Tag Archives: food


The first time Jenn visited me in Uganda, I posted about some of the good things we ate. In fact, many of my ethnographic adventures have been shaped by the gastronomic adventures that have come as an essential part of those experiences. My dear sister in law asked me to write down some of the recipes, and although I did, so many of them cannot be made without locally sourced ingredients, or at least things I can’t get in Tallahassee. This is not the case for muchomo.

Muchomo refers to roasted meat of various kinds: beef, pork, goat’s meat, even chicken. My favorites among these in Uganda were definitely goat and pork, and many a weekend night found me taking a brief break from research to enjoy some of the local delicacy with a cold one. I’ve been working on this recipe for a little over a year now, and I think I’ve got it tweaked to where it tastes enough like East Africa that it’s worth a try on the Blog-b-cue.

This is the basic marinade recipe that could be used with 1.5-2 lbs. of any of the above-named meats, boneless and cubed like stew meat:

1 lemon or 2 T. juice

1/2 c. vegetable oil

1/8 t. cardamom

1/8 t. cayenne

1/8 t. coriander

1/4 t. cumin

2 cloves garlic

1/2 t. onion powder

1/2 t. pepper

1/2 t. salt

Combine everything and stir it up well before pouring it over the meat in a Ziploc bag. Marinate for at least 1 hour (I did 4-5 hours, but overnight would be ideal). Roast the meat on skewers over low flame for as long as possible without overcooking (read: low and slow for that outside crunch with the juicy center). Serve with salt and piri-piri (liquid or powdered hot stuff) on the side, avocado, tomato, and roasted matooke if possible. Otherwise find an appropriate potato to pair it with and put it on the table next to your favorite beverage.


In Kampala, people who do this nightly make a living at it, and people who own the operations—often called “pork joints” (not what they sound like)—turn a handsome profit. In that context, the flame comes from wood charcoal. If you’re into that, use it. If not, use store-bought charcoal or a gas grill (I’m using regular old Kingsford this evening). That brings us to the defining characteristic of muchomo: beauty lies in the taste bud of the be(er)holder. Actually, my favorite place in Kampala ended up being this joint where my friend Freddie supervised and instructed the cooks to roast the meat halfway and then fry it up with onions and spices to finish it off. Yum.

This has gone over well with Ugandan palettes. I’m trying it for the first time tonight with a group of Tanzanian musicians. Like the recipe? Try it without the wet ingredients as a rub or send me your variations and improvisations in the comments! I’d love to take a few of these ideas back, as the home muchomo provides as much leisurely fun in Uganda as the backyard barbecue does here.



Filed under uganda

Wanna Ride Bikes?

I must have worn out all the hand-me-down bicycles and several new ones riding back and forth to swimming lessons and later swim team practice, parks and ice cream parlors, and of course more mischievous pursuits. I grew up on summer nights where baseball wrapped up days of swimming, or grilling steaks accompanied by as much Iowa corn, homegrown tomatoes, and juicy watermelon my hungry brothers and I could handle. As an undergraduate student I bought another bike, the one I still own, to get from place to small town place using the most fun brand of transport I could imagine.

On the heels of RAGBRAI, August always seems to be the time to get as much riding in as I can before the academic calendar comes trudging back with commitments less tolerable of a sweaty, helmet-toting arrival. It’s also the time when Tallahassee, like so many college towns, is at its quietest. Understandably, people escape the sweltering heat and humidity for summer’s last hurrahs before autumn’s classes and schedules and practices and rehearsals and recitals and games and plays and competitions and that most important of fall Saturday rituals, the college football experience. While the traffic is a bit more friendly, I ride my bike. I get to campus and back. I get on some trails when I can. I go to the library and enjoy something all too rare in a university library: silence. Sweet, glorious silence nourishes productivity like so much mother’s milk. Oh, the quietude. Who says there’s no enjoying the calm before a storm?

Back then we grew accustomed to the routine of getting into basements quickly when sirens became harbingers of darker possibilities. A tornado could arrive, render several neighbors homeless, and leave us wondering why other houses appeared untouched, sometimes all within an hour or two. In that final, electric moment after the sirens fell silent but before funnel clouds appeared on the horizon, eerie green skies never threatened brighter realities we knew to be on the other side of something so unpredictable. Was it naïve to be fascinated by the quiet excitement of some erratic force?

