Friday, June 18, 2010

Baeta, Day One

Late start yesterday, but we made it to Barbara Baeta's house a little after one in the afternoon. Barbara is the owner of Flair Catering, a big name in Ghanaian food. The catering company recently served breakfast when the Obamas were in Ghana last spring. The conversations Fran and Barbara had I recorded on the camcorder for Fran's oral history project. She wants a spoken recollection of Barbara's history and how she got to be where she is today, a powerful woman in the realm of cooking, teaching, hospitality, and traditional Ghanaian food. The stories she shared between courses and other conversation were pretty interesting, and we'll be going back to meet with her again on Tuesday to finish where we left off.

The meal we were served was delicious, and I have a new love/constant craving for fried plantains. The first course, pictured above, was bambara beans and tatale. Barbara's brother, who joined us for lunch, loves to put sugar on his bambara beans, which I tried when I'd finished half of my bowl without sugar. Without, it's spicy and tastes somewhat like chick peas in spicy sauce, but with sugar it has more of a southern spicy-savory-sweet flavor. Both are good, it just depends what you're craving. Tatale, though, is a kind of plantain pancake that's just the right balance of sweet and savory, crispy and meaty. I kept having to remind myself not to eat the whole thing, but to move between the bambara beans and tatale to both enjoy the mix of flavors and to have more tatale to return to. I had a little internal "woohoo!" when I remembered just how easy it was to buy plantains in the states (what up, Fresh Grocer). Family, I hope you're all ok with a sharp increase in plantain consumption this summer. Consider this your warning.

Barbara's brother said he was there at the meal that was served to the Obamas. He said that he'd been watching some of the white house staff members looking at the food cautiously, and convinced one of them to try the bambara beans. The guy took a really small portion and sat back in his seat. Then, he said, a few minutes later the guy goes back up to the buffet table to get a bigger helping of the beans, followed by the other guys at the table going up for small and then bigger and then second helpings. Point of the story: try things once. You may or may not like it. No harm if you don't, awesome discovery if you do.

The meal continued with more fried plantains (this time cut into little pieces rather than served as tatale), spicy chicken, rice, some sort of green bean salad, and tomato gravy. All of it was pretty good, but I think I must have polished off half of the plate of plantains on my own.

For dessert, Barbara mentioned that she had an interesting plate of cookies and cakes she'd made earlier. A Swedish researcher who had spent some time down in Ghana developed a kind of pineapple flour made from the chops of fresh pineapple that can be used in flour mixtures for baking. Not only does this directly cut down the organic waste from pineapple, it adds another way that growers of pineapple can make revenue, and gives a tangy alternative to adding lemon zest to cookies and cakes.

We came back to the house later in the afternoon, and feeling antsy I decided to head out for a walk but stopped just past the gate to sit and talk for a while with Mensah's wife, Gladys, who runs the little sewing shop outside called "God Is Great Fashion". Her sons came back later on, Francis (5) on his bicycle, making motorcycle sounds, and Eric (12) asking where my frisbee went. I ended up throwing with him until long after it got dark, and he's pretty good for someone who's never even seen people tossing a disc around before. He even learned to throw a steady flick.

That's all for now, I'll be posting more about today later this evening.

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