Thursday, October 28, 2010

I love Tides.

We're a strong team at Tides now, with two additional members of the management team. It means now, instead of all decisions being made by Nate and me, plus our investors when it mattered, we're now a handful. Each of us has something we like to do best and are looking forward to doing things together.

Speaking for myself, I'm quite looking forward to making crab and pork dumplings a la Chinatown in NYC. I want so desperately to write "soup dumplings" -- if we manage that, it will be quite the achievement.

It's a wonderful feeling to have assembled such a strong team and to be in a place where we're working together, managing our collective priorities and sharing our vision for Tides. As we work together to create long-term management systems, we're also hiring new staff. If anyone knows of a strong and experienced kitchen manager, preferably a woman as our kitchen is 100% women, let me know.

Here's a new waitress studying our drinks menu before opening time:

If you're in Monrovia, come to our Halloween costume party tomorrow! DJ Raed, a special live performance by MC Digga, and the scariest shots in Monrovia...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Adventures in African Cooking: Chutney

Chutney is the ketchup of my childhood. We put it on sandwiches (especially cheese sandwiches), chips (or anything with potatoes, for that matter), chicken, roast beef...I drew the line at pizza. Chutney comes from the Indian subcontinent and traveled widely as a popular import as early as the 1600's. Of course, European versions were sweeter and less spicy than the Indian versions, as are African ones like Mrs. H.S. Balls, to the left.

Really, chutney can be made at home with whatever is in season, some spices and a saucepan. Mango is indubitably the most popular, but I'm recovering from malaria so let's save that for another post.

For now, here are some ideas about how to use bottled chutney. Of course, I prefer the South African brand to the left, which you can find even in Monrovia, but if you're lucky enough to have a friend who makes her own, good for you.

  • Salad dressing, especially on a cabbage-based salad: Mix a spoonful of chutney with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
  • Marinades for beef, lamb chops or chicken, especially for a barbeque/braii: Use it straight or mix it like the salad dressing, above, using less oil and less vinegar.
  • Cheese toast: My favorite. Toast bread in a toaster oven and add slices of cheese as it starts to brown. When the cheese bubbles and browns, smear on some chutney.
The savory-sweet combination might be a bit strange at first, but it's a unique and hard-to-pinpoint flavor combination that's worth experimenting with. I recommend it especially as a lift for cabbage salad, for those of us that are scared of the local lettuce and haven't yet gotten around to growing our own.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Full moon over Waterside

This is one of the apartments above the Johennsen Street warehouses that border the ocean. I like the plants growing out of it. A family used to live here, but I think they got evicted. Now our security guards use it as a night post.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Surf Liberia Contest next weekend!

I've been spending today getting all the details ready for next weekend's 2nd Annual Surf Liberia contest. Learn more here if you think you can make it. Email me if you plan to compete!

Here are the details:

The contest will run on the morning of Saturday, 23 October if the waves are good. If not, it will be postponed until the afternoon, or even Sunday morning or afternoon. Once we begin, the contest will take about three hours.

We have three partners supporting us this year: Soul Surfers Foundation, Seren Clothing and the Surf Resource Network. Soul Surfers sponsors our Surf Liberia mentoring program in the Uptown community, the Surf Resource Network is helping us run the contest and the boys at Seren Clothing (both of whom I went to school with in Cairo) did the t-shirt.

Solomon thinks its really cool. I agree. He's helping us have a first run-off of 60 made for next Saturday. We'll put them on The African T-Shirt Company, which will also see some new energy in the next few months...

We'll have live commentary, prizes for 1st to 4th place, and it's the best place to see all the local surfers side by side, representing Liberia. Nana's Lodge and Miss Boss Lady Entertainment are the lead Liberian sponsors, contributing to the Surf Liberia Mentoring Project and lending us a hand with the organizing.

Hope to see you at the contest!

Friday, October 8, 2010

You want monitoring and evaluation? Take this, from the Duke of Wellington.

This is the Duke of Wellington on monitoring and evaluation, back in the day:

Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French Forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests, which have been sent by H.M Ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch rider to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstances since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government, so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either one with my best ability, but I cannot do both.

1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London, or perchance

2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Ha! It's from a recent paper by Former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios called "The Clash of the Counter-bureaucracy and Development."

h/t to Alex Evans at Global Dashboard

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Feel the fear and (try to) do it anyway.

Photo courtesy of Alex Costa.