This present stillness also intrigues,

It is space to think and time to breathe,

It is temporary absence of banal cacophonies

That lull us into routine and steal our ease.

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Filed under Reflection

An Iowa Story

postdated: Aug. 1, 2009


Above and header: a classic image at Iowa’s Historic Arnold’s Park.

If I have been too quiet, I hope my few faithful readers will think that the reasons are as good as I do.  I’m back from what I now know was a much-needed trip to my birthplace: Iowa.  Jenn and I had planned to go up for a long weekend.  This was for her family, recently bereft of a beloved grandmother and only very recently able to gather for a proper memorial service.  However, it turned into a much more varied and exciting journey than we had originally expected.

The time everyone was able to come turned out to be the weekend after a ten-year reunion that my high school classmates had planned.  Neither of us had been to Harlan for at least the six years we’ve lived in Florida, so we decided to go up early for this shindig and enjoy some of the pleasures of late summer in Iowa.  Ten days later, I am convinced that the lifelong Iowan we came to mourn would have heartily approved.

The entire trip resonated with overtones of formative musical experiences that, for both Jenn and me, made Iowa a great place to grow up.  The town square is home to a relatively new restaurant, paradoxically called the Sandwich Bowl, where we had lunch and a long, soulful conversation with two of my former music teachers, Steve and Dianne Lawson.  Although they are now both retired from public school jobs, Dianne had to leave for an afternoon wedding gig.  We relaxed with Steve in a multi-purpose facility that provides his daily musical playground: he watches DVDs, plays music, teaches lessons, rehearses high school groups and engineers recording sessions.  I enjoyed the privilege of thanking the Lawsons in person for laying the foundation for many and varied other musical studies and experiences.

Later that evening, we met up with my high school classmates for the reunion.  Standard fare here: beers and steaks at a local country club.  It was a good time, but we cut out a bit early to stop by another reception for a friend and former bandmate who had been living in China.  His wife finally got her visa, and it was time to celebrate that victory and their marriage with his family.  It was surreal to see people I hadn’t seen in ten years and think about how I hadn’t been the only one who was half a world away, only to see them again here in our quiet Iowa hometown.  This called for more beverages.  The reunion had migrated to the downtown square, where we found my classmates and proceeded to close the oldest local bar in town.  They probably haven’t had a night like that since RAGBRAI came through town last year.


Above: cathing up with classmates and friends.  Thanks for taking the pictures, Jenn!

The next day we traveled to Jenn’s parents’ place, where I did what I always do when I show up there: set up the drum set in the basement.  My in-laws played a lot of dance jobs when they were first married.  Jenn grew up playing clarinet and saxophone, accompanied by her father on keys and either her mother or her brother on drums.  It’s a really rare vibe, a place where I always feel privileged to sit in on drums.  Moreover, with two other drummers in the family, there’s always some nice gear sitting around the house.  Knowing that I have been in Uganda and haven’t played any drumset for most of the last year, Steve came home for lunch ready to play a couple of tunes with me.

In the afternoon, we got back in the car to go to Okoboji, where Jenn’s father plays piano during the summer in the Dick Bauman Monday Night Big Band.  Bauman was the founder of a jazz program at a nearby community college and a good friend of the man who first taught me to play drumset, Steve Lawson.  Now this isn’t exactly the Village Vanguard or anything, but the sections are stacked with some of the best band directors in the state, and they are solid players.  There’s a tradition of good jazz in Iowa, and these people have sent some fantastic players on to the best college jazz programs in the country.  It was a privilege to sit in with the band,

The weekend brought other activities.  Jenn’s brother and his wife showed up on Friday, along with their aunt.  We wasted very little time after they arrived before jumping back in the car and heading to the world’s finest steakhouse.  Archie’s Waeside in LeMars, Iowa rivals many of the finest steakhouses in the country according to some, but we in Iowa know that you cannot buy a finer cut of meat, a tastier corn fritter, or a more delicious grasshopper sundae anywhere (a creme de menthe ice cream treat–not to be confused with these).  Wash that down with a selection of regional micro-brews, and you’ve got one tasty Friday night!

