The weather today on this Mother’s Day was crisp in the mid-50s, and in fact, there’s even a frost advisory out for tonight. I woke up with a sore throat from the weather and quickly remembered that I hadn’t taken my allergy meds for a week and a half. I did manage to get up and head over to Starbucks to read for an hour as a treat to myself, hoping that free coffee would do the trick – if you return the empty ground coffee bag, you get a free tall coffee. (Didn’t really work. Until Starbucks starts serving cardamom coffee, probably not gonna happen.) After that, it was more or less a comedy of errors for this meal. Forget orange juice, at least I had my coffee.
I started out making African salad: a salad of baby bella mushrooms (that I used as a substitute for champignon mushrooms), hearts of palm, and artichoke hearts, garlic, and lemon juice. The dressing was made of olive oil, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, and a little salt and pepper. Needless to say, it certainly cleans out your sinuses and GI track, I suppose. I chose this thinking I would be the only one who would like this, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. I thought there was too much vinegar, but my daughter had seconds, and my husband (who normally despises artichokes) thought it was good. Hmm, you just never know. (I also bought some ginger beer to drink with it, and between the ginger and the vinegar, my body thought it was going to practically die from being sanitized from the inside out. I poured it out and grabbed a real beer instead, something my body is far more familiar with.)
Next, I made benne cakes. The benne seed is known as sesame seeds in the US. This is more of a cookie than a cake as we know it. It’s popular to eat them around New Years or Kwanzaa since it’s commonly believed that sesame seeds bring good luck. Well, I know now that THAT is not true because they came out looking no more like a cookie than I do as a ballet dancer. Well, it's was one giant cookie, I suppose.
|One giant cookie, which would be cool if you didn't have to chisel it out.|
As I tried to use my cookie spatula to loosen them from being atomically integrated with the cookie sheet, it crumbled before my eyes, broken to pieces like my dreams of eating cookies larger than the size of my thumb. As the irregular pieces were shoved to the side, I finally got pieces that might possibly be photo worthy. However, after sampling some of my discard pile, I realized it tastes a little like peanut brittle, but with sesame seeds instead of peanuts – and softer, no chances of breaking your teeth on these. All in all, it was quite tasty, even if they didn’t really turn out like a cookie as I know it.
Finally, it was time for the meal. I chose mbika with meat. It’s basically stew beef sautéed with onions and chili peppers (I chose poblanos for a milder flavor). Then I mixed the ground egusi (which I found at the international grocery store – it’s ground watermelon seeds) and a little salt and pepper. The recipe also called to mix in a beef bouillon cube or Maggi cube/sauce, but all of that stuff has MSG in it, so I used an all-natural beef broth concentrate. This mixture gets mixed in with the meat mixture until it looks like a paste with chunks of meat and peppers sticking out here and there, like a meat-filled fruitcake (would that be a meatcake?). This mixture gets put in the middle of a banana leaves and folded up.
|Like Christmas in May.|
Now, this is my first experience with banana leaves – I found some at the international grocery store for less than $2 for two leaves. These leaves are longer than I am tall (I’ve been 5 foot and ½ inch since 1993 when I was in the 8th grade). I cut them into fourths, folded the tops and bottoms, then the sides and tied it together with some twine, placing them on a cookie sheet to put in the oven. The banana leaves changed its flavor giving it an almost earthy quality to the mbika with meat inside.
I’m sure if someone who knew what they were doing made this, like someone who’s actually from the CAR, this meal would’ve turned out far better. And most people reared back and made a face when I told them I was cooking on Mother’s Day. For some reason, we’ve got this attitude that cooking is on the same level as laundry or cleaning the bathroom. No, no it’s not. And I suppose it IS a mundane chore if you’re making the same ol’, same ol’. But, you know, even if it doesn’t always come together, I’m going out on a limb and hoping my kids will appreciate all of this much more when they get older. It’s not always going to go exactly how it’s supposed to, I suppose, but as long as it’s palatable in some sort of form, I’m winning.
Up next: Chad