Saturday, December 12, 2009

Short and Sweet

Craving something sweet today with not much in the house - toast and nutella used to be the old sure-fire - now though, thanks to Sudan's heat or a wiser gullet, bread and chocolate don't move me like they used to.

So the lovely Papaya beckoned. Lots you can do with a papaya: cubed with avocado, blended with banana, sliced with salt and lime...but straight up, maybe with a squeeze of lime, when the papaya is at its peak, is heaven.

Alas, today heaven was not on the ground floor. Our papaya, attractive is she was, was not quite ripe. Hmmm...what can we do to make this baby ripe and delicious - now?

Yes, in search of the proverbial shortcut to heaven.

Found it in my kitchen this afternoon, and it is a stairway of sorts. Just one flight of fancy away.

Cook it! (bingo!)
Yes, certainly. What's in the house?

Chili peppers, check - (1/3 red & 1/3 yellow med. size, med. heat chilis)
brown sugar, check - (1 1/2 Tbs.)
shea oil, check - (1 TBS - olive oil can split or sub if available)
salt, check - (nice pinch)
lime,check! - (1/2 lime per 3 slices papaya)
Papaya? Check! (de-seeded and sliced into three 1/2" slabs )

Heat the oil in skillet over medium heat, mixing in diced chiles while they sizzle for 1/2 minute.
Sprinkle brown sugar and pinch of salt across pan evenly. At point of caramelization, place 3 papaya slabs on pan. Sautee on med-high flame, without breaking papaya rings, about 2 1/2 minutes each side, until nicely cooked and syrupy.

Serve in all its juices with a squeeze of lime.

A little reminder that even if it may be hiding, Heaven is in the house.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Passionfruit Ginger Muffins

Makes 6 muffins

2 cups whole grain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ginger powder

1 Tbs fresh shredded ginger

1 cup coconut milk

2 pureed small bananas

3 pureed passionfruit

6 medium passionfruit (to mix in afterward)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup local honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

zest of 3 limes

nice pinch of salt

Sift flour, baking powder, ginger and set aside.

Puree banana, passionfruit, coconut milk, shredded ginger, olive oil, honey, vanilla and salt.

Stir wet mixture into dry, adding lime zest. Do not over-mix.

Fold in 6 separated passionfruits, scoop batter into oiled muffin pans, and bake @ 350 F (about 175 C) about 45 minutes.

Watch closely near finish - as crown and garnish become golden brown, insert toothpick to check for moist crumb or no crumb. Cool ten minutes and dive in.

And now, for something completely different...

So the other day I was wandering through JIT, suffering a bout of spiritual diseqilibrium, and you wouldn't believe who I ran into in the chocolate aisle...

Gehlek Rimpoche, esteemed Tibetan Lama and teacher, was stuck on the spot exactly between the Lindt White Chocolate Supreme, and the Deep Dark Extraordinaire. I approached, and as if remembering his role, Rimpoche quietly turned, looking somewhere between me and the floor, to say,

"Appearances of love or pleasure from without, with their abrupt or unsatisfying conclusions, merely mirror Truth, that satisfaction can only be found within...

Completely loving yourself – as opposed to seeking out love – is the most certain path.

Love is not obsequious tribute to all else, but the singular power you wield to accept and understand everything that is You. “You” do not exist apart from your context. You are your context.

Completely loving, or completely knowing yourself, means first accepting, then understanding with diligent effort, everything about “you”: your place, your work, the people around you, the food you eat, your family, your conundrum...

Faith is the seed, but without the willingness to actively understand your context, her fruits cannot ripen."

That last part jolted me - Passionfruit Muffins! And only two hours before brunch!

Hurrying for the flour, I thanked Gehlek and offered my own sage advice:

"Deep Dark Extraordinaire!"

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pumpkin Pound Cake for Peace

Pumpkin Pound Cake for Peace

Makes 3 medium loaves

4 cups whole grain flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 T cinnamon powder

1 T ginger powder

Up to 1/2 cup coconut milk

3 cups pureed baked squash (local)

2/3 cup olive oil

1/2 cup shea butter (local)

2/3 cup honey (local)

1 T vanilla extract

2 T optional coconut flakes

Big pinch salt

Sift flour, baking powder, ginger and cinnamon and set aside.