Saturday brought more chill time.  Jenn golfed with her folks and her brother.  She amazes me.  She hasn’t golfed but twice in the last eighteen months, and she was still able to par hole six and log several impressive drives.  Meanwhile, I shucked corn and prepared the grill to burn some bratwurst.  Guy Clark sings that there are “only two things money can’t buy: true love and homegrown tomatoes.”  Owing to the generosity of neighbors, I add Iowa sweet corn to that list, and we enjoyed all three with lunch on Saturday.

Jenn’s grandfather joined us for the occasion, and as is their custom, the Smith Family Variety Show followed.  Grandpa Jimmy worked as a saxophonist and singer during World War II and with his own dance band after that.  His repertoire has remained largely unchanged since: Peg o’ My Heart, Left My Heart in San Francisco, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Bill Baily…basically standards.  Seeing his son and grandson accompany him at family events has always been an indescribable joy.



What a privilege it is when they ask me to sit in on drums or sing a tune! That’s the story of our family gatherings in Iowa.  I think it’s an important story to tell, because it’s also the story of music education working in really interesting ways.  The democratic character of jazz filters organically into every musical event in Jenn’s family.

I’d experienced this atmosphere many times before, but somehow this time “When the Saints Go Marching In” seemed particularly poignant.  The next day, as we all drove to Des Moines to hold a memorial service for Jenn’s maternal grandmother, I looked through the Methodist hymn they had asked me to sing and my sister-in-law looked through the Debussy piece she was to play on flute.  It seemed somehow significant that this family of musicians had chosen to focus on mourning and ask the in-laws to provide appropriate music.  In death, as in life, this family welcomes such a beautiful range of expression, incorporating each unique voice into an ongoing performance that, if our generation and our children have anything to do with it, will never end.


Chris picks up an old Rhodes from his pop to outfit his new digs in CO.

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My concept of home has become rather fuzzy over the past few years.  When I left my parents’ house for college, I left a pseudo-hometown that I liked (but had really only lived in for ten years) for a college town that I loved.  I felt very at home there, and my closest mentors and friends cultivated that feeling.  When we moved to Florida, I moved into the first of several dwellings with my wife.  Now that we’ve lived here in Florida for six years, this feels more like home than anywhere else.  And yet, when you live somewhere for eight months with the same people and they quite purposely become your family, the notion of home shifts once again.  This poem has come back to me again and again as I’ve traveled back and forth to and from Uganda.

Home, oh Home


The soul of your variety

All my bones remember

-Lucille Clifton

I now also have a home in Africa.  Trite and potentially corny as that sounds, I do feel a kinship to the people whom I lived with in Uganda.

Now I’m HOME, and that means the only place in the world that feels completely like my home: I’m with my wife.  I’m in our house.  We’re with our dog.  We cook and relax and have fun together.  I have never been away from this home for this long, and now that I’m back, I seem to have a stronger sense of home.  I’ve taken almost a month to reflect on this, and it is perhaps fitting that I should post about it on Independence Day weekend.  I’ve just spent the past two days on the beach with Jenn and on the water with some friends who have a boat.  Prior to that, I’ve been enjoying some of the many things that are just not the same when I’m not home.

I’m about to make a totally cliché case in point.  When Jenn asked me what I wanted my first meal to be when I got home, my first instinct was steak.  Ugandans don’t eat that much beef.  Half the time their beef has been boiled so long it has the consistency of a shoe, and the other half of the time, it might be tender or flavorful, but rarely both.  (n.b. this is not a commentary on Ugandan food, which more generally speaking is very good.)  After some thought, I started considering that a steak was all of the things I DON’T miss about American food: it’s a big hunk of meat, it’s way to much protein for one meal, and it makes me fat.  If I was going to eat meat, I decided that I wanted a burger.  A good Ugandan restaurant can serve you a steak that will rival anything you can order in a decent American steakhouse.  No Ugandan I’ve ever met can cook a burger that’s anywhere close to this:


Jimmy Buffett starts running through my brain just looking at this.  Wash it down with a cold domestic lager and it tastes like home to me.  The kale chips next to it are a testament to the changes that inevitably happen at home any time I’m gone this long.  Don’t knock ’em ’til you’ve tried ’em though; they’re very tasty.

