Thursday, December 16, 2004

Safari, so good

The best cookbooks not only have tasty recipes but also lush pictures, vivid descriptions, and a charming story. At least that's my conclusion after upon The African Kitchen in the usually dry, scholarly university library. Written by Josie Stow, an Englishwoman and chef at an African safari reserve, and Jan Baldwin, the book makes Africa (and its food) look quite scrumptious - a decided contrast to the usual famine-war-epidemic images that tend to come out of the evening news. Between this and the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, anyone want to go on safari in Botswana?

Having struggled mightily to get my digital camera to make my food look halfway decent, I'm most appreciative of Baldwin's gorgeous photos. Nothing looks to stagey or touched up, dishes are caught mid-recipe, along with the people preparing them, the natural surroundings, the tools. Brace yourself: the food has context.

I confess I haven't tried the recipes yet, and I have my doubts about some. A chocolate chip cookie recipe in an African cookbook? I don't get that either. But many of the rest sounds good, and there's a nice mix of recipes that sound easily accessible and others that have unusual ingredients and spices (that I'm anxious to try!) and methods.

Here's my personal favorite. Though it's unlikely that I'll be able to try it anytime soon.

"How to build a pizza oven out of a termite mound in under 2 hours" (p. 78)

You need:
vacated termite mound
brandy and Coke
Panga or large and threatening saw/hoe-type thing
Two hands
Edouardo Jalapeno

time plan
1/2 hour to build oven
1 hour to get fire started
2 minutes to cook pizza
3 seconds to eat it

1. Locate in your neighborhood a vacated (very important) termite mound of the correct size and shape, ensuring it has not been blemished in any way by an aardvark.
2. Check the surrounding area for any dangerous animals - specifically predators, but also anything with a trunk or tusks.
3. Hand the brandy and Coke, panga and shovel to Edouardo Jalapeno and take a seat while he proceeds to knock a hole in exactly the right spot on the termite mound, as if he and his ancestors had been doing for centuries.
4. Use the water to turn the soil from the mound into mud, then use this mixture to level out and seal the base of the oven.
5. Leave to dry - at midday in Botswana, this takes seconds.
6. Fine the firewood and build the fire in the now-dry oven.
7. Light it, then step back to admire - this fire is ready when teh coats are white and make your hand burn in under 10 seconds.
8. Remove the brandy and Coke from Edouardo and get him to push the coals to the side of the over: you are now ready to begin cooking.

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