Here’s One to Try At Home

IMG_3523Ghanaian food is uniformly delicious, intensely calorific and sinfully more-ish, which is one reason I always gain weight as soon as I land. (I don’t actually have to eat anything, just looking at the food is dangerous). My grandmother was a cook par excellence, and one of her signature dishes, which I can still taste almost twenty years after she passed away, is Fufu and Light Soup. Just to be wicked, I thought I’d share the recipe with you – and show you how it’s traditionally made. Nowadays you can buy fufu powder in most African supermarkets but there’s something mesmerising about watching the women pound yam, plantain and cassava into fufu. So here’s the recipe and here’s a snapshot of Vivian and Mina, the two cooks in my dad’s household, who do the pounding.

Fufu (serves four)

  • 1 x medium-sized tuber yam, cut into 1” thick slices
  • 2 x cassava tubers (smaller than yams)
  • 2 x plantains

Light soup

  • 2 x onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 2 x garlic cloves, chopped or crushed
  • 1 can chopped plum tomatoes
  • Handful Scotch bonnet peppers
  • Handful small green and red chili peppers
  • Smoked fish, chicken or beef (according to tastes)

If you’re using powdered fufu, mix the powder with water until you have a thin, soup-like paste. Bring to the boil slowly, allowing the paste to thicken. Keep stirring to avoid lumps (it’s a bit like making semolina). Cook until it has thickened into a smooth, glistening mound. If you’re doing it the traditional way, see the pictures below!

For the soup, lightly fry the onions, garlic and ginger in a teaspoon of olive or sunflower oil. Add the tomatoes and cook together for about 20 mins, until the stew is nice and thick. Add your peppers, at least a litre of water, and cook for a further 40 mins. If you’re using smoked fish, carefully add the fish and let it simmer for another 20 mins. If using beef or chicken, cook the meat separately to brown it, season and then add to the soup. I usually cook the meat or chicken for longer than the fish – around 40 mins. Put the fufu mound into a large soup dish and pour the soup over it. Serve immediately and eat with your hands. Similar to the way Italians match pasta shapes with sauces, Ghanaian dishes are all about the ease of eating with your hands. Fufu and light soup go particularly well together as the gelatinous fufu makes it easy for your to scoop up the soup. Take a small piece with two fingers (right hand only, please!), make a little indentation and use the ball of fufu like a spoon. Easy and delicious. About 1,000 calories a mouthful. You’ve been warned . . .

What’s in a Cover

I’ve been rather slack of late (excuse: finishing up the last novel, out in Spring next year) so I’ve neglected June’s diary but I’m back in the swing of things now and just thought I’d share some of the joy (and pain) of choosing a cover with you. So many of you write in with comments (good and bad!) about my book covers and we’re trying a slightly different approach, so I’d be fascinated to hear what you think. You can write to me, as ever, via the website, or, as most of you do these days, via my Facebook page. So here are four rather different samples – what d’you think?

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Cover # 1: The hardback cover of Little White Lies, already out.

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Cover # 2: The proposed paperback cover, Option 1.

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Cover # 3: The proposed paperback cover, Option 3.

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Cover # 4: The proposed paperback cover, Option 4 – my favourite, and the one we’re going with, I think.

And So To Bed

I know it’s spring and the sun’s shining and one’s thoughts really shouldn’t be turning to bedtime, but I’ve been doing rather a lot of traveling lately and whilst I enjoy it (especially the BA lounges at Terminal 5), it’s actually left me rather exhausted. So I’ve found myself lying in longer than I normally do in the mornings and, ahem, toddling off to bed rather earlier than usual in the evenings. It’s either exhaustion or advancing age . . . I’d like to think it’s the former, not the latter, but . . .

Anyhow, given that I’ve been spending rather more time asleep than I ought to, especially since there’s a new novel due, I thought I’d at least make the bedroom somewhere bright and cheerful and what better use of all the fabric I endlessly cart back from Accra . . . than to make some duvet covers. Part of the fun is actually making them. I can’t sew, of course, but I do know someone who can. His name’s Kwame George, he works in a tiny (and I mean tiny) kiosk just down the road from me in Accra and he makes the best (and I mean best) duvet covers this side of Habitat. Here’s a sample of Kwame in action. And the results . . .

