Ugali and Stew


The food for the tribal art display was in place, Jaja sat back and waited to swap out platters. The event was sure to boost business for his cafe. It was worth the chance. He watched people mill about taking in the art, and eat his food from the kitchen window. Their smiles and widened eyes made him happy.

“Mirepoix, mirepoix on the cutting board, who is the cookiest of them all.”
The carrots onions and celery swirled into life on the cutting board. “You are, O Chef.”
“Thank Bacchus, my dad ran off with that trailer trash when I was twelve. I never would have learned to cook.”
“Are you to tell me your family history or do you require something of me, O Great Chef.”
“I require you to tell me who that lovely lady is over there by the drums. She is fascinating.”
The mirepoix coalesced, and glowed. “She’s a people person.”
“She’s well traveled.”
“Go on.”
“She’s too old for you.”
“What. What you talking about mirepoix?”
“Eighty-two, I assume is too old for you.”
“Not her, the woman next to her.”
“You haven’t got a chance.”
“Don’t beat around the bush, ask her.”
“What kind of cooking spirit are you that can’t tell me what I want?”
“Use your smart phone and google her picture. She’s sure to pop up.”
“You are no help. It’s soup time for you.”
“As you wish, but I can’t say that I’ll improve your cooking.”
Jaja sweated the mirepoix and tossed in several peppercorns. “I’ve got to meet her. You hear that mirepoix. I can’t let her pass by. When you come to two cutting boards in a kitchen, choose the cutting board less chopped. I have to cook for her.”
“You are stuck behind the stove, apron boy. Stick to your duties.”
“I’m taking a chance.”
Jaja put a fresh coat on and straightened his hat, he found her by the Oceanic art. He stood near, afraid to approach. He watched how she moved. Her long brown was hair teased out just like oh oh, and to her he was probably just part of the exhibit and nothing to be noticed. She passed him by and he choked. “Wait.”
She didn’t even flinch. It was the city, and easy to pretend not to notice. The cold rejection, refusal of eye contact, made it nearly impossible to meet someone. “I’m not rabid.” Jaja said under his breath.
She headed to the buffet table. Fool on stilts. He cursed himself. He could have just stayed where he was. People always pass by the food. It is as instinctual as a salmon swimming up stream. He pushed his way through the crowd, and stepped behind the table. She lifted a lid and he held out a plate.
“Oh,” she pulled back, and pointed with her finger. “I don’t know what that is.”
“Ugali and stew.” he smiled. “A traditional San Francisco dish.”
“Never heard of it.” her eyes did a funny something, and she walked away.
He was warm and sensual. “Wait, aren’t you going to try the food?”
She was cold and distant. “What you are asking is if I am single, am I right?”
“Well I uh…”
“I’ll spare you the trouble. I don’t date chefs you’re married to your jobs. I’m hunting for Mr. Google. I don’t want to be poor.”
“Excuse me? I’m not trying to pick you up.”
“That’s what Emeril said.”
Jaja turned to his pot, “Mirepoix mirepoix in the soup why does this woman treat me like poop?
“Because you are a fool.”
Jaja added a bottle of wine. “Did I make you with too much onion? Why am I the fool?”
“Blame your mother. Not me. Let me try again. You didn’t fail, you just discovered another way to get it wrong. Is that softer?”
“I want to know why she won’t talk to me.”
“Could she be any clearer?” Mirepoix steamed.
“I’ve got to do something.”
Mirepoix simmered in broth. “We know what happens in the end so make the journey count.”
“This recipe calls for anchovy paste. That’s a big turn off.”
“Get her to try your cooking, if you think it’s good enough.”
“And just how am I going to do that?”
“You can believe in a magical being all you want, but if you don’t get off your ass, and do something about it, nothing’s going to happen.”
“I believe in you?”
“But I’m not going to get the girl for you. Woo her.”
“Woo woo or she treat you like poo. There she goes, better catch up.”
Jaja dropped the spoon. “Wait don’t go.” He yelled across the cafe.
She shrank. “No you’re not.”
“You can’t leave with out trying the food.”
“Really I have to go.”
“It’s not like I’m asking you to marry me, come on one bite.”
“That’s your plan? I dated a guy from Pixar you know.”
Jaja smiled and laughed and got down on one knee, “Look this is as scary to me as it is to you.”
“What are you doing? Don’t.”
The people around the cafe stopped and turned.
She grabbed the door handle. “No.”
“Please,” he said. “What CDs do you have in your car? I like to snuggle.”
“See you are married to cooking, and haven’t got a clue about women. I am embarrassed for you.”
“If you don’t, you will never know, and if I don’t I’ll never know either.”
“Are you that desperate to have me try your cooking?”
“I have this magic mirepoix, it told me to woo you.”
“First you’re creepy, now you’re magical?”
“No not me. The mirepoix gives good business advice.”
“Business advice?” She rubbed her chin. “Show me this mirepoix.”

Water 4 cups
Salt  2 teaspoons
White cornmeal, finely ground 2 cups

Bring water to a boil in a pan. Add the corn or maize meal and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thick and smooth. Make sure it is not too stiff. Add boiling water if it is too thick. Gather the mixture in the middle of the pan and turn the heat to low. Cover the pan and leave it on low heat for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally.

1 lbs beef, cubed
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 medium onions, chopped
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp tumeric
1tsp cumin
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup water
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro

Brown the onions in the oil. Add the meat and garlic and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and let them cook until they form a thick sauce. Add the water, cilantro and salt to taste. Mix well. Cook on low heat until the meat is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

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