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Thursday, November 17, 2011


There are two types of African travelers in this world - those that go out and seek to experience all things local  as a lifestyle and those that go out but still seek to remain in their comfort zone as much as possible. We are talking about the difference between that expat you know that loves to talk about eating local porridge (ugali) and boiled collard greens (sukuma) for every meal and riding around in matatus for transportation and the other expat that arrives and immediately, finds friends from their country and goes on wild goose hunts for supplies to make chocolate chip cookies, nachos and strawberry daiquiris.  As much as I hate to admit it, I lean more towards the second group - though I swear I venture out of my bubble plenty. And I think really we are just talking about food here for me.  I've just never been turned on by the Kenyan cuisine - I'm fine with the Indian food, which comes in second for local cuisine - In fact, I am a huge Indian food fan now after moving here. (For readers that have never been to Kenya, Nairobi's largest minority are Indians - and there are tons of Indian restaurants here). But the Kenyan food really keeps me from being that immersed expat. Now, if I lived in Italy or Lebanon, I wouldn't have this issue. I mean, there is a reason that you don't find Kenyan restaurants everywhere you go - just saying. 

Typical Kenyan food - Photo is my co-workers lunch. Sukuma, potatos, Ugali (white mushy starch), and rice with some veggies. Ladies sort of travel around from office to office selling lunches to people. This whole thing costs like $2. Very hearty food that keeps you full all day, which definitely has a historical and cultural context to it. The majority of the population that lives way below poverty level might get one meal a day and they would most likely not be eating this variety. It would maybe be just the ugali (white starchy stuff)  and some greens or chapati - every single day.

Now, this is one of the ugliest food pictures ever - BUT, it is one of my all time favorite things to have here. Tandoori Chicken Tikka Boneless and Naan - forget about the fries..they are actually gross here. But the chicken tikka - oh it's heaven. I eat it at least once or twice a week. People that are truly into indian cuisine laugh at me because it's sort of like going to a thai restaurant and ordering Pad Thai..but for me, it's delish. I dont like all the saucy curry stuff - my stomach is always pissed off afterwards..but this dry grilled chicken is AMAZING! With the yogurt sauce..mmmmmm.
Oh just wanted to mention another cuisine that we have eaten here a few times that people LOVE - but for me is only good for the first 10 minutes till you get sick of the Injera - ETHIOPIAN food. Honestly, I like it for about 7-10 minutes and then that bread (looks like a washcloth all rolled up) starts to get to me and I just want a spoon to eat the rest of my meal with. I made the  mistake of joining some friends for Ethiopian food 2 nights before my half marathon - DONT EVER DO THAT! Without fail, you will get some weird ass bacteria from everyone's hands being in everyone's food!
Aw, the poor thing has no idea what's comin to him.
See the little wash cloths of bread? They should coat them with antiseptic. But very fun night - it was worth it ;-)

So,  understanding the mental context that I'm functioning from here - and my longing for good old American comfort food -  I have the weirdest cravings for things from home and much of it is stuff that I wouldn't even eat at home..like for example..Bear Claws! You know those giant donuts; they're like big giant knots of doughy cinnamon and glaze..i don't even know what they are..and I haven't had one in maybe 20 years..but I want one now. Or like, KFC! I do not eat KFC at home. I cannot remember the last time I ate at KFC, but one opened here recently - the first American fast food restaurant in Kenya, and it's all I could think about until it opened. So silly.

My family is coming to visit me for Thanksgiving and the list of stuff that I gave them to bring me is just asinine! Here's what I included - okay some are staples for me and some are wild cards and it's weird!

dried cranberries (eh -definitely a luxury item and could easily live without this)
walnuts/pine nuts (too expensive in nairobi)
turkey peporoni (WHAT??)
blow pops (redic)
nacho cheese in a jar (WHAT?)
Velveeta (Wild Card)
choc chips ( never buy these at home - why now Lenna?)
crystal light (fine)
protein powder (understandable)
low fat peanut butter
low fat brownie mix, cookies, anytthing! (??? -more stuff I never buy at home)
whitening tooth paste
taco bell mild sauce packets (staple for me and definitely a necessity. I make my own taco bell)
coffee creamer - low fat vanilla
montreal steak seasoning
Pudding mix (psycho! since when do I make pudding?)