Puree baked pumpkin,oil, shea butter, honey, vanilla and salt. Stir wet mixture into dry, careful not to over-mix. Add coconut milk as you mix for sticky/doughy consistency. Scoop batter into oiled loaf pans filling halfway, garnish with optional coconut flakes, and bake @ 375 F (180 C) about 45 minutes.

Watch closely near finish, as crown and garnish become golden brown. Insert toothpick to check for moist crumb or no crumb.

Peace is the Hard Part

War is easy...

Peace is the hard part.

Let me explain: war evokes decisive action.

Run. Hide.
Shoot. Fight.

Put graphically, it looks like this:

(this is supposed to be an arrow)

While peace…looks like this:


For Southern Sudan, multiply that question mark by 10,000,000.

When I see a shiny brand new Hummer crawling over potholes in Juba, I am confused and slightly sickened (similar to how I feel seeing them in New York City). But the Hummer is obviously one man’s answer to this question mark.

There appears to be a sense among many Southern Sudanese ‘elite’ that the war is over and they have earned their place in some royal constellation – that they’ve "arrived." My exposure to the internal political discourse is limited, but I do read the local press, and sense that not much preparation is being made for lasting peace.

Weapons are being stockpiled as we speak, and despite all smiles for the recent Abyei ICC ruling, the issue of the ‘outlying’ oilfields is very much unsettled as far as the South is concerned. For any talk of clear sailing through elections and referenda, a more likely scenario is escalating inter-tribal violence, leading to yet another civil war. This time, the sad irony is that the civil war would happen completely inside the borders of Southern Sudan, the world’s newest country. The ruling Dinka are resented by much of the rest of the population, and the murmurs suggest that the tribe will be routed as the first course of action for the nascent state.

So what can any of us do to avert this painful and unnecessary catastrophe?

Take these two examples, which scientifically show the power of intention to change our reality:

Reduced Violent Crime in Washington, D.C.
A National Demonstration Project of Transcendental Meditation (TM) conducted in Washington, D.C. from June 7 to July 30, 1993, tested the efficacy of a peace-creating group for reducing crime as measured by FBI Uniform Crime Statistics. Soon after the start of the study, and during a near-record summer heat wave, violent crime began decreasing and continued to drop until the end of the experiment (maximum decrease 23.6%),after which it began to rise again. The likelihood that this result could be attributed to chance variation in crime levels was less than two parts per billion (p < .000000002). The drop in crime could not be attributed to other possible causes, including prior causative factors, temperature, precipitation, weekends, and police and community anti-crime activities (Social Indicators Research 47: 153-201, 1999).

For much more on this topic, see

And although controversial, Masaru Emoto’s work around the effect of resonance (prayer, music, words) in ice crystals is inspiring and worth a look:

A Triple-Blind Replication

Dean Radin, PhD, Nancy Lund, Masaru Emoto, & Takashige Kizu

An experiment tested the hypothesis that water exposed to distant intentions affects the aesthetic rating of ice crystals formed from that water. Over three days, 1,900 people in Austria and Germany focused their intentions towards water samples located inside an electromagnetically shielded room in California. Water samples located near the target water, but unknown to the people providing intentions, acted as "proximal" controls. Other samples located outside the shielded room acted as distant controls. Ice drops formed from samples of water in the different treatment conditions were photographed by a technician, each image was assessed for aesthetic beauty by over 2,500 independent judges, and the resulting data were analyzed, all by individuals blind with respect to the underlying treatment conditions. Results suggested that crystal images in the intentionally treated condition were rated as aesthetically more beautiful than proximal control crystals (p = 0.03, one-tailed). This outcome replicates the results of an earlier pilot test.

For example, this crystal was formed from the word "happiness"And this one, conversely, from the word, "despair"This one - "Good Job"This one from "You did it wrong!"

