luxury. I'm just lucky to have family who post festive goodies. 


I was going a bit stir crazy eating the same stuff all the time. I mostly live off baked potatoes, stir-fries (with honey, soy and sesame) and the occasional stuffed crepe or bean stew with ugali. I recently discovered you can even put ugali flour in pancakes for a little extra body. My main vegetables of choice are Chinese cabbage, aubergine and broccoli. Mushrooms are fabulous as well, but they're a bit  pricey, so I sometimes buy them for a breakfast fry-up. I get through a ton of garlic and ginger each week and, for the most part, that's fine, but I was starting to crave some variety. 

So, I headed off to T2000, the huge Chinese shop in town. Last time I went, I picked up this incredible stuff called Sea Tangle. It's some kind of seaweed with fairly peppy chili. It's adorable with grilled cheese or a little bit of fish.


The joy of shopping for food at T2000 is that I have absolutely no idea what half of it is. I only find out when I get home, and most of the flavours surprise me. Which is wonderful.

I mentioned barberries above. They look like this. 


Very sweet, chewy things with an unusual flavour that - if you're ever tempted - make very sugary, fizzy kombucha. 

I also bought watermelon seeds and attempted to chew and eat them whole before looking up how they're supposed to be eaten - like sunflower seeds. Crack them between your teeth. They're also coated in something I don't think I've ever tasted before. Possibly something to do with anise, but I'm not entirely sure. I didn't like them much at first, but I was addicted by the end of the packet. 

There was this pack of extremely mild pickles, which also had an unusual, slightly rubbery taste to them. They neither grew better nor worse the more I ate, but went fairly well mixed in with the vegetables on my noodles.


Then there was this, which appeared to be a sort of mix-and-match of soup flavourings. I wasn't at all sure what to do with them, so cooked up an experimental batch of noodle soup with some see-through noodles that are apparently made from sweet potato.


It turned out really well, though I did add a little Maggi cube and probably should have boiled the bits in a colander and taken them out before adding the noodles, as some of them remained a bit hard, but overall, definite comfort food. 

I also discovered the noodles are just those big, flat, chewy ones you get at the Chinese. They're only see-through until you introduce them to soy sauce, then they soak that up and look a bit more familiar.



Definitely worth getting if you see them in the shops. 

I'm not sure I'd buy any of that again except the noodles, watermelon seeds and sea tangle, but it was just joyful to taste something completely other than what I usually eat. With all the restrictions, and a new novel I've started writing, I've become a complete recluse. I quite like it that way, but it means I don't go to restaurants half as much as I did. Lot more home cooking. Though, there have been a couple of memorable outings...

A little bit of motoing about and went to get my hair hennad. That was just before the work Christmas do got cancelled, so I'm all dolled up with nowhere to go. 

Did go out to one work do, though. I recently became course director at a university (I know, I have to repeat that to myself several times, too). Because of COVID, our students haven't been able to locate to campus, so had never actually met each other in person because everything's been online. So, we held this induction day in Kigali a few weeks back, and I discovered that the former Minister of Health is the Vice Chancellor of our university! I last met her when I was Country Director for Global Youth Connect, way back in 2015. There's a picture of us all in her office.


Anyway, she was at the induction day, halfway down the line on the right, with the bob. And this is the picture I took from my position, sitting with faculty. Still amazes me every day, but I can't be doing too badly as they've signed me up for another six months. Really looking forward to seeing the campus next semester, pandemic allowing.



Also had a nice night out at Soy with friends, tempura ice-cream and a lake of gin.






And another night out at Sundowner for nyama choma and the most amazing discovery ever...




That picture above is of the most delicious tiramisu. Sundowner isn't renowned for its desserts, so my friend Arum ordered it for delivery. Apparently there is a company called KGL Tiramis├╣, and all they do is deliver buckets of tiramisu across the city. It's utterly delightful and we need more services like this!

Also discovered that Brioche does the most amazing salmon Eggs Benedict. Served with apple, watermelon and mango. Really quite impressive, and just over the road from the supermarket where I do my shopping, so a new ritual. 


Popped back to PiliPili with a friend and watched the lights in the pool change colour. 



Then dropped into Jo's new place. She's renting a very swanky house with a beautiful view. 




