clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose

The Patriots' Rob Gronkowski brings back the old-school touchdown spike. Al Bello/Getty Images

I am “doing” the Superbowl this year. As in, I am actually paying attention for the first time ever. Giants! Patriots! Linebackers and tight-ends! Eli Manning? Tom Brady!

Okay, it mostly means I plan to cook stupid amounts of food based around blocks of cheese and pounds of meat and the glorious sound of a bubbling deep-fryer. (For inspiration, I am turning to one of my besties and her detailed list of game day recipes. You should too, here.)

Right now, everything I know about football I learned from Friday Night Lights, so my actual participation in the watching of the game will probably be limited to making snide comments about the players’ tattoos and facial hair. If I do get roped into a conversation about the actual game, I’ll have to refer to field positions by the names of the characters on the show.

Well hi there Tim Riggins.

To avoid having to refer to the fullback as “that position that the really cute drunk guy plays,” I’ve been doing scattered football research. I have found some amazing things. Here is your one-stop shop for random conversation starters for non-fans, if you get roped into watching the game on Sunday:

  • Tebowing, obviously.
  • Rob Gronkowski’s reinvention of the spike.
  • If you’re not into the game itself, check out this primer on the reasons for the outrageous costs of advertising during the game. (In a nutshell: “…nonfootball mass entertainment has been in a decades-long spiral of decline that was only temporarily halted by an ice-world knee-clubbing.” Brilliant. Except I don’t think the author takes into account the aura that surrounds a buying a spot during the big game. People google “Super Bowl ads” and then settle in for a long evening on YouTube.)
  • And then there’s this fun fact — Americans will devour 1.25 billion wings on Sunday… that’s about 312 million chickens for one day of feasting.

Now, when I say I’m doing the Superbowl for the first time, it’s a bit of a lie because there is one tradition that I have squarely participated in for years: the commercials. One of the few bad things about being Canadian is the fact that we don’t get the Amurrrrricahn commercials… so thank god for YouTube. My favourite from last year:

So anyway. Go…. Giants, I guess? I do love me an underdog. I call it for the Giants by 10, solely because I’m copying the DJ on Montreal’s 94.7 Hits FM.

come for the strip clubs, stay for the bagels

This episode of Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover makes me miss Montreal something terrible. Schwartz’s pickles, LARPers, and raw milk cheese. He clearly has good researchers.

He’s only wrong about one thing, which is why New Yorkers visit La Belle Province: “Because they want to get drunk, and they want to eat good <expletive deleted> food like this, out of a truck.” You forgot the rippers, Tony.

(Thanks to Goulet for the link. A brilliant way to spend 40 minutes on a Monday morning. Except now nothing in the fridge appeals to me, because I want a foie gras double-down from Joe Beef.)

the prodigal child returns

It’s freezing cold, but the snow finally arrived with two days to spare, so I will stop complaining about wanting a refund.

please hang on for two more days. iiiiiii'mmmmm dreaaaamming of a whiiiiiiite chriiiiistmas...

There have been a multitude of high points, and I still have more than a week at home. All the regular sappiness: family and friends, warm homes and hearts. But also:

the final minutes of the 28-hour journey takes me directly over the hills where I grew up. yes, you can see my house.

MONTREAL. enough said.

latte art at Cafe Neve.. yes that is a Ninja Turtle in my coffee. it's a Michelange-latte.

BAGELS

And of course, the joys of fast Internet connections, to bring us gems like this:

“PONIES?!?!” (via Goulet.)

Yesterday was winter solstice — time to celebrate the return of the light. Happy holidays to you and yours.

sukuma your wiki

Well, I’m still running into a few consistency challenges with these kale burgers but who has time to wait for perfection? Just eat your greens.

Sukuma Wiki Burgers
makes 4 patties

stay together for the kids

I adapted this from a couple different recipes for spinach burgers, adding my own flavours and using sukuma wiki — Kenyan kale, literally meaning “stretch the week” since it is extremely inexpensive and therefore popular with those who need to stretch their grocery budgets. (Lots of people here hate it because they ate it so much as kids, but it’s way more nutritious than the staple “fill kids’ bellies” food in Rwanda: green bananas.)