The above studies support my own belief that our intention is truly powerful and the guiding force of our life. Collective intention is exponentially more powerful as we see in the Washington study. So how does this jibe with the culture of silent dissent and verbal acquiescence in Southern Sudan (or anywhere, for that matter)? Mixed intentions and mixed messages inevitably lead to mixed results.

I recently spoke to a Sudanese friend of mine who is an up and coming functionary within SPLM’s ranks. Even though he ‘gets it’ – the need to thoughtfully and confidently challenge authority, to demand and create solutions, to take responsibility and quit the addiction to violence – he cannot say no or express dissent to his superiors. Otherwise he believes he will not move up the ladder, so his strategy is an old one: say yes until you arrive in a place of power, then…if your will for moving in a challenging direction hasn’t atrophied entirely, use your hard-earned position for the greater good.

Ironically this friend told me that Southern Sudanese in power are more likely to listen to khawaja (foreigners/white people) than to wise young Sudanese. He and his girlfriend said that the place to challenge the status quo is not the office, but rather, the dinner table.

So what does it take to sow the mustard seed of revolution (or better still – evolution)?

The hell with arms… I say: take up fork and knife!

Let us all make it so:

"Bless this Meal. Our intention is to understand and be understood; to satisfy our interests without encroaching on the interests of others; to serve a common vision without letting individual fear prevent the greatness that awaits us. Amen."

For a flash I imagined writing a development project around the idea: sponsoring meals throughout Sudan, whose intention is, simply, Good Conversation.

But maybe, no foreign-funded bright idea is required. Maybe, if we say it is so, the mustard seed can take root here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Eritrean Coffee Ceremony

A nice end to a long week... It seems I have a willing partner in my quest to know food in Southern Sudan. I got a surprise invitation on Friday from Fatmah to join her and her Eritrean colleague, Nebyat, for an afternoon coffee roasting ceremony. She said it would take about an hour. Being a coffee lover, I hoped for a Sudanese hour!

The affair was simple and elegant with satifying results, all in about an hour...and a half.

Nebyat got the little cooker going with charcoal, and when it was nice and hot, she began roasting. She put about a cup of green Ugandan coffee beans in her long-handled roasting pan, and just patiently sat there, chatting away, and shaking the pan every few seconds. As the beans started to brown a bit, she placed a nice chunk of dried ginger inside, and kept on shaking. In no time that lovely smell began wafting, and the beans had become a rich brown. Nebyat placed the roasted beans in a wooden mortar and began to grind them with a heavy metal pestle. Though she referred to this process as a coffee ceremony several times, it wasn't necessarily tradition that impelled her to grind the old-fashioned way...she said simply that she didn't have an electric coffee grinder, so this would have to do.
After the beans were somewhat coursely ground, she funneled them into a long necked clay jug, followed by water, and a reed stopper. In Eritrea, Nebyat explained that people often use a cow tail as the cork. This piqued my curiosity, as I imagined the tail might rot or something, so I asked her how long the tail would last. "A very long time," she said, "unless you lose it."
She placed the jug on the same charcoal stove where she roasted the beans, and we waited. Not an eager waiting, like I have in the Starbucks line, but the most relaxed waiting for coffee I think I have known. We chatted, nibbled on roasted barley and digestive cookies, talked about Eritrean customs, and just enjoyed the warm evening. The coffee started boiling after about twenty minutes, filling the entire room with its aroma. Nebyat lit resin incense in a small charcoal burner, and its sweet smell floated above and around the earthy aroma of the coffee. Then she poured out four little cups.
And it was good...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Making Kisra

I won’t even attempt to share a recipe here, but I will share my experience of spending a Sunday afternoon in a local Sudanese home, while a new friend, Susie, made us a traditional fermented flatbread called kisra. A note for psychological context: I was told by Fatmah, a Kenyan friend who arranged the day’s event, that we would spend probably an hour to an hour and a half with Susie learning to make this typical Sudanese bread. It took me about three hours to give up the notion that I would have part of the afternoon to myself, and four and a half for the full experience to close. This was the most recent of many lessons for me so far in South Sudan’s greatest subject, the rewards of patience.