Also spent a day working at CasaKeza and enjoying the chocolate brownie. Maia and her daughter should have arrived on Sunday, but their plane couldn't land due to weather conditions. They were  rerouted through Kampala and Addis, and now in quarantine for the night in town. Very much looking forward to seeing them at some point. It's been a long time.



This has probably got to be the most foodie post ever, right? It's true, I'm a little obsessed by food at the moment. I think it's the time of year. It makes me wistful for all the seasonal yumminess of home. Due to the whole Brexit debacle, food prices in the UK are apparently going to increase steeply. Though, I still doubt anyone would ask £7 for a bar of chocolate or a tenner for a jar of feta. That's still pretty mad. 

But, all that food has been putting on a COVID paunch lately and, with the swimming pools shut, I had to find an outlet. And oh, what an outlet! My friend Solv introduced me to her boxing trainer. His name's Mike and he's a former Rwandan Olympian. He trains a lot of women, including the British Ambassador, and he's really good at it. I'd never boxed before in my life, but Solv convinced me to try it and I'm absolutely hooked. Who woulda thunk that hitting things would be so much fun? 



I've also learned some things about myself. I thought I was a total lump, but apparently I'm very strong, I have great reach in my arms, I'm 'not lazy,' and I'm also very flexible. I doubted this last one considerably, until he stood behind me and pulled back my arms until they touched behind my back. Apparently that isn't so common in people with desk jobs, like me. I am quite proud that I can still just about do the crab at almost 40. Mike said my parents must have stretched me a lot as a baby, as he believes this leads to bendy adults. He also thought I was left-handed because apparently I have a slightly stronger left hook. It's funny, because I'm definitely right-handed, but I can feel the muscle developing in my left arm a lot more.

If only I hadn't completely buggered up my left leg by snapping the Achilles a couple of years back, but boxing is really helping with that. I'm seriously enjoying it and I need someone to stand over me and tell me what to do, otherwise I wouldn't do anything. He's got me doing sit-ups and stretches, and even push-ups. Then I get to punch him for half an hour and he goes home. He's amazing!

I could hardly move for three days after our first session. After the second session it was nowhere near that painful again, and now it just feels like a good workout. I'm planning to get a punch bag in the new year. I just wish I'd known about this earlier. I keep wondering how good my health might have been if they'd taught me this in school, but back then I was painfully shy of my body and would probably have approached it like all physical education - from an extreme distance. Apparently, school phys-ed is a contributing factor in female obesity, because it puts girls off exercise entirely. I hated it. But, like I said, I'm almost 40 now and very comfortable in my own skin, and Mike is a very good trainer, he always averts his eyes when you're doing any exercises that feel a bit embarrassing (legs apart, arse in the air, etc.).

But, honestly, this really is something all women should know. You really get to understand your body a lot better and test what it can do. At school in the 90s, learning to fight was always what the boys did, but I really wish I'd been taught how to handle myself. I think it probably would have given me more confidence as a teen. 

Anyway, I learned to fix pianos aged about 35, I learned to box at almost 40. Life just keeps getting more interesting. 

In cat news, they're still as murdery as ever. I rescued this skink from Sophie, but I couldn't rescue Sophie from Sen...



Also, Sophie has developed the skill of falling asleep whilst sniffing her own crotch. We are witnessing the evolution of cats.


We also have a new pet in the house, Meeple the Mantis. He appeared on my window one day and was still there in the morning, so I let him in and he's helping to keep my living room free of pests. Though it's caused quite a bit of anxiety as I have a giant gecko living behind my desk and he comes charging out each evening. I have to try to keep the mantis away from the gecko, and the gecko and the mantis away from the cats. It can be quite stressful at times. 



Also managed to spend a day at my friend's music school, teaching one of his students, Eugene, how to tune pianos. He did an excellent job and, afterwards, he gave a rendition on his violin, which was really lovely. My dad very kindly donated a piano tuning kit to the school so they can keep themselves in shape.


So, looking back, more has happened than I thought. Uni has just broken up for Christmas so I've got my head down and I'm doing some writing. I also received a wonderful couple of parcels from my family with some new clothes, so I'm all set for sitting at home over the holidays. Honestly, though, it is a relief to have stuff. Nice, fluffy slippers, and less-fluffy tops. Have a lovely holiday one and all.