April 25, 2010

baking cakes in kigali by gaile parkin

Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel
Title:  Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel
Author:  Gaile Parkin
Pages:  320 (hardcover)
Release date:  August 18, 2009 (hardcover)
Publisher:  McClelland & Stewart
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Meet Angel Tungaraza, professional cakebaker, amateur matchmaker, with an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.  With her husband, Pius, and their five orphaned grandchildren, Angel has recently moved from her native Tanzania to Rwanda, where she runs a successful cake business, catering to her neighbours and their friends.
As her customers tell her their stories, Angel comes to realize how much each of them has to mourn, and equally, to celebrate.

I knew I had to read this book the moment I spied its title - a book about cakes in Rwanda was intriguing.  Enter Angel Tungaraza, a professional somebody who bakes exuberantly coloured theme cakes for friends and neighbours in Kigali.  As Angel takes their orders over sweet cardamom-spiced tea, Rwanda and its people come to life.

While Angel bakes cakes to help her customers celebrate special occasions, they tell her their stories.  Set 6 years after the genocide, the novel is moving in its depiction of a people determined to overcome the horrors of the past, seeking "unity and reconciliation" while daring to hope for a better future.

Central to Rwanda's policy of reconciliation is the elimination of the ethnic distinctions which divided the country, its people united as "Banyarwanda" or Rwandans.  And yet, as often happens when I read about unfamiliar places, I was surprised to discover the incredible multiculturalism and diversity in Kigali:  religious, ethnic and national.  In Parkins' Kigali, Muslims live and celebrate alongside Catholics, Indians alongside Americans, South Africans alongside Somalis.

Angel's cake tour of Kigali culminates in a spectacular wedding celebration which she pulled together with donations from her friends and neighbours, "a truly pan-African celebration", exactly the type of celebration which she hopes will help Rwandans believe in reconciliation.

A warm and moving story of family and friendship in Kigali, Baking Cakes in Kigali reminds us all of our shared humanity and the devastating effects of inhumanity.

Lessons from Rwanda:  The United Nations and the Prevention of Genocide is a programme established by the UN to take lessons from the genocide in Rwanda to prevent similar atrocities in future and to document the struggles the survivors continue to experience over 15 years later.   Particularly touching are the images from The Visions of Rwanda photography project which brought together genocide survivors to create a portrait of Rwanda as seen through the eyes of its people:  "These poignant accounts and many others like them depict a country on a path toward reconciliation.  The resounding voices of survivors touch us in ways that no other words could."

A Rwandan wedding party in traditional dress. 
Pascal Nizeyimana is an information technology student at Adventist University of Central Africa, in Kigali.
His images capture daily life in Rwanda through the eyes of a young, educated Rwandan.

April 16, 2010

mother knows best

When we renovated our kitchen recently I made one of my best decisions ever and bought a stove with a double oven.  I had my eye on a single oven model with all the bells and whistles but my mum patiently led me to see the error of my ways.  Thus began my current obsession with all things baked, roasted or broiled.

As if it wasn't enough that she was right about the stove, this recipe for balsamic glazed rosemary chicken with roasted peppers, a delicious and satisfying meal any night of the week, is also hers.

Thank you mum!

Balsamic glazed rosemary chicken with roasted peppers

Serves 4 - 6

4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)
salt to taste

Preheat broiler on high setting.

Slice each chicken breast horizontally, forming 2 cutlets.  Lay cutlets in one half of a baking sheet.  Cut bell pepper into strips and lay on other half of baking sheet.

Sprinkle oil, vinegar and salt evenly over chicken and peppers, turning to coat.  Lay rosemary over chicken and peppers and set tray on oven rack approximately 10 cm (4 inches) from broiler.  Broil until chicken is cooked through and peppers have softened, approximately 15-20 minutes.  Check for doneness every 5 minutes or so to avoid burning.

April 15, 2010

free coffee at starbucks

Bring your reusable travel mug to Starbucks today and get a free brewed coffee as part of the Starbucks Big Picture Project.
For the good of the planet, Starbucks is encouraging everyone to switch from paper cups to reusable travel mugs. One day in March thousands of New Yorkers made the switch. Join them now by taking a pledge to do the same.
This global movement is taking place in locations around the world including East China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Netherlands, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, UK, Ireland, Argentina, Bahamas, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico.