We were first received in Susie’s family home, one of many mud and thatch huts in a large compound close to my neighborhood and to Konyo Konyo market. The one-room dwelling looked dark as we ducked under the thatch to enter, but the low light inside made the very tidy living room/sleeping quarters a relaxing and cool oasis from the hot day. We all chatted and looked at photo albums, learned about Susie’s family and customs, and generally relaxed and got comfortable with one another as Susie’s sisters prepared the ingredients for our cooking lesson.

Kisra is a traditional flatbread made with fermented sorghum batter, and I believe millet flour can also be used. In Susie’s recipe this Sunday, she also added a packet of wheat flour to the fermented sorghum ‘soup’ after it had fermented overnight, to give the mix a pancake-batter consistency.Kisra is only part of the story – two types of side dishes were also prepared from about the only leafy vegetable in Juba, a flat-leafed green called kudura (koodra).As the batter set (after a night of fermenting the sorghum flour and water in a big pail, then adding wheat flour at about one p.m.), Susie and her younger sisters showed us how to make two distinct kudura dishes from virtually the same ingredients. For one the kudura was roughly chopped by hand and cooked together with an ash salt that made the dish very slimy; in the other the kudura was chopped finely for nearly a half hour until almost black, and cooked into a somewhat more savory (and less slimy) stew.The ash salt is actually water that has drained through the ash from the brick oven. The water filters through the ash into a bowl, becoming the color of ice tea and giving the kudura dish its slimy consistency.

Ash was not even the most interesting ingredient used that afternoon. The hands-down winner in that category was…cow brain. Susie nonchalantly showed us a tomato-sized clear plastic bag with a little red and white watery brain inside, and explained that it played a crucial role in the preparation of kisra.

For some reason cooking oil just won’t do – the cow brain is sautéed and used like butter to keep the kisra from sticking to the iron skillet.

Hours of preparation led to the culminating event: watching Susie masterfully prepare the kisra, and then each of us taking our turn by the hot fire to (attempt to) make our own.

First, Susie fed the fire with long thin bamboo reeds to make the skillet evenly hot. She checked the temperature by flicking a spray of water onto the iron and watching for an even sizzle all the way across.

Then she took a small piece of the ‘cerveau sauté’ and rubbed it all around the skillet as grease.

Susie casually poured the batter in an even arc across the top of the skillet, and followed quickly with a handheld palm spatula to evenly spread the batter down the entirety of the iron square. Within a minute or so, the bread had cooked, so Susie rubbed a small tin can around the kisra to lift its edges. With a bit of material now to hold onto, Susie lifted and pulled the kisra gently off of the iron, flipping it face down on a serving tray in the same graceful movement.

Susie repeated the process several times, giving me confidence that I could do the same when my turn came. A subtle voice assured me: you are a muffin master, this shall be no different.

I am not embarrassed to report – that voice was wrong.

Where Susie was able to spread one cup of batter across the entire two foot square skillet, I was barely able to make the batter move. Pictures do this justice:

There is a bright side to all this wasted batter – it’s not wasted at all. All of our rejects went into a big bucket, even those that fell on the dirt floor, for further fermentation into a local beer called merisa.

With so much beer resulting from our kisra lesson, Susie assured us that her mom, who makes and drinks the brew, will be happy for us to visit more often.

The day finished where it began, back in the hut, where we all shared the two stews from the same bowl, pulling off pieces of kisra and dipping them with our right hand... Thank you Susie, Fatmah, and Nduta!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I am interested in food, clearly, but am no foodie, and would like to underscore my purpose here. I'm not writing a restaurant guide to Juba, though 'reviews' of sorts will find their way into the writing. Nor am I writing a cookbook, though many recipes will follow.

Food is the connective tissue that pervades every level of life. As such I write to recognize the power I wield as an omnivore, and the power food itself has as prism. Each aspect speaks of the whole, so, since I'm not a political scientist, an expert on Sudan, or sage diplomat, I have chosen food as a medium to understand, as best I can in the short time I am here, the culture and context of southern Sudan.