We didn’t wait too long after I returned to get back to a summer routine that includes regular visits to the beach.  Here’s a shot from our first trip out: Bald Point.


We’ve been out twice since then to our favorite place, Cape San Blas.  The most recent trip was Friday, when Jenn had the day off.  Saturday we were back out in the sun with some friends who have a boat.  How fun was that?  Well, I’ll offer a hint: I’ll post more pictures when I find my camera.  Until then, suffice it to say that I’m happy to be home!

UPDATE! A few pix from San Blas:


me in my hat that reminds me how lucky I am and how good life truly is


some of the rugged beauty of the dunes


friends out on the “mega station” (winner, best flotation device ever)


finally, my favorite time of day on the beach.  Enjoy!


Filed under uganda

November: Munsenene

It’s November here in Kampala, and that means two things: it rains every day around the same time, so it’s a bit like Tallahassee in August with slightly less humidity; and Grasshoppers are in season.  In fact, the name for November in Luganda, Munsenene, comes from the name for the grasshopper, ensenene.

On the first night of the month I find myself at a local bar with a friend who has invited me to dinner at his house.  Confused?  I am too, at first.  When I arrive at his house, he has to run a quick errand and he invites me to come along. I’ve known the guy for a while so I play along.  He drops some cash with another guy outside the gate of his compound, explaining to me that this guy has just moved a piano for him.  (Is that all?  Just picked it up, huh?)  With the “errand” out of the way, my friend says to me, “Well, dinner’s not ready yet.  Let’s take a walk.”  He likes beer, so I can kind of see where this is going.  Although it’s still unorthodox, his wife is out of town, so maybe he’s not hanging around the house to have a drink with her before dinner.  With his daughter back home working away in the kitchen, I suppose it’s time for the mouse to play.

Sure enough, we turn a corner and three or four buddies greet him.  They’re sitting at a local pub, which is a small cement patio with plastic chairs outside an even smaller cement shelter containing a few refrigerators.  We all exchange greetings, my friend feeling proud to show off the mugenyi (guest) who can sling a bit of Luganda.  We have a beer, catch up a bit, and chat with the guys at the pub.

We’re both relaxing into the beautiful evening a bit when my friend orders a second round and two young men sit down to his left.  He introduces me as Kigozi to these guys, which is my cue to greet them properly mu Luganda.  The one particularly boisterous guy finishes greeting me and then says, “Mmanyi Kigozi! Yeddira Ffumbe, era Neddira Ffumbe.”  (roughly: “I know Kigozi—we’re clan mates!”).  Not only do we share a totem, but it turns out that the person who arranged for my naming is this guy’s biological uncle.  I suddenly recognize him from a large family gathering in 2006.  Don’t ask me how, but in a city of a million plus people, this kind of thing happens every day.

Muganda wange!” (my brother—cousins call each other brothers and sisters, and he would even call my “father” taata like me)  He orders a beer and something else, though by this time the whole group of men is too excited about an interesting connection in their sphere for me to notice what it is.  When the barkeep brings his beer, she lays out some plates on the small tables and spoons up something I’ve only ever seen in plastic bags at the market: ensenene.  Naturally, they ask the conspicuous mzungu if I’ve ever tried them.  Nope, but I’ll try anything once. To my delight, ensenene taste like shrimp, so I snag a handful.  They’re salty and slightly spicy from the piri-piri (spicy powder)–perfect with a cold beer!

That night I get back home and everyone there is stoked up that I’ve had a chance to try some ensenene.  Perhaps a bit disappointed that they weren’t the first to serve me the seasonal delicacy, they wake me up the next morning with this:


“For breakfast?” I ask my host family.

“Oh yeah. Anytime!” they say practically in unison.

Hmmm . . . a lot more appetizing in the dark.  Still, I don’t exactly eat peanuts for breakfast in the states either.  It turns out they’re as tasty with caayi (African milk tea) as they are with beer. Variety is the spice of life, right?


Filed under uganda