What price a good meal?

ActionMan and I have been engaged in delicate financial negotations recently. I’ve been looking for some extra work to top up the family income, and he sees this as the green light for more pocket money. Not necessarily, I said, as working full time might mean I have more expenses, like travel, work clothes and perhaps more take-away food. (not to mention breaking the back of my Ghana debt).

His solution to this was to offer to cook – for a price. $10 for two meals, $50 for seven (that really doesn’t add up, does it?). And to prove that he could do it, he cooked four nights in a row: pasta, pot roast (at his uncle’s house), steak, pot roast again (at home). He did well. Everything was edible and he learned a few things about cooking. It kind of fell apart over the weekend, and when he finds out today that I didn’t get the job I was after, his enthusiasm may fall apart too.

Not that I’d agreed to $50 for seven meals. I’m open to paying $10 for two, and I might do that even without a second job, but there’s the little matter of contributing to household chores to consider. I reckon he could be doing more than he is, and I don’t think I should be paying for all of it. Perhaps i could do a trade where he cooks instead of doing other things around the house. Not that he’s doing a lot now. He reckons that when he leaves home he’s going to live in a mess because he doesn’t like things tidy anyway. I try and remind myself that I, too, was a slob when I was his age and it took cleaning other people’s houses for a job, to make me more house-proud myself.

Anyway, it was very nice to have my meals cooked for me for four days. Even though he managed to leave a thin film of grease over everything in the kitchen: salt shaker, fridge door, floor ….

It’s not that I hate cooking, it’s just that I like a bit of mental space to do it. I don’t feel I have that after being at work all day. Plus AM and I have totally different taste in food. He likes meat, I like vegies. He likes spicy food, I like “bland, disgusting” food. I like beef, he likes lamb. etc. etc.

When AM was a baby I tried to do all the right things the baby books tell you about food. Introduce one new food at a time, mashed.  Start with banana, avocado, pumpkin. He didn’t like any of them. Unbeknownst to me, whenever they were home alone together DadaK would give him food straight out of his own bowl – spicy, oily, meaty Ghanaian food – and he loved it. No wonder I wasn’t getting anywhere! Many people were astonished that so young a child could eat such hot food. I can only put it down to his African genes or to the fact that I was eating a lot of chilli while pregnant. DadaK was cooking my favourite Ghanaian foods for me almost every night in the last month or two before AM was born.

AM still loves chilli and fatty meat, scorns sandwiches and salads. So feeding him is a challenge. Far better if he gets to know how to cook what he likes and all I have to do is steam some broccoli to go with my portion. Oh, and foot the bill.

I have made attempts to cook African food for AM. Well, for both of us. I’ve tried jollof rice – rice cooked with chili, onion, tomatos and shreds of tinned sardine or corned beef. But it’s never as nice as DadaK’s or Obaapa’s and I end up having to eat it all. Soggy would be the best word to describe my attempts at this classic West African dish, which DadaK pronounces as “Joylove”. Not when I cook it.

At one time before Obaapa’s arrival, DadaK moved back in with us for a while because he was out of a job and convalescing from an operation. Friends sometimes brought food over for him – invalid’s sheep head soup complete with teeth. Not for me thanks.

Faced with the challenge of trying to feed DadaK as well as AM,  I got into the habit of cooking a very tasty  – er – thing – to go with green bananas or cassava. It goes like this: You boil a tomato or two with a habanero chilli, some lady’s finger eggplants and/or okra. Then you grind up some raw onion with the boiled chili and salt, and roughly mash in the vegetables and some tinned sardines. The final touch is to fry a small amount of onion in quite a lot of palm oil and pour it over the top. Soft peaks of mashed eggplant poke through the rich orange pool of oil. Delectable. Truly.

The whole package is called ampesi – which as far as I can tell means ‘starchy vegetables and whatever hot & salty stuff you care to eat with them’. Ghanaians seem to name their meals for the starch that’s consumed rather than the protein. Where I’d say “I had steak” they’d say “I had potatoes”.  Well, probably that’s simplifying it, but to my mind it about sums up the different eating patterns of wealthy and poorer countries.

I think I make a good ampesi, at least according to the recipe I’ve outlined above, but I haven’t cooked it for years. Partly because palm oil is totally saturated and I’m trying to be healthy, but also because – guess what! AM doesn’t like green bananas or cassava. He only likes yams, which are much harder to come by and far too expensive for anyone to risk me stuffing up the cooking of them. Sigh. Now I’m really feeling nostalgic for Ghana food.

Stay tuned for my next exciting installment and recipe for a Ghanaian dish that we’ll both eat: peanut soup.

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2 thoughts on “What price a good meal?

  1. I just love your blog!
    I couldn’t help laughing at the way you described how you tackled the cooking of jollof. Here is South Africa, I can lay my hands on yams at an exorbitant cost so I try to do so once in a while.
    Wish I could be eating the Ghanaian way everyday though.

  2. Oh I sympathise – yams are one of the things I really miss, expecially in the mornings. In Austrlaia they’re imprted from Pacific islands – I’m told the season should have started but haven’t seen any yet.

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