There's no way I could grasp even a sliver of what's happening here by eating out at international restaurants every night. So I plan to cook at home with food from the PX
and local greenmarkets, look into culinary traditions of southern Sudan with the help of hosts and guides, and maybe even scratch the surface of some of the bigger questions, like how have decades of food aid affected the country, and why is nearly all of southern Sudan's food imported?

I depend on readers to help me answer these questions, and to raise others that illuminate the fullness and complexity of life here. Please write with your ideas, I am grateful for your involvement.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Muffins Must Wait

I thought I'd be making muffins today, but my housemate Maty and I came across a great big squash in the market this morning, as well as fresh ginger root and a few other goodies, so her suggestion of soup when we got home seemed a good one.

Pumpkin Coconut soup was a favorite during Urban Spring days, so I worked off that recipe to come up with a very satisfying twist. I used local honey from Maridi --,29.501038&spn=0.266806,0.44323&t=h&z=12&msid=101640016784182496265.00046d65c24db5d25c38b,

and a couple green chilis to fill out and balance. The results were most pleasing...

Squash Ginger Soup – Sudan Style
Serves 8

½ medium pumpkin (this one was green with a very meaty flesh like kobocha but not as sweet)
4 small red onions (note these onions are not like the red onions I'm used to in Brooklyn - I cried a river! And it wasn't MJ or Iran pulling the tears this time)
2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
5 medium cloves garlic
½ cup coconut flakes
3 bay leaves
3 pieces cinnamon bark
2 small chili peppers
2 Tbs local honey
Juice of 4 golf ball size limes
Pinch curry powder
Salt, pepper & olive oil

Pierce whole pumpkin around crown and bottom, place on baking sheet and bake for about 1 ½ hours at 375 F. Turn pumpkin after 45 min.

As pumpkin is baking, sauté sliced onions and garlic in olive oil, adding peeled and minced ginger after browning. Add salt, pepper, curry, cinnamon, and bay leaves and continue to sauté for 10 min, covered. Add ½ liter water to make a make a stock-like base.

Separately, boil 2 cups water, and add coconut flakes. Boil for 10 min to soften, then blend on its own to a milk. It won't be too milky - so if you prefer, use a can of coconut milk instead, which would work great, probably even better. I'm trying to reduce additives and preservatives as much as possible, and canned coconut milk here has some strange stuff in it, so I went with the dried coconut.

Remove bay leaves and cinnamon bark from stock, add coconut milk, and keep simmering. When a knife slides in the pumpkin easily, halve it, clean seeds, and scoop ½ out and place in the stock. Add about 750 ml water to the soup and simmer for 15 more minutes.

Blend soup, adding minced chilies, squeezed lime, honey, salt, pepper and oil to taste.

Serve with lime wedges and Ryvita seeded crackers.

(For a really nice treat, a square of dark chocolate with chili follows very nicely).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Green Shakes in Sudan

(Before anything else I can’t help but note a parallel on this day to “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” and say a prayer for Family on every side of that upheaval.)

I’ve been in Juba, capital of southern Sudan, for just over 3 weeks, and have finally enjoyed my first Green Shake this Sunday morning. I bought the giant avocados (60 cents each) and finger bananas (just over a buck for the bunch) in the market yesterday, and didn’t ask but am pretty sure that they came from nearby Uganda. No agave nectar around to sweeten, so I used a dollop of very rich dark Kenyan honey.
For pure nostalgia, the shake was earth-shattering – and symbolic for me of integration of my life in Brooklyn and my new life here in Sudan. In terms of flavor and consistency, though, definitely not my best. Eager to make the shake, I jumped the gun on the finicky Avocado, which wasn’t quite soft enough. The smoothie ended up a little bit thin, not the mousse consistency we got most of the time at Urban Spring. The flavor was good, though, and the effect on mind and spirit can’t be understated. For the first few weeks here, I’ve been ‘coloring within the lines,’ i.e. paying attention to how my peers eat and following suit.

The range of culinary options that I have seen so far in Juba:

Office Canteen - This is by far my most frequent dining destination, a small set-up within our compound - by the way you can see exactly where I eat everyday by zooming in on the blue pushpin in this google map:,31.595821&spn=0.0322,0.055618&z=15

The canteen serves 'foul' (pronounced 'fool') which is beans and peas in sauce, white rice, a sticky and bland maize porridge whose name I never remember (a typical Kenyan dish), shredded cooked cabbage salad, and sometimes a slice of avocado or sauteed plantains, all for under $3. If you add chicken it's about $4.50, but I'm staying mostly vegetarian so far.