Step 1: Glorious Fashions by Kwame Workshop and Atelier (yes, that really is the name!)

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Step 2: Cutting the fabric

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Step 3: Stitching

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Step 4: Finishing touches

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Step 5: My bed (in Accra)

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Step 6: My bed (in St Leonards)

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Out of Africa

There are plenty of things we don’t have here in West Africa . . . electricity, water, internet and cooking gas amongst them, which makes daily life a rather unpredictable struggle. I’ve grown so used to the steady thrum of the diesel generator that I find it hard to sleep without it . . . not great for the planet or my ear-drums. But there’s one thing we don’t lack – humour. It’s here, all around us, in the faces of those whose daily lives are almost unimaginable to me (and I’ve got a pretty good imagination), standing in queues of traffic for eight hours straight (and it ain’t cool here, believe me), hoping for that one sale that’ll make the difference. Here are a few snapshots of my favourite recent moments.

Happy Easter, everyone, and keep smiling!

 

Red Nose Day(s)

I think it was Robin Williams who expressed it best. ‘Welcome to Vietnam. It’s hot.’ I arrived in Accra last week and boy, is it hot. As those of you who follow The Writer’s Room already know, when it’s this hot, there’s only one place to go . . . Ada. We duly tripped off yesterday morning before the sun was fully up and spend the entire day wallowing in tepid water . . . and wouldn’t you know it, I fried. So it’s a Red Nose Day here in Ghana and there’s nothing even remotely funny about it. I alternate between lying in the pool and rubbing aloe vera (from the plant outside the front door) over said Red Nose.

Thinking longingly of cool weather in Blighty . . .

What I’m Reading Right Now

Last year (don’t you just love saying that?), I made the comment, ‘people often ask me what living in Accra is like’ and whilst lots of people do ask me that, the other question I always get is, ‘so, what’re you reading right now?’ What’s strange is that whilst I read a lot (and I mean, a lot), my mind always goes blank when I’m trying to list the books that are either beside my bed, next to the loo, on the dining room table, on my desk, next to the sofa, etc. (as you can tell, there are books all over my flat). So I thought I’d make a little record this month of what’s actually on the list . . . so here it is. In no particular order (of enjoyment or completion):-

Next to my bed:-

  • Ann Patchett State of Wonder (sublime)
  • Lola Shoneyin The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (laugh-out-loud)
  • Robert Fisk The Age of the Warrior (taxing)
  • Alice Munro Dear Life (a delight)
  • A.N. Wilson The Potter’s Hand (charming)
  • Alex Crawford Colonel Gaddafi’s Hat (irritating)

On my sideboard:-

  • Matthew Parker The Sugar Barons (fascinating)
  • Rupert Everett Vanished Years (delicious)
  • Ian McEwan Sweet Tooth (so-so)

On my desk:-

  • Hugh Miles Al-Jazeera (insightful)
  • Tara Hyland Angels (entertaining)
  • Andre Makine Human Love (achingly good)

And on my shelves:-

Lots more to choose from . . . phew!

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…”

Yesterday, fairly early in the morning, which, after a rather raucous New Year’s Eve was more like noon, to be honest, I got this rather wonderful text message. “Happy New Year! It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, hope you’re feelin’ fine . . . wishing you a legendary 2013.” As bleary-eyed as I was, I immediately started humming the bars to “it’s a new day, it’s a new dawn” (or is it the other way round?) and as a result, started 2013 with a tune and a smile on my face. Thank you, lovely Kate – with a start like that, there’s every chance 2013 will be a good one.

So what’s ahead this year? First things first: get rid of the extra few pounds that Christmas (somehow) always manages to pile on. January will be abstemious, parsimonious and productive. (Urgh. Look forward to February, then!) An Absolute Deception comes out in paperback and e-book in March, and my newest novel, Little White Lies, comes out in hardback and e-book in June. I’ve been working hard on the one after that, which I still can’t find a title for, and (fingers crossed), it’ll come out next year and finally, I’m hoping to make a start on the one after that, too. This one’s set partly in Zanzibar (which is another good reason to make a start!) so look out for a postcard from The Writer’s Room from a gloriously empty, sandy beach some time this summer!

