Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tanzania, May 19th 2012

We are in an election year in the USA and the fundraiser trend this year seems to be for very famous people to invite me to their house for dinner with President Obama... or rather, by giving to the Obama campaign you get a chance to get invited to their house for dinner. I have already missed George Clooney's dinner but I am in for another chance to get to the house of Sarah Jessica Parker.  I wonder if the other side gets their own famous people inviting supporters to dinner with Mitt Romney.  Maybe, but so far I haven't been invited by anyone... I'd hold off for Matt Damon but he's going to be on the Obama's front also.  Plus I wouldn't give to the other side, sorry Mitt, but Obama can better relate to me being also a foreigner....

So, where am I going with this line of thinking... have you guessed?  Is there a chance that I could ask President Obama and the lovely Michelle (we both have yoga arms, see something else I have in common with the Obama family) to one of my alphabetical dinners?  Maybe but I don't have super rich friends that could come and raise a brazilion $ plus my neighbors are likely to get pissed about the secret services.  We discussed this briefly at dinner last night though: would we need to give the Secret Service a parking permit for parking their secret cars on our "Resident Parking Only" street?

If Barack and Michelle had come last night, they would have received a cocktail made with Baobab juice, Cascal Crisp White and Prosecco as soon as they stepped in the front door, Eric could have taken care of giving the parking passes to their driver while I gave them a super fruit to power them up for what turned out to be a lovely evening eating Tanzanian delights and alcoholic libation (red wine, I didn't make more concoctions with the baobab juice).  It would appear that baobab juice is another superfruit, in the same camp of acai and maqui berry but as to whether it actually does anything to improve health I couldn't tell.  I'd like to think that it cancels out the effect of the Prosecco but I'm making this up.

If Barack and Michelle had come to dinner, they would have enjoyed my company, Eric and the one of my other friends: Jan, Peter, Jeff, Jim, Julia and Joanne.  Lots of Js but that's not here nor there. I just noticed all the Js as I was typing their names so I thought I write down this.  You know, in case you didn't notice.  I think they all enjoyed each other's company.  And the food. 

I started off with samosas.  Probably an influence of the British colonization: let's face it the Brits couldn't very much convince anyone else to eat pork and shepherd pies so they brought over whatever delights they picked up in India.  I made the samosa filling with lamb, curry powder, turmeric and onions, then rolled them in egg roll wrappers and deep fried them.  I think I was a little overzealous in removing the fat from the mixture as it was cooking because they turned out a little dry although tasty.  Eric mentioned in his comments that he would have liked a little dipping sauce so I can't help but wonder:  why oh why didn't he mention this while he helped me prepare dinner?  Yeah I know what he'll say when I ask... I didn't really think about it until I was at dinner.  With hindsight, a dipping sauce would have been nice.  Perhaps something a bit spicy. 

Next came the soup: Coconut & beans.  I think Michelle would have liked the soup. I've got the feeling she likes soups.  This was very very thick but perhaps a bit mild flavored; I found that Tanzanian food isn't at all spicy.  There is heavy use of curry powder but also coconut milk and so every dish tends to be mild and sometimes I think a bit bland.  I did like the soup actually: the rice and the kidney beans gave it a nice consistency.  It could be a meal in itself; most everyone really liked it despite perhaps needed a bit more flavor.  Probably a nice dish in a cold winter night. Or perhaps something you would want to take with you as a packed meal while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  I think I will want to eat this after a class of laughing yoga to keep the warm feeling in your belly going.  I tried laughing yoga today at "Atlanta Streets Alive" and it was quite funny!  It was a demo class of probably 10 minutes but I did end up laughing up a good deal (supposedly your body/brain does not know the difference between a real laugh and a forced laugh but I thought the whole thing was really funny so ended up laughing out loud a lot... not too sure I could do this for an entire hour but worth a shot).

The main course was Duckling Dar Es Salaam, named after the main city in Tanzania (not the capital I learned, that's Dodoma).  The instructions for cooking this weren't at all clear and sure enough I found out while I was cooking it.  The beginning was easy enough, saute onions and tomatoes, add duckling in pieces then add 2 quarts of water, plantains and cook.... ehr... cook for how long exactly?  It said to cook on the stove top for 30 mins but that just didn't seem right, after all with all the water, you're really making a boiled duck.  Plus I wanted to broil it in the oven so with Eric help I found out it might take a couple of hours.  The result:  well, the duck was very very tender and not at all greasy but a bit bland; interestingly enough, the plantain were the surprise:  they looked like an old cock. They were a grayish kind of pink and all wrinkly so perhaps that's what a dead man private part looks like.  I'm just saying, not like I've seen one or anything.  If Michelle and Barack had been there I probably wouldn't have announced that to the table - but they weren't there so.... OK perhaps I should have said something like, oh, these remind me a bit of some old sausages but, I mean, take a look, am I wrong? 