Kale is a lot coarser than spinach, so I did significant tweaking from the recipes that used spinach… therefore I don’t know if this is backwards compatible with a spinach substitution. If anything, I used more liquid because I think kale’s stiffness requires more sticking power, so if you want to try this with spinach maybe err on the side of less wet ingredients. Also I think maybe the spinach in those recipes was supposed to be cooked, and my kale was raw. So… yeah. Have you decided yet that you don’t trust me, or this recipe, at all? LET’S JUST COOK AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS. With sesame oil and parmesan in a frying pan it is doubtful this will taste bad.

Combine in a bowl:

  • 1 + 1/2 c roughly chopped kale (packed)
  • generous 1/4 c grated parmesan (plus a slice to eat while you cook)
  • 1/4 c chopped coriander
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic powder, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder, or to taste
  • chilli powder to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste

Toss those ingredients to combine well, then add:

  • two eggs
  • 2 tsp tamari
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Mush it together with your hands! Once everything is goopy and fantastic, slowly add:

  • 1/2 c breadcrumbs (approximately… just add until it seems like its the right consistency to be burger-ified.)

Set the mixture aside. Add to a skillet over medium heat:

  • olive oil or other fat for frying — these suckers soak up oil, so add the amount you’re willing to ingest. The more, the crispier.
  • a few drops of sesame oil

While the oil is heating, make your burgers.

This is where I ran into technical difficulties. It can be hard to make your little burgs stay in one piece. I roughly formed each burger as a ball in the palm of my hand, and then placed it on a chopping board and really pressed down to make it all flatten out and stick together — then transferred it to the frying pan with the spatula. Once it hits the heat of the pan, everything on the outer surface binds together, so it holds together pretty well… the hard part is just handling the raw burger.

Fry 3-4 minutes each side in a covered pan. Watch carefully — mine burned. (Both times I made them. Ok now you definitely don’t trust me.)

Enjoy with your leftover Spiced Lentil Rice from last night, and a side of smugness. You are eating kale burgers, you are so healthy. (Just exercise selective memory when it comes to how many “one more small one” slices of parmesan you ate while you were waiting for the burgers to cook. Ahem.)

kale patties + spiced lentil rice with yogurt and curry powder on top + the tail end of a lonely cucumber = dinner

feed me something

My food strategy is simple: eat real. I don’t go for a lot of packaged or processed foods. No shame, friends. It’s just that I like to cook. I think it’s fun. I think things taste better from scratch. And I think it’s a good way to challenge myself. However, “real” foods are not always low-calorie. Such as… butter… cream… maple syrup… cheese… almost-mooing ribeye. Just a few of my favourite things.

Cooking (ok, fine, eating) gives me a sense of stability, so I tend to do it more when I travel. I also find myself wanting to sample all the new snacks I come across, much of which are far from diet food. Examples in Kenya: bhajias (battered, fried potatoes w/ cilantro and tumeric), battered and fried sausages, fried samosas, fried tilapia (head still on!), fried chicken (head removed – thankfully), mandazi (fried dough… theme?). Also the local pizza chain makes a killer Hawaiian.

glorious mandazi, made with rice flour. just right.

Gaining a few extra pounds is no big deal, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? Normally, yes. However. I’m going home to Canada for Christmas, and it is entirely possible that none of my jeans will fit. Somehow I don’t think my forgiving Kenya wardrobe — skirts, dresses, wraps — will be so useful in a Canadian winter.

Therefore I am making a few last-ditch tweaks: less wine/fat/carbs, more water/vegetables/lean vegetarian protein. Strangely, what’s keeping me going with the health-craze is perusing recipes for disgustingly rich holiday treats… the kind that only North Americans can dream up. (Such as my personal favourite LeBreton Flats, made entirely out of Breton crackers, melted chocolate, butter and brown sugar. I also came across a recipe today that involved baking mini chocolate bars into globs of cookie batter and then covering them with frosting. YES.)

So, in the meantime…

Spiced Lentil Rice

This makes enough for a decently-sized dinner for two, if you add some other dish (stir-fry, curry, big salad?). Or just scale it up. In my sad little case, it made dinner for one + leftovers. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwsadface.