In 2013, then, wishing you nothing but love . . . with touches of health, wealth and happiness thrown in.

Bake-Off, Bake-Off

So it’s the holiday season (just in case you hadn’t noticed) and this year, it’s all about food. The shelves of my local Waterstone’s are groaning under the weight of cookery books in a pretty neat approximation of the way we’ll all be groaning post-X’mas lunch. Now I’m no Nigella (or Mary or Delia, it has to be said), but I do like all the fuss and fun of Getting Ready to Bake. Checklist: flour (plain and self-raising, organic, milled, rolled, wheat, gluten-free), sugar (Demerara, caster, organic, Muscovado, what-have-you); eggs (free-range, roaming, happy chickens); chocolate (Green & Blacks, obviously) . . . apron, book, timer, KitchenAid . . . oh, it goes on and on.

This year, in addition to all of the kit above (under which my kitchen shelves are groaning, never mind my tummy), one celebrity chef reigned supreme. Oh, Yotam. Thank God for www.ottolenghi.com. In addition to the flour, sugar, eggs and Laird of McHeddleson Lightly Salted or Unsalted Butter At Room Temperature and Medium Softness, I’ve now got shelves of zatar, star aniseed, pureed pomegranate seeds and purple sprouting mustard. Or something very like it. I’ve tried half-a-dozen of the truly delicious recipes contained within its glorious pages . . . and I’m here to tell you that the effort (yes, all of it) is Truly Worth It. In fact, Otto and I (on nickname terms already) are now such a firm X’mas favourite that this came in the post recently.

If only…

Here’s hoping you have a wonderful holiday season, with- or without these divine seven-hundred-calories-a-nibble cookies, with family and friends and a big fat, juicy, post-festive lunch blockbuster of a book. No hints, then.

Lesley

Go Slow

People often ask me what living in Accra is like. It’s an interesting question: on the one hand, it’s like living in any other big city – it’s busy, hectic, fun and frenetic, much like anywhere else. On the other hand, it’s not like anywhere else – often, as I’m going about my day-to-day business in the city, that wonderful quote from Lewis Carroll comes to mind.

Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said, ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’

Here’s a quick snapshot of an hour spent in the car. (And note, we only traveled half a mile. That ought to give you some idea of the pace of traffic. It’s slow. Real slow.) One of the wonderful things about sitting in traffic in Accra (which takes up pretty much half of one’s day), is that it eliminates completely the need to go shopping – shops come to you via the roadside markets. Brave entrepreneurs, taking advantage of the ‘go-slow’ speed of traffic, set up these mobile markets, wandering up and down the lanes between the cars selling everything from boiled sweets to, er, loo roll. A few months ago, I was offered a ‘tummy tuck, madam?’ A young man was holding aloft one of those weird metal and wire contraptions designed to give you a flatter stomach (à la Charles Atlas, remember him?) in a couple of days. I wondered why he’d selected me out of all the hundreds of potential commuters trapped in their cars. I don’t want to know.

Oh, and speaking of ‘going slow’, I had knee surgery on Thursday morning – a torn (now repaired) meniscus. Note to self: if you’re thinking of taking up jogging in your forties, please don’t.

Here I am, very much enjoying the post-op tranquilizer . . .

From Russia with Love

October’s been a busy month – I was in Basel for a few days at the beginning of it – some lovely long walks (in the rain) with a birthday party in a barn with two lovely young calves (calfs?) looking on and then a week in Moscow, judging an architecture competition. It was my first time to Russia – and aside from not being able to read the signs, it was an amazing week. Golden domes, church spires, old KGB buildings, the grandest Metro stations I’ve ever seen and more Mercs per square mile than anywhere on this planet. Truly amazing. The highlight had to be the brides (and their ‘hens’) posing for wedding photos outside Moscow State University, overlooking the city and the site of the 1980 Olympic Games. Continue reading