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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cooking with Catherine

It's been over two years now since I first visited Kenya and since I had my first traditional Kikuyu dish at Catherine's house. Every time I have traditional Kenyan food, I love it and want to learn how to make it. The Kenyans cook with such fresh ingredients, the food is very healthy and tastes great. I have been asking Catherine for awhile now to give me a cooking lesson and we finally had the date scheduled!

I arrived at the athletes' house around 1:30 and Catherine was just finishing her lunch. The house was quiet as her brother, Samuel, was off at a race in Michigan, so it was just Catherine, Irene and Simon there.
Simon Ndirangu smiling as usual!
The lights were out to keep the house cooler, and everyone had already done their morning training so they were relaxing. After socializing for a bit,  it was time to shop for our ingredients. First, Catherine took out some dried peas and left them in a bowl to soak while we were out. 
soaking peas
Our first stop was to Dollar Tree, or what I refer to as "$20 Tree" because it is virtually impossible to leave there without spending at least that much! We both love that store but knew we didn't want to spend too much time so we grabbed a few items and went on our way. Our main stop was at this amazing produce store not too far from where the athletes' house is. This store is more like a large stand; it's just a plain building and there is nothing but produce; massive quantities of it at extremely cheap prices! You walk in, take a number, and when you're called someone waits on you, you tell him/her what you want, they get it, put it in a box and even take the box out to your car if needed. (Usually, when the athletes shop here they buy large quantities and the box is heavy)! The whole process is very streamlined and while it can be extremely busy, it usually moves along fairly quickly. We got our fresh vege supply and returned to the house.

At this point it was too early to start cooking so Catherine asked me for a favor; would I take her shopping? Of course I would; if that is the price of a cooking lesson, it is well worth it! I know she loves to shop and without a car in the U.S., it's hard to do large shops! Once Irene heard we were hitting the Walmart, she was on board for the trip! The three of us hit Walmart and had fun; Irene shopped for her daughter Debra and bought herself a matching outfit. Catherine shopped for her daughter, Jane, as well as for her niece and one of her friends asked her to pick up some educational DVD's. We went through a huge bin of DVD's and her and Irene both got a few titles suitable for youngsters. My recommendation was for them to find Sesame Street DVD's if they wanted educational ones, so we found them and they both purchased that as well. Overall, we had a good time shopping and laughing but it was getting late and it was time for the "lesson" to begin!

 Irene Limika models one of her new outfits
Once we got back to the house, we laid out all the ingredients and Catherine immediately started preparing. The cooking lesson for the day was Mukimo and stew. I've written about mukimo before, but if you haven't read the posts, it is a traditional Kikuyu dish made from potatoes. It is similar to mashed potatoes but there is no butter in it. It is simply made with the potatoes and a select few vegetables and is a healthy staple of the Kikuyu diet. Usually, you don't eat it by itself; it is served with some stew or soup in the same bowl and eaten together. Today we were making a stew with beef in it.

Catherine jumped right in and started grating carrots as I took notes, photos and video to be sure i didn't miss a thing! I also wanted to help and when I asked, Catherine was very cute; she didn't think I knew how to peel potatoes without a peeler! I laughed because she just assumed that we all use the peeler here, which of course we do but it doesn't mean I didn't now how to peel with just a knife! So, Irene and I went to work peeling all the potatoes and cutting them up. Catherine chopped, grated and prepared the remaining vegetables and Irene cubed the beef. I asked questions along the way and took good notes because I know that the next time I will be making the dishes and Catherine will be grading me! She has already told me that Irene will not be allowed in the kitchen with me when I do so she can't help. Catherine said she will be the proctor and make sure I do it all myself to earn the good grade!
fresh ingredients ready
mmmm, onions and garlic

everything prepared

Catherine starting to cook
 It was a lot of fun learning and I have a real appreciation of the work involved. It's not that it is hard work, but it is quite time consuming getting everything prepared, letting things simmer and cook, and then making the final preparations which includes "smashing" an entire pot of potatoes. The key to a good mukimo, Catherine taught me, is to not have any lumps! 
 those are not lumps, that is corn!  


The finished stew
  The table is ready....

After two hours everything was ready and we sat down for the meal. After a lengthy and heartfelt grace by Catherine, we all enjoyed the delicious dish! 
Mukimo, left and stew, right 
Catherine offers Anthony a plate, too bad he's in Kenya and can't join us!
This is how it is served
During dinner, I asked Catherine about how she was feeling with her running and she was very happy with her run at Falmouth where she placed fourth. She is looking forward to the Crim race in Michigan next week. We also discussed where she may run a fall marathon and she is undecided about that at this point in time. Her and Lisa (Buster, her manager) need to look at her schedule and figure it all out. Once they do, I will post where she will run.

I am looking forward to making the meal on my own the next time but we decided to hold off on scheduling until after the Crim race where, she heads with her brother next weekend. After that, we will schedule my test! I will post my "marks" after I receive them (if I pass)!

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