Add to a medium saucepan, over medium heat:

  • a splash of olive oil
  • 1/2 c lentils (I used green)

Saute the lentils for a minute or two, then add:

  • 1 + 1/2 c water

hello my pretties

Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until lentils are beginning to soften. While the lentils simmer, dice:

  • one medium red onion
  • 3-4 green onions
  • half a head of garlic

Heat in a skillet over medium heat:

  • a blurb of olive oil (so precise)

Then add your onions and garlic. Saute until soft, then add:

  • 1-2 tbsp garam masala (or a cumin-ish curry-like spice mix sort of thingy… yeah)
  • chilli powder, salt, and pepper to taste

Once the spices seem to be getting a little toasty (you may need to add more oil to prevent sticking/burning), add:

  • 1/2 c raw brown rice

Toast the rice for a minute or two, then add the whole mixture to the lentils. Be sure to scrape in all the good stuff that stuck to the pan. Add water to cover. (A little too much is better than not enough, you can always boil it off.) Then add:

  • 1 medium tomato, chopped

Simmer for about 30-45 minutes, or until the rice is cooked. When you think it’s close to being done, add:

  • a whole ton of fresh cilantro, chopped… or less, if you’re not obsessed with it like I am. (It’s 12 cents per bunch here! I can’t stop! Someone get me help.)
  • optional: more spices/seasonings, to taste
  • optional: I made mine too spicy so I added 1 tsp raw cane sugar to counteract the mouthfire. Tomato paste would also do the trick.

If everything’s cooked and soft but it seems a little soupy, either boil off the excess water or just remove from heat and let it stand for 10 minutes. I had it with kale burgers (recipe tomorrow maybe, still tweaking) and salad… but I’ve also eaten it on its own, with just tamari (and an episode of The Wire).

all of my photos came out blurry. whatever this isn't Pioneer Woman, deal with it.

it’s the end of the world as we know it

I got really quite horrifyingly ill last week. I will spare you the details, but it involved undercooked chicken and the digestive tract equivalent of Fukushima Daichi — your personal experiences with salmonella poisoning can fill in the rest.

As I laid in bed on Wednesday contemplating the sweet release of death, the sky outside my window increasingly darkened. A huge clap of thunder shook the walls, and then it started hailing. Yeah. Like, ice falling from the sky. Pea-sized chunks of frozen water pummelled the earth, mixed with rain and general atmospheric chaos. Keep in mind Nairobi is just a few latitude south of the equator. It’s supposed to be summer here.

I stared in disbelief out the window. Then I thought about the plague infesting my body… and all I could think was, “Yup. It’s the apocalypse.”

Talk about pathetic fallacy. I managed to struggle out of bed and get my camera soaking wet, just to document the moment — for future proof that I hadn’t been delirious. In the end, I was spared a hospital visit by my travel medicine doctor in Montreal… more specifically, the little bottle of miracle antibiotics she prescribed in May. This was not the first time I’ve found myself deploying 1000 mg of cipro-fury on a stomach bug, and I never cease to be amazed at the effectiveness. I may name my first-born Ciprofloxacin.

Anyway, don’t feel too sorry for me. I’m better now. And a week from today I’ll be waking up here. Jealous? Distract yourself with this crazy story [via Goulet]. Or this awesome element of American society. (The whole rice and curry thing is getting old. I could really go for some grippachos or alligator jerky.)

a taste of home

Canadians gathered last weekend with one goal in mind: eat to the point of physical discomfort. Being thousands of miles from home doesn’t mean we can shirk our responsibility to overindulge, so a little group of Canucks gathered in Nairobi last Sunday. Mission: accomplished.

oh my.

We started with pumpkin soup, then came turkey, stuffing, potatoes mashed and roasted, garlic green beans, roasted carrots, gravy, cran, and a steady flow of red wine. Then two pumpkin pies, a red wine chocolate cake, ice cream and banana bread. We had a lot to be thankful for.

these pies have equally fantastic back-stories: one was made from an actual pumpkin, and the other from a can of pumpkin pie filling transported all the way from Canada in a suitcase.

Meredith documented the saga of preparing the glorious feast, so head over there for more photos, commentary and general merriment.

la piece de resistance: an 11-kg turkey named Jalal. (thanks Meredith for this photo.)

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends. I hope your celebrations were as memorable as mine.