But I will tell you - it's a ton of fun when you get visitors and they bring you a bunch of stuff - it's like having Target delivered to your house - Here's what it looked like when Sergio got home from a work trip to Haiti where he had to stop through NYC on the way back - He bought us tons of treats from the Target by JFK airport - it was like Christmas Morning!
Some of the things Sergio brought me back from the states: a lunch box, lotion, relish, vitamins, craisens, deodorant, reeses pieces, gym clothes, propel powder, splenda (stolen from starbucks), peanut butter powder, tuna packets, and a ladies fashion magazine - oh he also brought me TURKEY BACON!! I threw it in the freezer as soon as he walked in.
To be fair - we are super lucky to live in Nairobi. There are a TON of options here for eating out. You can find anything you want and the restaurants are normally run from people from that country so it's always pretty authentic and delicious - BUT THERE IS NO MEXICAN FOOD and there really is no good junky American food - you know like a good burger and fries or really good deep dish pizza, no chipotle burritos, no bagel joints, no place to get a good sandwich, no good pancake houses - nothing like that -  so I think that is where my cravings come in - for the junk!
Anyways, so if you are coming to visit - (and you really should visit) - BRING JUNK IN YOUR TRUNK!


Monday, November 14, 2011

YAY - Soup's my favorite!

Sergio is working in London this week and so I'm all laid back with myself here and decided to make some soup that will last me all week so I don't have to cook...Plus I overindulged a bit this weekend and I feel like I need to detox and take myself off solid foods for a while.

Oh wait - I need to digress - funny true story about soup that I want to tell - So, I was at this picnic thing with a bunch of random people after we did white water rafting one day.  There were a few Americans in the mix that I had not met before and I usually love meeting fellow Americans. It's fun to talk about stuff you have in common, etc.  But one girl especially was one of those chicks - we all know her, she was the kind that talks without articulating the last consonant of words and makes all sentences sound like questions (I bought a sandwich yesterdayyyyyyy???? and then I ate iiit???), You know, the kind that says the unenthusiastic "YAY" as a response to everything  from birthday cake being served to Kadafi being killed.  Yes, it was that girl.  I'm sure she has many redeeming qualities but that new way of talking all sweet and fuzzy like everything is made of marshmellows makes me nuts!
Anyways, so this place was serving soup, and this chick and I had a super awkward moment that I will never forget. I went up to get my soup as she was coming back from getting hers...and as we passed each other, there was a moment where we didn't know what to say in passing..and so she took care of it for us by saying..in that sweet cutesy voice: "mmm, soup's my favorite".  WTH?! Who says that?!  WHO SAYS SOUP IS THEIR FAVORITE?? Favorite is a superlative - favorite means favorite. It would make sense if she was saying a certain type of soup is her favorite..but no, she was saying that soup is her favorite thing PERIOD. And it wasn't even soup..it was BROTH! But I didn't leave it there - I had to awkwardly respond with something so I instinctively sort of smiled all excited and fake and said, "yep, love soup!" - WTH?!!! Somehow she found a way to drag me into her happy little soup world! Sounds like a conversation that two 80 year old women could be having easily.  But they have a reason that soup is their favorite..they don't have teeth! at least there is a reason for the soup enthusiasm.....is it just me?!

Anyways, back to my soup.  I made MY FAVORITE SOUP ;-) - Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Mine didn't have tortillas but I cannot call it Chicken soup because that's not what it was. It was like Mexican chicken soup..how bout that?
I just ate it and honestly I have to give my full compliments to the chef....good stuff.
1 can of crushed tomatos
1 can of white beans
3 cloves of garlic
1 onion chopped
olive oil
1 can of corn
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp oregano
3 limes
1 can of chicken stock
bunch of cilantro
2 cups of water
taco seasoning
2 cooked chicken breasts chopped (I coated mine in the taco seasoning and baked them in the oven)

Saute the onions and garlic together in a big pot with a bit of olive oil. Then add the chicken stock, tomatoes, lime juice, oregano, chili powder, water - Let it boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the corn, white beans, chopped chicken and cilantro and bring to a boil again and then let simmer for another 10-15 minutes.VOILA! You got soup!
Monday - Friday baby!

