Monday, May 12, 2014

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: THE FOOD


Well, I now work from home.  I managed to escape out of the corporate world.  The timing wasn’t exactly my choice (it was theirs), but to leave a job I hated almost felt like getting out of jail. Or as my husband puts it, “You’re free now, child. You’re in the north now.”  Yes, there's always the financial and health insurance aspect of it all, but at the same time, I haven’t had a headache from staring at a computer under florescent lights facing a window since I left two weeks ago.  I’m always looking for the silver lining of every situation. So, I’m taking this time to finish editing my book on the Japanese language and get it ready to be published, and I’m also going to start my own proofreading and editing business.  AND I’m cooking and blogging again. 

Comfort food #1. I have some blackberry jam and some mango jam ready. 
And that brings me here.  Because yesterday was Mother’s Day, I’m cooking today. It’s a little weird to cook on a Monday, but that’s ok.  I started with making peanut bread.  I’ve made a similar bread before, but this one was different.  I started with heating coconut milk and honey together in a small pan until it was blended together, and when it cooled a little, I added in the yeast to it.  Then I mixed the white flour and wheat flour in a large bowl, adding in cumin, chili powder, salt, melted butter, the milk-honey-yeast mix, and ground peanuts.  For this, I crushed the peanuts with my mortar and pestle, and then put it in my coffee grinder to grind them.  It actually created a paste that looked like rough peanut butter, and I dumped it into the bowl as well.  I had to add a little less than a cup of water to help the dough along as I kneaded it. I also had to add some more flour to keep it from being so sticky before letting it sit covered for an hour and a half.  (The recipe wasn’t lying that it was a dense bread – the dough was denser than any of the Kardashians.) Then I kneaded it a bit more and transferred it to a greased loaf pan, covered it again, and let it rest for another 40 minutes.  After all this resting, I finally put it in the oven for 40 minutes to bake.  Unlike other recipes, I actually did take it out of the pan and let it cool for another half hour before trying it.  It was so good. And although the dough was dense, I didn’t think the bread was as dense or overpowering.  It was perfect.  Small bits of peanuts that didn’t get chopped up added to its delectable flavor and mouth feel.  I do think it would be great topped with jelly, but that’s the American in me talking. 

Comfort food #2: I may change which side of the grater I use, but regardless, mmmm....
While the bread was cooling, I prepped the side dish to this meal: johonjö.  It reminds me of other African and Afro-Caribbean dishes that are similar.  I took one sweet potato, peeled it, and grated it (it calls for yams, but sweet potatoes were all I could find. I know botanically they are different, but my degenerate taste buds think they taste the same.). I squeezed as much liquid out of them as I possible could.  Then instead of taking a real coconut and extracting the coconut milk like the recipes says (because that sounds like way more work than I’m interested in), I just bought canned coconut milk and used just enough to combine the grated sweet potato into a thick paste, adding a pinch or two of salt as well.  The recipe also calls to put about four tablespoons of this mixture in the middle of banana leaves and making a parcel out of it, but since I’m not a huge fan of the musty flavor banana leaves give off when baking with them, I put the mixture in aluminum foil.  I laid the foil parcels on a baking sheet and baked it for 40 minutes until it was cooked through and set up.  This turned out better than other similar recipes I tried.  It had a really great flavor and sat up pretty well. 

Comfort food #2: how can resist eating this? Go on, try. I knew you couldn't. Because you're not as wimpy as my kids. 
And finally, the main course: a course that I’ve always heard about but am now trying an Equatoguinean version of.  We’re making paella.  It’s actually guineafowl paella, but seeing how I couldn’t find guineafowl and my first substitute of Cornish game hen is only usually found around Christmastime in these parts, I went with chicken.  I took the chicken (I found some tenders on sale) and cut them into smaller pieces and browned them in a skillet, taking them out when they were done and setting them aside.  Then I sautéed the onion and garlic in the same skillet and added in the uncooked rice to cook for a few minutes before adding in the chicken stock, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and turmeric.  (I realized I was out of paprika and used chili powder instead.) Once it came to a boil, I reduced it and let it simmer for about fifteen minutes.  I added in a can of diced tomatoes, some chopped red bell pepper, and a half can of black-eyed peas and let it simmer.  When the rice was tender, I added the chicken pieces back into the skillet and cooked for about five more minutes and ready to eat.  This is one of those super tasty comfort foods that could easily be done on a weeknight. I will have to remember this recipe. 

The trifecta of comfort. I want a nap now.

I’m glad that I pushed myself to do this meal. It turned out really well.  Now that I’m working from home, I don’t feel so rushed to do my research and writing and cooking.  Of course, right now I’m just finished up the final revisions to my book, but once I launch my business, I’m sure I’ll be far more busy.  Like I’ve said before: I’d rather work 80 hours under my own expectations rather than 40 hours under someone else’s.  There will be some adjustments of course, but as long as I’m not working as a cubical dweller under florescent lights, things will be alright.  It’s time to make the most of my life and eat more comfort food, like paella.  So, here’s to moving forward and following your dreams, with the hopes that I can make enough to keep wine in the refrigerator. 

Up next: Eritrea  

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