To accompany the duckling, aside from the plantains, I served ugali which is a main staple in Tanzania made of any kind of white cereal and water or stock.  I added some olive oil to make mine a bit more appetizing but since it's supposed to be used as "bread", it shouldn't be too flavorful.  I did add some of the juices from the duck in a jar at the table but I think I forgot to mention that it would have gone nicely on the ugali.  By then we were at our 4th bottle or wine so my attention to details was a bit diminished.  Also, Eric made some spicy cabbage and this was probably the only dish that was a bit on the hot side but nothing that would make you scream for water.  I liked it but I do like green cabbage. Most of my friends liked the entire combination aside perhaps from Jim who isn't a fan of cabbage.  And I believe everyone commented on how the ugali was a bit bland (yes, I know, but if you had added the duck juice it wouldn't have been.  It was on the table after all!).

I am sure Barack would have loved the pie: Fruits of Africa, from his motherland (sorry, I find the whole idea that he's a foreigner really funny although I am sure he thought it was a pain in the ass having to go find his long form birth certificate - ah, the stupidity of ignorant people!).  Anyhow, the pie.  It was very white: lots of whipped cream and coconut flakes mixed with pieces with cashews.  The recipe called for crushed peanuts but I wanted to make it a bit differently.  I wet the coconut flakes with rum first, but I'm not really sure anyone noticed.  The filling was a mixture of tropical fruits: guava, papaya, honeydew melon and pineapple cooked to almost a syrupy consistency with some corn starch.    I loved it.  But it wasn't a huge hit with most of my friends; Jeff and Peter really liked it and I think Julia made a couple of mmmm noises too but the rest ate it but didn't think much of it.  Eric didn't even try it but I know he thinks coconut should be a controlled substance and I had already made him eat the soup that contained coconut milk. 

The goody bags contained some additional delights from Tanzania; I made rice balls in coconut syrup with a funny name (vipoopoo) and apparently these are eaten during Ramadan.  I experimented with food coloring so they looked like those big gum balls that you get out of the gum dispensers at the exit of some stores (you know those that are so big your jaw hurts when you first start chewing on them and then hurts even more after a couple of minutes as they get really though).  Since one of my friends didn't come, there was a spare portion left so I ate it today and I actually liked the combination of rice and coconut syrup.  But I wouldn't make them again...  The other goody was a typical donut from Tanzania (Maandazi) which is not at all sweet, rather bland in fact, but it is bready so a nice comfort food.  And because these aren't as greasy and heavy as regular donuts, you can eat a few more (who am I kidding.  Greasy shmeazy, I can eat a dozen donuts in one sitting....).

It was quite late by the time we were done eating and talking about living in the moment.  Not a bad concept, I should try it a bit more often but it tends to clash with my job that involves quite a lot of planning (finance person and all that).  But what happened if we really stopped worrying about most stuff we tend to worry about and just enjoy the present?  After all, most of the stuff we worry about isn't worth our troubles and what we fear might happen most of the times don't happen. So what's the point?  I tried to talk about it to my mother who worries about absolutely everything.  But what for really?  The earthquake that hit in Emilia Romagna this morning happened at 4am... most people were asleep or if not they were trying to quiet down whatever worry was keeping them awake but could they have known this was coming?  Thankfully it doesn't appear to have caused too much damage.  But isn't this just a sign we shouldn't worry so much about what we cannot control and just be happy in the now? 

Here's the menu with the scores (note: Julia said that as a non-native speaker she needs time to think and therefore did not complete my little scoring card.  But I know she was happy to be there and liked the food, the wine and the company.  She had a little hangover this morning that I treated with cappuccino and maandazi donuts and I'm sure she felt a lot better by the time she got back into her van on the way to Snellville...)

Baobab Cocktail                 8
Samosas                              8 
Coconut Bean Soup            7
Duckling Dar Es Salaam    7.7
Ugali (Cornmeal Mush)     6.7
Spicy Braised Cabbage      7.7
Fruits of Africa Pie            6.2
Overall Dinner                   7.3

Next time, we go to Asia: United Arab Emirates.

Stay Tuned!


Giovanna said...

Hello Rossana,

why don't you write a book? You surely have a talent there despite of what Mrs. Conti or Mr. Breschi or Mr. "I might be alive"... ever thought. Or you might open a quite unique restaurant...
I will make it to one of your alpha-dinners, I swear!!


Anonymous said...

Fabulous dinner and a fun crowd (though. I certainly missed the presence of one regular!). You are such a good writer, Rossana! I love your blog. Cheers! and grazie mille!

Anonymous said...


Sounds like it was anohter successful dinner!

I also like reading your blog. The idea about "if Obama and Michelle were at the table" makes the blog this time more interesting!


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