I added a bit of sour cream and some mozz cheese to my bowl and served it up!
You like those dishes huh? Those are still alive from the college days - I figured I'd bring my crappy stuff to Kenya and leave it here. But the truth is I'm attached to them and will still probably bring them back with me

And, I feel that it's my social responsibility to not just talk about the good, but to also discuss topics that are sad or uncomfortable on here. So, I should tell you that while I was cooking up my soup, I was also broiling some chicken marinaded in some weird thai sauce - Well I ended up getting on the phone and forgetting all about the thai chicken under the broiler until I saw thick smoke rising out of the oven (which is not so rare in my house). And I'm only showing you this as a public service message.  This is your public service message:  DO NOT LEAVE SH!T UNDER THE BROILER TOO LONG!  
They're like little burnt end chicken nuggets.  Not edible..believe me I tried.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Stella and... droppin' it like it's hot

Stella is the lady that cleans our office and serves tea and coffee and does other random things as needed. When I first arrived in Kenya, having a person like Stella in the office took some getting used to. In the office in Washington, there is clear sign in the kitchen that says "Your mother doesn't work here - Clean after yourself".  That's how I've been professionally raised - Clean your own coffee cup and lunch dishes, wipe down the counter when you're done, if you come to the coffee pot and it's empty, make a new batch, etc.  I'm telling you now, Forget All That if you move anywhere in the developing world where office help is a way of life.  

I told Stella on day one that I should be washing my own coffee cup, etc and her response was "But Lenna, if you wash your coffee cup, there is no job for me".  And I learned my lesson QUICK. Now, I fully understand that each person has their job here and her job is something she takes pride in - wiping up the milk I spill is not an annoyance or embarrassing, it's what she feels she is needed for and how she makes her living.  This doesn't mean that I don't ever wash my stuff - in fact, if it's my own coffee cup or lunch dishes, I still do them - knowing full well that the majority of the Kenyan staff will leave their stuff for her to do. But, it was an interesting lesson to learn.

Me and Stella

Okay all that seriousness aside, Stella pisses me off to no end at least twice a week.  You see, after Stella and I became friendly, which was pretty early in my arrival - I realized that she finds it her job to tell me when I look fat and when I look like I'm "dropping" (that's how she says losing weight).  I no longer need a bathroom scale thanks to Stella. I know that when I arrive to the office on Monday, I will hear from Stella whether I blew my diet or whether my training has been paying off. In fact, it's gotten to where I'm nervous about seeing her and the only reason I care about what I look like at the office is so Stella will say that I look like I'm "dropping".  Sometimes I get really confused because she'll say in the morning that I look like I've been overeating, then in the afternoon, all the sudden I've "dropped". It's not even possible to lose noticeable weight in 2 hours! Then, I'll have to go dig out the muffin that I dumped in the trash in the morning since all the sudden I could afford to eat it. It's an emotional roller coaster and worse then weigh day in P.E. class back in elementary school.
So, the point of the story is - as nice as it is to not have to wash your coffee cup at work, be happy you don't have a Stella in your office. ;-)


Monday, November 7, 2011

Gettin paid

Not much time to blog but I wanted to drop a line so that I can achieve my goals of being consistent with my blog. 

I'm working in Uganda for just a quick few days - This specific trip is sort of a business development trip and  these trips are basically wall to wall meetings from 8am to 8pm with various ministry of health folks and malaria program people that we've been harassing to give us a few minutes of their time. When I'm not in meetings with outsiders I'm strategerizing (ala George Bush) with my own little team (3 of us here). So it's loooong days and I don't feel particularly creative ..at least no great blog material is flowing right now. In fact, here is how I'm really feeling:
bottoms up - afterall it's cheap wine
Oh you want to hear more about this day that never ended??? The trip actually started last night at 10pm when my co-worker and friend, Scott and I got dropped off by my favorite byu and husband Sergio at the airport.  Scott got bumped off the flight since he hadn't checked in online - which is incredibly common. And apparently the same thing happened to my boss - so I was the only one that made the flight - what can I say? I have my sh!t together!
I had previously confirmed like 2 times with the Serena hotel in Kampala that someone would indeed be at the airport to pick me up..but of course, just like my last trip here, my name wasn't on the airport shuttle board. So I fought it out with the shuttle driver and he took me to the  hotel - 45 minutes away. I got in around 1:30am, got my room and sure enough, despite my special request not to be in a room above the front entrance, that's exactly where I was! I try to avoid staying in rooms above front entrances of hotels - since popular hotels where international travelers stay in major African cities are prime targets for terrorism - and I figure the front entrance has high odds of being affected if anything goes down - so anyways by the time I requested a new room and moved, it was around 2:30am and I finally went to sleep - 5 good hours later I woke up to start my day of meetings.