April 10, 2010

ghetto lattes - fair or foul?

With the recent bout of warm weather, I have begun to wonder if it might almost be time to revive my summer morning ritual of a "latte macchiato freddo" (cold milk 'stained' with a shot of espresso).  There is nothing I love more with breakfast on a hot day and through the warm months I make extra espresso (or regular coffee) in the morning just to stash in my fridge for that very purpose.

While I've occasionally ordered iced coffee at my local Starbucks, I must say I've always felt ripped off by the premium price, particularly since the drink is made with cold coffee that might otherwise have ended up down the drain.  It really doesn't seem fair but if the market bears it then I have to accept that the principles of capitalism are at work.

Enter the "ghetto latte", an espresso shot ordered in a large cup over ice with milk added by the customer at the condiments table.   The Toronto Star is celebrating the arrival of spring in Toronto with these video instructions on how to make one.

The practice has generated a fair amount of internet chatter, including from some Starbucks baristas who clearly cry foul.  Me, I'm not so fussed - turnabout is fair play and if people have figured out a way to arbitrage the system, well that's part of capitalism too.  No one cares if I order my tall coffee in a grande cup or how much milk I pour into it when it's hot so why should it matter when it's cold?

Kudos to Starbucks for remaining above the fray and being a good sport:  "We provide condiments to our customers so they can make their drinks to their liking . . .We trust our customers to make the choices that are right for them."

In the meantime I will continue to vote with my feet and make my iced coffees in the comfort of my own kitchen.  What about you?

April 7, 2010

April 3, 2010

fusilli with roasted veggies and mozzarella

Growing up I spent most summers in a small town in Campania, south of Naples, where the day revolved around the afternoon meal or "pranzo".  Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of  my aunt's kitchen where we all tended to gravitate.

A large wooden board (called a "spianatoia" or "sch'cannatur" in dialect) was an essential tool in every kitchen and my aunt's was large enough to cover virtually the entire surface of the kitchen table.  I remember her heaping flour on the board, making a well in the middle and filling it with just the right number of eggs and measuring out water in the egg shells.  Without a single measuring cup or spoon, and nary an electric appliance in sight, she produced the most exquisite pastas for our lunch table.

Two of my favourites were (and still are) cavatelli and fusilli, both forms made by hollowing out a length of pasta.  In the case of fusilli, this is done by pressing a thin squared iron rod or "ferro" into a length of dough and applying just the right amount of pressure while rolling the ferro quickly back and forth.   These are a far cry from what often passes for fusilli in North America, which tend to be corkscrew shapes.  There are some regional variations which have a bit more of a spiral shape but my favourites are the ones you see here.

Shaping the fusilli is deceptively simple but it actually takes a lot of practice to get it right.  Luckily there are a number of artisanal pastas available in supermarkets and Italian groceries these days that are a worthy stand-in for fresh pasta (although if you are ever invited into an Italian home for homemade fusilli you are in for a real treat).

This version, made with store-bought fusilli tossed with roasted vegetables and fresh mozzarella, makes for a quick luscious meal that can be made in any season - paired with a glass of wine it's my idea of comfort food.

It's been awhile since I've made a submission to Presto Pasta Nights so I'm thrilled to be back, with Ruth from Once Upon a Feast hosting this week.  Check out the roundup on Friday.

Fusilli with roasted veggies and mozzarella

Serves 4 - 6

500 gr artisanal fusilli
3 tbsp olive oil
1 eggplant, cubed
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 shallots, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 ball fresh mozzarella, cubed
salt to taste

Toss eggplant, cherry tomatoes, shallots and garlic with the olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Spread in a baking sheet and bake in a 400°F oven for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are softened and the shallot caramelized.  Remove from oven and mash garlic with a fork.

While vegetables are roasting, cook fusilli according to package directions.  Drain, reserving about 250ml (1 cup) pasta water.

Toss pasta with roasted vegetables and mozzarella cubes, adding pasta water as necessary to loosen the sauce.  Serve immediately.