I've started writing this blog post at least 20 times, so let's cut to the chase. That is me. That is a smallish wave, about shoulder high. That is me not taking that wave.

On that particular wave, I didn't paddle quite hard enough. On the 10 before and after it, I likely did--and then pulled back at the last possible moment. In surfing speak, I didn't commit.

My yoga teacher is always saying that they way you do one thing is the way you do everything. I'll tell you that I don't have a fear of commitment--I just don't want to get hurt. I'll tell you I don't mind taking risks, but that I don't want to break my board or end up on the rocks--in other words, I don't want to suffer the consequences.

My fears are well-founded. I've gotten a black eye from surfing (just one). But when I moved to Liberia, I think had more confidence than I do now. Now I've got experience and what I call The Fear. I'd like to point out that The Fear is based on this experience.

Two weekends ago was my first time back in the water after almost two months of work-vacation-more work. The waves were short-period, which means you don't have a lot of time to catch your breath between duck-dives under the whitewater, but they weren't huge. Still, as I started to wade in, my breath got shorter and stayed in the top of my chest. My heart started beating faster and my stomach tightened. As I kept walking into the water, I noticed that I'd started to sob softly and then, full panic ten meters further, I started to cry.

"I hate this!" I yelled to Nate, who was doing his best to calm me down and keep me happy. "I can't do this! I hate it! I'm terrified and I just sit there! I don't even catch any waves!!!" And at that, I started crying again, so angry this seemingly irrational fear of large walls of water.

Thing is, it's not true: I do catch waves. I catch all of the ones I go for and I never, hardly ever, wipe out. Maybe I'll face-plant after a turn or something, but I rarely get the free-fall "oh my god that was bad" wipe-out. My wave selection is perfectly focused on the shoulder-high, little ramps that have my name on them. And because I haven't taken a wave in half an hour and my surfer buddies want to see me succeed, I never paddle battle for them.

But sometimes, a wave comes that has my name on it and it isn't shoulder-high or sloping. It's steep and big and by the time I register this I'm on top of it, about to drop. It's not that I think I won't make it. I think I might. But also, I might not--and that's the part I don't want. I want all the success without the underwater pummeling.

I know it doesn't work like that. I also know that surfing West African waves, without the Flying Doctors or a decent local hospital, I'm playing it safe. But I don't really think I'll end up bloodied and broken if I go outside my comfort zone. I just don't want to deal with not making it. I don't want to fail. Some part of me thinks it's not okay.

According to a friend who's been surfing for more than 30 years, what I need is confidence. I can do that. Confidence can be got. But I want to get it gently, gracefully, and I want to enjoy it. Stay tuned--and hopefully there will be more pictures.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Adventures in African Cooking: Nana's Lodge hot red pepper sauce

I know the last cooking post was about pepper sauce, but the kitchen at Nana's Lodge in Robertsport just showed me how to make their version, which is my favorite. If you're up for it, this bright red blend of onions, tomato paste and red peppers that can act more like a sauce for rice than a condiment. Again, a warning.

Nana's Lodge Red Pepper Sauce

1/2 cup onions, thinly sliced
2 cups red hot peppers (the Liberian ones look like Scotch bonnets but aren't quite as hot--experiment at will)
a spoonful of seasoning salt (the kind without MSG), but just salt and pepper will do
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup water

Before you start cooking, open the windows and have tissues around to cough into. Cooking a pan full of hot peppers releases some noxious fumes, so maybe an escape route from the kitchen is also a good idea.

Wash the peppers and remove their stems. Then put them in a mortar and pestle and mash them until the skins start to break up. Add the sliced onions and keep mashing until everything is a mushy paste of skin, pepper flesh and seeds. Be ready with a big spoon to scrape it into the pan and under no circumstances let the peppers touch your skin.

Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. It will start to shimmer and, before it gets too hot, add the tomato sauce and stir to incorporate. At this point, if there's leftover oil that doesn't want to blend with the tomato paste, you can spoon or pour some off. Keep in mind, though, that oil is the preservative in pepper sauce. The more oil that's in the sauce, the longer it will keep.

Next, spoon in the hot pepper and onion mixture. Mix until uniform and then add the water. Stir pretty constantly for about 5 minutes or until the peppers are cooked. Add seasoning salt to taste. Remove from the heat and cool before serving, ideally in a small bowl with a spoon, next to the rice. This will keep in the fridge for weeks and at room temperature for about a week.

Enjoy!