Home - Second most popular destination for me behind the canteen, where I cook myself a nice porridge every morning with muesli (German, from the PX located at the main UN compound), finger bananas, a nice big pat of butter (Kenya), dark honey (Kenya), and UHT milk (Uganda). Occasionally I'll fry some eggs, whose yolks are almost as light as the whites. I'll find out where the eggs come from and try to figure out why the yolks are beige at best... In the evenings if I have energy to cook -- which is rare (I'm not sure why but this place really tires me out, even if the amount of physical work in the day doesn't compare to work in NYC. It might be the heat, it might be the cavernous, jarring potholes, maybe the vast cultural divide, maybe that we're all entwined in the scarring and healing from decades of war), anyway, if I have the energy I may cook a pastasciutta with roma tomatoes from Uganda, italian pasta from the PX, local onions and garlic and italian olive oil (costing between $10 - $20 a liter).

My new housemate is a sensible Sri Lankan, who cooks nearly every night and is not shy about inviting me to join him, so I will be eating at home more and more I'm sure.

Lebanese - There are at least 2 Lebanese restaurants in town, one known as “Best Lebanese,” the other called Central Pub. If you call the latter though and mistakenly ask if it’s “Best Lebanese” the owner doesn’t miss a beat and responds, “Yes this is the best Lebanese in Juba.” At each I’ve had Lebanese salad (despite warnings to avoid raw food in town), hummus and bread. It was so nice to eat a simple salad (cucumbers and tomatoes), my body thanked me with each bite. For atmosphere, Central Pub was great at nighttime, with nice big lawn and operating fountain in the center, but for overall flavor, the winner already knows his name…

Chinese – There are a few Chinese places in Juba, which I haven’t been to yet— don’t hold your breath for a review from this quarter...

Indian restaurants and dancing girls – I’ve only been to one, Salaam, and was satisfied with the food and nice garlic naan, but most impressed with the two girls who danced to disco and Indian music in traditional garb – sexy but not vulgar. Worth the trip, but not high on my list for a return visit.

Nile Clubs (and dancing girls) – There's a whole series of camps along the Nile each with accommodations, restaurants and dance floors, the best one so far seems to be Mango. I haven't actually eaten there yet but did enjoy a few beers on a Friday night. The place fills up, and the gender ratio is surprisingly mostly women. Hard to know for sure who is who, but I’m pretty certain many of these women are here on business…

Ethiopian - There are a couple of nice Ethiopian places in town, my favorite is Queen of Sheba, since it is close to home, has a nice mix of locals, proximate guests (Ugandans, Ethiopians, Kenyans, etc.), and internationals. I usually order the typical mixed vegetarian platter on flat spongy bread, which is spicy but not too, and a little bit messy from eating with right hand. They have a decent cappuccino also, made from pre-ground Ethiopian beans and Ugandan UHT milk. And speaking of coffee, it's a bleak scene if you're a true lover as I am, but there are a few highlights. Mostly I'm doing one french press per day with Lavazza pre-grind from the PX...not bad. Early days I had quite a few Nescafes, assuming I couldn't do much better, and needing the caffeine to get me through the steep adjustment to Juba. One place, Paradise, actually has a nice grinder and machine, and makes a decent espresso.

Pizza - Paradise, mentioned above, has the best in town from what I've seen, serving a decent, personal sized vegetariana for about $10 (which is cheap in this town for restaurant dining. My first night here I was invited to another of the Nile clubs, Da Vinci, where a scoop and a half of seafood salad was more than $20.)

Thanks to the beautiful green shake this morning, I realized that I am not confined to these "usual suspects," and can bring some of my own nice eating habits out of the closet to blend appropriately with the surroundings. This will be the subject of coming posts, an accounting of food experiences and understandings in the context southern Sudan, in these difficult early days of Peace.