Monday, September 02, 2013

Three meals. Five friends. One awesome life.

Back in the old country, in those old days before television and the internet, it was in rather strange ways that I learnt about the African continent.  Father's interest to get to Sierra Leone on a work assignment, the travel writing by Manian, and my classmate having spent two years in Kenya, all gave me an idea of Africa that made me all the more curious about the people from there.

Perhaps those early experiences were also why I did not grow up with the cliched portrayals of Africa that are often nothing more than horrible caricatures.

In graduate school, at Los Angeles, one of the fellow students I really liked interacting with was a wonderfully sharp guy from Nigeria.  Kayode, whose intellectual pursuits were in science and engineering, and I shared so many common interests, from movies to politics to sports too.  Yes, Ramesh, I used to follow sports back then!  

The first time I invited Kayode to taste my cooking, I thought I had to warn him that the food might be spicy for his taste.  After taking a bite, Kayode laughed his hearty laugh and said something like "if you think this is spicy, you have to taste my aunt's cooking back in Nigeria. I bet you won't be able to handle it."  A few days after that, we were talking about this and his friend, who was from Ghana, challenged Kayode that his family cooked even spicier meals.  

I had no idea until then that in Africa, too, spicy food was not unusual at all.

Over the years, I have come to understand that breaking that proverbial bread with friends is more than merely about food. We learn a lot more about them, their families, their stories, their angst, their excitements.  And, if they are from a different part of the world, then a meal becomes a window into that world that is otherwise so far away.  

I was reminded of all these during the hour-long drive back home after dinner at a friend's place.  

Dinner home-cooked, which itself is a rarity anymore.

Dinner prepared by two sisters from Ghana.

Because they know about my fascination for cooking at home, and my interest to take photos of foods as well, they even decided to document the cooking process at various stages. When they systematically follow-up on what would interest me, isn't that by itself a wonderful statement!  It was one of those moments to realize that, thankfully, it is not a world of small talk alone, and not a world of mere fake emotions.  

So, what did I get to eat there?

Wait ... before I describe the foods to you, let me present the photos of some of the ingredients that my friend made sure to take for my sake:

These, along with a few other ingredients not in any photos, became:

the appetizer
"red red" black-eyed beans
fried bananas
spinach with those seeds in the grinder, plus ...

And they all came together on the table:

It was a wonderful way to spend a gorgeous summer evening.  We traded stories, which included a few unpleasant ones as well.  Life is, after all, not always joyful and there are aches and pains and heartbreaks along the way.  As much as it is up to us to transform a hard legume into a tasty "red red," I suppose it is equally our challenge to render anything unpleasant as nothing but an ingredient for an enjoyable life.

The morning came, and I had with coffee some of those fried bananas.  Yes, not only did I have a tasty meal, they even packed up some of that for me to take home!

Soon, it was time to go on a short hike with another friend.  

We walked and talked and sweated our way on a bright and muggy summer day to the mountain top from where we had some amazing views of the valley and mountain ranges in the distance.  As if all that was not enough of a reward for me, I was treated to an awesome pesto salad, which quickly attracted the attention of a couple of yellow-jackets that were interested in the parmesan.

Allow me to recap: dinner with friends, and lunch with a friend. And all home-cooked food.

You drooling and jealous, yet?

Wait, there is more.

My neighbors invited me over to share dinner with them. It was a fantastic summer evening on the patio, with music and a gentle breeze in the background.  Appetizers, sauteed summer vegetables, and grilled steak.  

Life can't be bad when the past twenty-four hours of my life has been with some wonderful people.


Ramesh said...

Now I know what I missed ........

Sriram Khé said...

Another time then ...

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