And as a last note - one thing I don't like is having breakfast meetings or breakfast with my boss early in the morning (and yes, I have one tomorrow). Seriously - just let me have some coffee and have breakfast in peace - I'm just not ready yet to chat it up and I really don't need you to watch me gorge on the breakfast buffet because I do like to get my money's worth and it's not always pretty.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bathroom Code of Ethics

Some of you might be uncomfortable with the topic of this post, but I feel strongly that it needs to be discussed and awareness needs to be raised. I might even come out with a line of those rubber bracelet bands and have them say BCE (bathroom code of ethics) because I feel that the word needs to get out.

Many of you will remember a previous post about the management notice that I found in my Nairobi office bathroom - some of what I'm about to say below will build on that post because I think the building management may have been on to something. Long story short, I walked into the ladies room at work and saw this notice on the wall:

Mayfair Suites Office  

1) Do not take reading material into the public toilet
2) Don’t Peek under the doors. Knock if you need to know if it is unattended
3) Stand close enough to the pan or urinal so you don’t dribble on the floor
4) Concentrate when you pee so you don’t wet the seat, walls or floor
5) Sit on the pan if you are unsteady on your feet
6) Ladies; sitting is compulsory
7) Squat only on squatting toilets, pedestal toilets are for sitting on only
8) Avoid messing the toilet seat. If you do, clean up after yourself properly

My favorites are  #3, #4, #5, #6. But I do find that #6 contradicts greatly with 3,4,5 and I guess it bothers me.

Anyways, I was thinking that in my house we could really benefit from having something like this in our bathroom since many things that seem to be common sense apparently aren't. And I strongly feel that it's my right to enjoy a pleasant bathroom experience, every time - I think you'd agree.
So, I'm going to print something up for my bathroom wall and here's what I think it would say:

 Home Bathroom Code of Ethics (aka Oh No you didn't)
1) Flush
2) Put the toilet seat down when you are done or I will likely stumble into the bathroom in the middle of the night and sit on the urine covered rim.
3) If you use the last of the toilet paper, go get another roll so that no one has to get creative with Q-tips and cotton balls.
4) Please, PLEASE, do not do number 2 or pass gas for that matter while someone else is taking a shower.  No one needs to shower in your poo sauna. (It needed to be said)
5) If you flush the toilet while someone is taking a shower, you should be prepared to hear a sling of obscenities, which could include negative statements about your mother, your weight, your brain, or private parts.
6) Unless there really is a train running through your bathroom, do not leave tracks in the toilet.
7) Dirty unmentionables should be placed in the dirty clothes, not put on display in the middle of the floor.

Okay so uh, that's it.  Feel free to print this out and hang it in your own bathroom because I know that you want to...because after all, it's your right to enjoy a pleasant bathroom experience...every time.

And drop me a line or leave a comment if you have any to add to this list, I'd appreciate it.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My 15 minutes of international fame

I walked into my office on Monday after the race and found this post it on my chair:
I were on Kenyan TV!
So, I went to seek out who this mysterious note was from and why I was on tv on Saturday ..since the race was on Sunday.  I found the masked post-it note leaver - my co-worker Jennifer. She said she meant Sunday and that she was watching Kenyan Television Network and they were airing the marathon and she saw me cross the finish line in all my glory. I forced her to describe what I was wearing because often times Kenyans think that us wazungu look all the same. But she was spot on. It was me!!!! At first  I was a bit annoyed that the camera man didn't get me at the starting line since I'm sure I looked a TON better than at the finish line...even as ugly as I looked at the starting line that statement still holds true.
And I kept replaying my finish line crossing in my head hoping that I hadn't been too dramatic about it.  But for the life of me, I could not remember what I did when I crossed the line! Like, what if I threw my hands up in exaltation and then fell to the ground and sobbed...or what if I went around hugging all the random people standing around there and telling them what great support they had been...I'll never know...but Jennifer, she knows. She knows...

