Sunday, November 15, 2009

Death to Uncle Ben!

I make a mean chili (con carne). It’s true (ok, people tell me it’s true so I choose to believe them). And the amazing thing about this fact is that it’s one of the only things I can cook. Well. My culinary skills are quite limited. You’re about to find out just how limited…

So it’s a lazy Sunday, the diet starts tomorrow (as usual), and I peel myself off the couch, inspired out of nowhere (but for the looming supper hour approaching), to make some chili. (I am usually off the hook for this task, as we have a cook who comes from Monday to Friday... I know, I know... spoiled).

I was humming away to myself in my sauna-cum-kitchen (in the house we inhabit, which used to be the Libyan Embassy of Accra – no joke! Irrelevant to this story but interesting and random).

I was actually feeling quite happy with myself, since I’d remembered to pick up chili powder in Houston last week. Chili powder cannot be bought in Ghana. Here, chili powder is exactly what it says it is – fire hot peppers, dried and ground into powder. I found this out the hard way once in my earlier years in Ghana, while making one of my ‘killer chilis’. I near killed a couple of guests…

But I digress. So there I was this fine evening, cutting and sautéing and humming, (this is a rare thing in my life), when Q walks in with that inevitable teenager question,

“What’s for supper?”

Me, proudly, “Chili!”

Q - “With rice?”

Me – “No, why?”

Q – “Well chili’s not chili without rice!”

So there it was. All my cooking ineptitude quivering, hanging, about to spill out, on this statement.

I cannot cook rice. There, I’ve said it.

I haven’t tried many times, but when I have it’s always been a disaster. Think rice pudding with lots of salt. Hmmm.



It’s not entirely my fault though. I grew up on the hideous fast-food-inspired Uncle Ben’s Instant rice. WHAT IS THAT STUFF?! I always hated rice as a result. Uncle Ben is creepy in general - who owns that company? Somehow I doubt it was Uncle Ben himself. Between he and Aunt Jemima, lots of racial stereotypes have stood the test of time... but apparently in unrelated news, Uncle Ben has a new image! He is now a CEO executive type, traveling the world...

Shit, where was I?

When I moved to Africa, I met a continent that is obsessed with rice. Carbs in general, but rice specifically.

I have a colleague from Mali who declared at lunch one day, “Without rice, there is no life. There is no life without rice.”

So, I tried rice in Africa, all over Africa, and it is great. Cooked so many ways, but always delicious. The texture, the taste. Who knew? Then I discovered all this rice is imported from Thailand, or thereabouts… When I had the misfortune of tasting local Ghanaian rice, I understood why everyone imported rice. Come on Africa! Come on Ghana! The climate is perfect – grow your own rice commercially!... sigh, one day…

But we are here to expose my pathetic ineptitude for making rice. And there we stood, my son and I in the steamy kitchen… and we made a decision.

An hour later, my humble gardener returned from his ‘quarters’ with the remaining dry rice and a tub of salt in one hand, a full, steamy pot of perfectly cooked rice in the other.

Yes, I asked my gardener to make rice for me. I know how pathetic this sounds. Having a gardener, who lives on-hand, available for my demented whims…

The fact that I laughed at myself nervously to him, offered him a bag of uncooked rice and some beers from our fridge as well as a small ‘overtime pay’ does not make up for it, I’m sure…

I think I’ve sunk to an unprecedented low.

I can imagine he and his new lady friend in their room…

Eric: “Please, we have to make a pot of rice for Madam”

Lady friend, “What? Rice for your madam, why? She cannot make rice?” Lady friend thinking, WHAT WOMAN CANNOT MAKE RICE?!

Eric and lady friend thinking, AH, THESE STRANGE, DEPENDENT OBRUNIS (whites), WE’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND THEM…

The truth is that if we take a look across cultures, and then back at ourselves, a lot is revealed about strange practices and habits we find normal. But sadly, in this instance, I cannot even blame cultural differences. I am just a spazz – cross culturally, who can’t make a pot of rice to save her life.

