#22 – Margo, Chief Chef

Or as we said in my family, chief cook and bottle washer!  Among the people I’ve gotten to know well is a very colorful, smart, strong woman named Joyce Muturia.  I’ve eaten at her home many times, but this year, when she learned I occasionally cooked American hamburgers for John, Mary and now also Mary’s sister, Margaret, she announced, “Margo, I want you to teach me to make American hamburgers.”  Envisioning the 8 the 8 Muturias and the 4 of us in my one-butt kitchen and responded, “I’ll bring the ingredients and cook at your house,” which is what I did last night. I bought 2 kilos of “mince meat” aka HB, buns, cheese, catsup, and we took the last of the sort-of dill pickles and some mayo from the refrigerator here, schlepping all of that and the 4 of us to the Muturia house. 

I thought I knew where it was, but when we arrived and I “hooted”, no one opened the gate.  Calling her, I found she was not yet home, so we waited.  Shortly she arrived, laughing, to tell me I was waiting at the gate next door.  Oh well, I was in the ballpark. 

Joyce is quite a character and enormously enterprising and energetic. When I first met her, probably in her 30’s, she was completing a degree in pharmacy, after which she promptly opened a “chemists.”  There are many in Naivasha, so it wasn’t the grand success she’d hoped.  Eventually she closed it, by then completing a medical degree.  While she was at the university, she accepted the contract to run a student dining hall, commuting back to Naivasha (99 Km) and managing her family of then 3-children. After completing that degree, she returned to Naivasha to open a restaurant and eventually joining with her husband and another couple to open an adjacent guest house.  In the meantime she bore her 4thchild.  Not content with all of that, she bought some land and is growing onions—great big ones, not the puny little guys we see in the street market.  What’s next? Only Joyce knows.  Oh, did I mention that all the while her husband was spending most of his time in Iceland, studying geothermic energy, earning a PhD?

Back to my tale, I’d brought my great new acquisition, the round cast iron griddle that has been so successful coking HB’s, pizza, French toast, grilled cheese sandwiches and an occasional egg.

We were 12, so I set people to work, some making the patties, some cutting the cheese slices, another slicing tomatoes and the pickles, splitting the buns, while I, teacher that I am, explained the intricacies of great HB making, all the while, cooking the patties, shifting them around the grill to find the hottest areas (or the not too hot spots), toasting the buns and trying to keep track of how long each patty had been cooking.  At last they were all topped with melted cheddar and warm in the buns.  Hmmm, not 12 chairs in the house.  Emanual had to stand. 

Precious, the last born and only girl, prayed over the food for us, after which I carefully explained, “Mayo on one side of the bun, catsup on the other (not a mustard fan, so didn’t do that), then tomato and pickle slices, and…..voila!”  Although heretofore almost no one I’ve met in Kenya has even heard of a dill pickle, let alone eaten one, I’ve made many converts, except Joseph, who reluctantly tasted a small piece, after his mother insisted, turned up his nose. Emanuel, Travis, Precious, as well as Joyce and husband, Charles, pronounced them “sweet”, which means they like the taste but doesn’t describe the taste.  Dinner was completed by a lovely fruit salad of watermelon, cucumber, pineapple and banana.

The pickle slicer had gotten carried away, but 8-year old Precious, had her own ideas of what to do with the extras.  “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, catch a rabbit by his toe.  If he cries, let him go, eeny, meeny, miney, moe.” Moe was required to eat a pickle slice.  I will confess right here and now, a slice of pickle in a tummy more than filled with HB and fruit salad, was not going to happen.  When I was that hapless Moe, I firmly said, “no”.  It may have been ungracious, but not nearly as ungracious as what I feared might occur had I eaten the pickle!  To my amazement and I suspect, John’s dismay, eventually the pickle plate was empty.  John, Mary and Margaret have also become pickle fans—especially John. Unfortunately, we cleaned out the Naivas pickle supply and I suspect they breathed a sigh of relief at not having to chuck them out and determined they’d never stock them again. 

While at Joyce’s, I’d casually mentioned the kids had requested one more pizza dinner, which would be tonight.  “Margo, I want you to teach me how to make pizza.”  “Um, it’s a long process.”  “I’ll come to your house and watch.”  We agreed she would come at 4.  At 4:05, I’d garnered Mary to chop the onions, one of Joyce’s mammoths, while I minced the garlic.  Onions and garlic sautéing,  Mary chopped the tomatoes and I chopped the green peppers, all of which we tossed into the pot.  Still no Joyce.  At 4:33 I found a text, “I’m coming, but it will be 4:30.”  Text back, “Too late to arrive at 4:30, it’s already 4:35!”  She arrived promptly on African time at 4:50, just as I was adding the bay leaves, thyme, oregano, the last crumbs of the basil, mixed herbs and some salt.  Charles, having popped in about the same time, watched as intently as Joyce, the pizza dough instruction utube I’d found.  With no less aplomb than Julia, I tested the temperature of the water, added sugar (to feed the yeasties), sprinkled on the powdered yeast and allowed the yeasties to awaken and have a sugar snack to get them going.  Adding salt, oil and flour, I deftly mixed the dough, just like the demo man.  We set it to rise, just in time for Joyce and Charles to scoot off to a mass, saying they’d be back to see the result. 

The dough rose, we spread it on the round griddle, smothered it with the sauce (much more thickly than any but Mama Mia would have), added chopped squareds of “sandwich ham” and smothered the whole works which shredded cheddar and the last of the parmesan brought in Julie and Niki’s cases.  I’d scoured the Naivas, but no salami nor pepperoni.

Sure enough, just as the crust was nicely browned and cheese melted, the Muturia’s (6 of them) arrived for a taste.  I cut a slice and divided it into chunks.  “Sweet” was the consensus.  Off they went for their own dinner and we sat down to ours.  Joyce had commented that our pizza was huge, but I knew every crumb would be devoured.  It was.

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