The truth is, this is not the first time I have experienced celebrity status in a foreign country.  Let me beckon back a few years to my time in Guatemala when I walked into my gym one day, got on the treadmill and was interrupted by one of the trainers telling me that I was in an advertisement in Tennis Guatemala magazine. I ran down to the lobby to see what the fuss was about thinking that I just misunderstood his spanish.  The receptionist was sitting there with the magazine spread out and was circling my sweat marks and giggling...I WAS FRONT AND CENTER. I ripped the magazine out of her hands and told her to stop circling my parts. After I went through a period of mortification (word? yes/no?) I decided I sort of liked being famous in Guatemala and I embrace my celebrity.  I worried that I would be bombarded with paparazzi when I left the gym..but the only person out there was the guy wanting money for washing my car...I figured it would take time for the word to get out.  Apparently it takes a VERY long time - it's been 5 years and the paparazzi still hasn't found me!  Here's my spread:
Apparently this piece is also called "Circle Lenna's sweat marks"

I can arrange autographed version of the above photo. Please send who you want the autograph made to and your address...and $10 for the international postage ;-) This is serious. I'm not kidding.

;-))))))) XOXO

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grilled Butterflied Chicken!

There is a Lebanese cooking blog that I am a little obsessed with. It's called Dirty Kitchen Secrets.  I think I'm actually more obsessed with the cook herself, this young Lebanese American chick that is crazy talented at coming up with her own recipes, cooking authentic Lebanese food, AND her food photography is pretty awesome.  So, I got ambitious one night and gave one of her recipes a whirl. I made the Lebanese Butterflied Chicken – Farouj Meshwe 3al Fahem.  

I have a tiny little charcoal grill (Indian Jiko thingy), so I started my goal and got my fire going about 45 minutes before I thought I would be ready. I think that was the hardest part. That dang fire would not catch onto those coals. But I finally got it going. 
For the chicken - You basically take a whole chicken and butterfly and de-backbone it so that it looks like it was run over by a steamroller.  Here is a photo of how it should look courtesy of Dirty Kitchen Secrets blog:
I'm using her photo of this part since mine looked kind of scarey and roughed up.  I thought to myself, "Lenna, have some respect for the dead" and so I didn't take a photo.

Once I had my bird all butterflied, I prepared the basting sauce. It was just olive oil, lemon juice, mined garlic, salt and pepper.  I put the chicken inside this folding grill rack that I have since our grill doesn't actually have a grill on top of it.  When the coals were ready, I just placed the grill rack on top of the jiko, basted it with the oil mixture, and let it grill. I flipped it and continued to baste it as it cooked until it was nicely blackened - maybe 25 minutes. It was a tiny little bird.  Here's how it turned out more or less:

I forgot to take a picture before we devoured it. This leg and wing was all that was left.  And not very photogenic I might add.

While the chicky was cooking I made up a quick batch of toum. What's that you say? You dont know what toum is?? Why, it's only a magical Lebanese garlic paste substance that make just about anything taste good. You could rub this stuff on fried cat and it would turn into your favorite food.  If it ever becomes legal to marry a sauce, I will marry toum. It's typically served with shish tawouk and it is so lovely.

The recipe
Mince about a bulb of garlic. Throw it in a food processor with some lemon juice and salt until it gets pasty. Then add an egg white and process. Once you have a nice consistency SLOWLY add in vegetable oil. Let it incorporate very slowly.  You will have to use a lot of oil - this stuff is basically like making a mayonaise. So, maybe like 2/3 cup oil.  You'll know it's ready when it has a whipped sort of creamy consistency. It's not the healthiest sauce in the world..but you only need a little to add some good flavor to your food. And don't try to use olive oil either or it will be bitter and discolored.  It will keep in the fridge for a while.


Then I broiled some zucchini and that was that!