PS – the chili AND the rice were delicious! The diet starts tomorrow…
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33 comments:

LMJ said...

you know, next time you're Texas, you should try going to a chili cookout. they're all over the state. They make the best chili in the world in texas. (sorry for crappy writing; holding the baby).

I've had chili with rice, but we usually enjoy it by itself.

MissBuckle said...

Just cut out the rice, then you don't have to diet...

Jokes aside. Double the cold water to rice in a pot (I find one cup lasts two people) bring to boil. Turn down to simmer and wait 20 mins. Don't stir.

When you lift the lid you se little craters where the steam escapes.Is it nuce and dry, then fluff with a fork. Enjoy!

The pale observer said...

LMJ - don't know if I would venture to try my chili against the world's best, but I'd sure go and eat some - be a judge even?! Yum.

MissBuckle - thanks! I will try this recipe. Look how simple it is, yet I fear...

slouchy said...

Hmm. Are you SURE you can't cook rice? Or do you only THINK you can't cook rice?

Christina said...

hello my friend!
thank you for stopping by. yes, i would love to have you join in. i love hosting a day where we bloggers post a list about the simple things in life, that make our hearts full, that make us happy. i post a list of things that ordinarily i may take for granted, but enjoy slowing down to notice...
the sun shining on my face
the laughter of a child
hot water
a piece of chocolate
a neighbor saying hello
feel free to join us! if you post a list, let me know. i will add your blog to the fun.
xo

Lorac said...

Hey , I cook chili all the time and I don't use rice, never used rice and it is great. Not to worry, omit the rice!

Poindexter said...

I have to admit that I have never tried chili with rice either, but it does sound awfully good. My personal favorite is chili with tamales (vegetarian version of each). A Texas Christmas tradition.

Anonymous said...

I may have a solution for your rice issues.

Invest in a rice cooker, and remember, its 2 to 1. 2 cups of water to one cup of rice and just a sprinkle of salt to taste.

Miss Footloose said...

Holli,

No magic in cooking rice. I've done it the world over just like MissBuckle said above.

That said, when I married my Peace Corps Vol husband in Kenya,I didn't know how to boil potatoes, and I'm DUTCH, and I had grown up eating potatoes EVERY day of my life (cooked by my mother who had not taught me how!) Fortunately I had a paperback cookbook and just followed directions.

I was so impressed with my success that I kept reading that book (Fannie Farmers Cookbook) and learned that all it took was simply not to be intimidated.

Char said...

hahaha, I had to laugh because i'm a southern girl that can't cook a good cornbread.

and...i still use uncle ben's because my rice is either wonderful or overdone - depends on the day.

Kieron and Jo said...

Enjoyed the rehabilitation of 'spazz'. We must've been in the same class. UK synonyms (with varying degrees of un-political correctness): spacca, joey, flid, mong.

Miss Angie said...

I suck at making rice too! I want a rice cooker!

Joshua said...

Rice is too fickle. I hate fickle foods. This is why I use bulgur wheat as a brown rice subsitute. It's easy: 2 cups water boiling, remove from heat, add 1 cup bulgur wheat, stir, cover for 15 minutes. Done and done. No burning. Couscous is another one that's just as easy. Even easier if you have a microwave. Just put the water in for 5 mins, take out, stir in bulgur or couscous, cover, and wait. Nice and warm and fluffy.

-Joshua

The pale observer said...

Thanks Joshua - I agree about rice. However, definitely cannot get bulgar wheat in Ghana and I don't know if I can get my son to agree to substitute rice with couscous as a chili accompaniment!!

Sister Beta said...

Haha! I can't make rice either...I know all of the tricks, tips and recipes- but it still just doesn't quite work for me. So I have a rice cooker, that baby works every time!

Cate P said...

