Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's finally here and it showed me something new.

Just one look around the lake and parks in Minneapolis and you would know: spring is finally here. The tell tale sign is not the melting ice or the tiny buds now visible on some trees or even the rain showers. You know that it is spring by the hundreds of people jogging around that lakes now. It is as though all of the city has come out of hibernation. There are people every where! Forgive me if i sound a little flaky or foreign but this is not a frequent sight here during the winter. The winters are so brutal that at the first sign of spring everyone, and I mean everyone, makes a bee line for the out doors. Rollerblading, walking, jogging, cycling, simply standing on street corners, this is how Minneapolis celebrates spring.

I did my own celebration as well: by taking the bus for the first time ever since I have moved here. I was shocked at how seamless the entire process was (having downloaded the route and maps from the internet of course, and traveling with my handy dandy itouch just in case I got lost.) It took approximately 20 minutes to get to Nicollet Mall and 8th Street, a trip that would have otherwise been 8 minutes by car. Conversely, those 20 minutes were very revealing. They revealed a cosmopolitan side of the city that was little evident when we initially moved. Minneapolis is vibrant, brimming with new adventures, museums, plays, clubs, and some of the trendiest restaurants I have been to. Now, the awareness of its ethnic enclaves will assuredly enhance my city experience.

Especially intriguing is an small community of African and Middle Eastern stores and shops on Nicollet Avenue between 15th and Grant streets. Authentic African food is new to my culinary experience; I have had Moroccan and Ethiopian food only twice. Coming from the Caribbean, my early culinary outlook was understandably influenced by Creole flavors, and by extension African cooking, but even that bore no resemblance to what I now know is authentic African food. Some of the ingredients are the same, such as cassava and salted fish, but they are used in very different ways on either side of the Atlantic. In Eastern African countries such as Kenya, the cassava leaves are steamed and eaten as a side dish while in the Caribbean, in particular Trinidad, it is the cassava root that is boil and served, with some form of savory meat dish, as an entree. (My favorite was cassava with stewed pork perfected by my paternal grandmother. Being poor for most of her life, she was extremely apt at knowing how to extract the flavors of simple ingredients to create some of my most memorable childhood dishes. She is eighty six years old now with Alzheimer's which means that I will only have those memories because even though my aunts learned to cook from her, and they are all excellent cooks when it comes to Caribbean food, hers was simply the best.) It is possible that the ethnic groceries in this community might carry some of these familiar ingredients. I hope.

Warm Plums with Strawberry Cream

1-2 cups strawberries
1/2 cup fat free sour cream
1 tsp pomegranate juice ( optional)
3 tbsp honey
4 ripe plums, quartered

1. Wash, hull and slice strawberries. Place in food processor or blender, together with sour cream and pomegranate juice. Blend until smooth. At this point, you can strain cream through sieve to remove seeds but I prefer not to do this because I like the occasional crunch of the seeds.
2. In a small heavy sauce pan over medium heat, add honey stirring, occasionally until it begins to bubble. Once large bubbles appear, add plums.
3. Cook plums for three to five minutes. The honey should have turn a gorgeous purple syrup by now. Remove from heat.
4. Serve warm plums with dollops of strawberry cream and drizzle with any leftover syrup in pot.

Note: I suggest using the ripest fruit (both plums and strawberries) that you can find. This way, you get the added benefit of their natural sugars while using little honey.