I am so glad you found my blog because it has now lead me back to yours and I love it!!
Not to mention finding another woman who can't cook much makes me feel like there really is a peer group out there for me.
Although I hate to burst your balloon, but I can do rice. Sorry.
Look forward to reading so much more :)

Nomadic Fanatic said...

Rice and Chili? I am going to try it...cooking rice is the one thing I can do...the tips given are spot on! Since I have Celiac Disease, I eat a lot of rice...funny post!

dkuroiwa said...

here we have rice with everything, pretty much. my boys put their rice in any kind of soup that is on the table...rice here is basically the main dish..everything else is just side stuff!
I have two words for you...rice. cooker. get one! it will save your life!!! i too cook a really bad pot of rice, but with my cooker? perfect every freakin' time! GET ONE!!!

Heather said...

Yuck, Uncle Ben's rice is truely rancid. I once sent The Mr to the shop and he came back with boil in the bag rice. WTF? It tasted like cardboard shavings. And yes, it was uncle Ben's. Never, ever again. even the dogs wouldn't eat it.

Barbara said...

Rice in Ghana... it wasn't always that way, according to my DH.

But anyways, here's the deal... whatever amount of (rinsed free of starch) rice you've got in your pot add enough water to cover it by about 3/4" then add your salt maybe a little butter/margarine/oil, cover and cook on high until it's all steamy and bubbly boiling. I give it a stir (some people don't, but I do) at that point to incorporate the salt, cover again, turn the heat to low and cook another 15 minutes.

Cooking rice well... it's an acquired skill. ;-)

Barb

Ariane said...

Holli I can't make rice here either. And you know what, Ghanaians always burn the bottom of the rice to get the top bit fluffy and awesome, and I just can't get myself to do it. So like you I end up asking our accountant, who lives in the house, to cook it. When it's time to make grilled cheese she can call on me!

The pale observer said...

Thanks for all this rice-advice everyone!!! Ariane good point! Ghanaians burn the bottom and then peel it off (if it's not too burnt) - and eat it. It's called the carpet!! It's crunchy.

I will offer our gardener a grilled cheese sandwich - cuz I can do those!!! Yet I doubt he's ever eaten cheese... My hubby calls those 'toasted cheese ' - an SA thing, I think!

Jungle Mom said...

We eat chili with macaroni. You are a real HOOT! I love reading your stuff.

The pale observer said...

Thannks Jungle Mom! Really? Chili with macaroni?? Well I guess that's kind of like casserole...

Maya Mame said...

Don't worry, I consider myself a domestic Goddess (in training) and still can't cook rice. As most Ghanaians who were brought up outside Ghana, I grew up with a rice cooker and was left very puzzled when I left home and suddenly realised I didn't know how to cook rice!

Also, I actually found Bulgur wheat in Koala earlier this year, somewhere around the lentils, pulses and dried chickpeas.

GutsyWriter said...

Great story and extremely entertaining. My mother was Danish and lived in Nigeria for 17 years. When we moved to Paris, and she entertained guests, she always cooked the rice ahead of time, wrapped it in newspapers and stuck it under her duvet in bed to keep it warm for the guests. Have you ever heard that one?

Darcy said...

bravo for your chili AND your creative acquisition of a yummy steaming pot o' rice!

Jungle Mom said...

We call it Chili-mac

The pale observer said...

@Sonia - never heard of THAT one before?!! Strange! Is that a Nigerian thing?

Darcy - thanks for seeing it like that!


Rita- we'll have to try it since even I can do macaroni!!!

GutsyWriter said...

I think it must be a DANISH thing, to keep the rice in your bed. Or perhaps my mom invented it. She's not around to ask, unfortunately.

Miss Footloose said...

In Iran they burn the bottom of the rice on purpose and it's supposed the be the best part of the dish!

And in Holland they also but the rice in bed under the covers to keep it warm and to give it the chance to absorb the last bit of moisure!

brighton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robynn's Ravings said...

Uncle Ben's rice was a staple in our crappy food household. It made me think I hated rice, too. So glad to grow up and discover REAL FOOD. :)

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