Friday, January 5, 2007

One of The Most Popular Foods In Africa

Ugali is among the most popular food not only in Kenya but the entire east African region where the cake-like cuisine is enjoyed frequently because it is cheap and easy to prepare and rather tasty in its’ own way.

The ingredients includes water, maize floor and salt and is usually served with beef stew
or with vegetables including cabbage, spinach or kale. It can even be eaten with chicken cooked in all sorts of manner.

To begin with, water is boiled and the flour is added with salt and stirred for about ten minutes until the solution turns viscous before its turned over several times until it turns solid.

When it assumes a completely solid structure it is removed and left to cool prior to being served with the above mentioned foods, which depends on the economic status of those preparing it.

In the east African states, the rich usually consume it with beef since the commodity is expensive as a kilo of beef meat goes for about three dollars which is expensive considering that majority of people in the three states survive on less than a dollar a day.

Due to poverty levels in Africa, majority of the citizens usually eat the ugali with kale which is the cheapest and most widely available vegetable but the combination is also tasty as long as it is well prepared.
Kale is boiled for about five minutes and the water is drained before its fried with onions and tomatoes for five minutes and then served along with red chilies and other locally available spices.

The meal is wholesome and solid to the extent that if one partakes too much of it he is bound to feel sleepy and immobilized as the effect is as if you have consumed cement.
Ugali is consumed by almost all communities living in the region with those close to the lake preferring to take it with fried fish which makes it a most nutritious combination that takes time to be digested and if taken in the morning, lunch is unnecessary as you will be still full at 2 pm.

However, ugali is considered to be the poor mans diet as maize is considered to be the cheapest food available but the rich also consume it though in relatively small doses and occasionally.

Ugali on its own when eaten will be tasteless but there are those who will partake it that way not by choice but because they cannot afford anything else.Left overs can be consumed with tea the following morning and it is popular with school going children as it will keep them full for the better part of the day.

Ugali does not have to be made from maize meal alone as millet and sorghum floor can also do the trick and is infact considered to be tastier and more nutritious than maize meal.

It is not known who first prepared this staple diet that has made the three east African countries dependent on maize for decades but the Kenyans insist that it was their discovery and Uganda and Tanzania simply copied their invention.

During festive seasons like Christmas ugali is consumed by almost all as also the high and the mighty feel it’s the best combination to go with roasted beef and goat meat and is washed down with several mugs of beer or soft drinks for the teetotalers.

Ugali has also become popular with tourists who visit Kenya and expatriates working there and some are known to like it so much that they have employed local cooks to prepare it for them or go out of their way to look for local eateries which prepare the dish to their liking.

These foreigners are known to enjoy the local dish served with roasted or fried meat but don’t eat it frequently due to the highly nutritious value of the combination which can cause serious health problems like gout and obesity if consumed too often.

A one time American ambassador to Kenya, the late Smith Hempstone was popularly known as the “nyama choma ambassador” meaning roasted meat ambassador due to his frequent escapades to local eateries to partake roasted meat and ugali with local opposition leaders who were his good friends.

Surprisingly, the top diplomat preferred to enjoy his meal in the tough neighbourhood of Eastlands where crime was and is still rampant but he found the taste of ugali in the area irresistible.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The Coat Parade

Every now and then I go somewhere and feel I am getting my own personal fashion show. I realize that I am merely in tune to a certain clothing item and therefore I notice it when I am out and about. But the experience still seems like a fashion show as I see beautiful girl after beautiful girl walk by in whatever fashion item I am currently focusing on. Recently I was privileged to see a parade of coats at a local upscale shopping center. Here are my impressions of a real life coat parade.

Tall girls in knee length wool coats that fasten with a single row of buttons located in the center of the coat win the day. I saw several girls in this style of coat during my brief time in the shopping zone and they made the most impact. The coats looked stylish yet conservative. Each young woman I saw presented a polished appearance in the cold winter weather. These coats were cut well and made of fine material but they were without trim. There were no fur cuffs or collars to give these gals a overt look of luxury. A sense of luxury was present in the women I saw but it emitted from the fine wool and excellent tailoring of the coats they were wearing. It probably helped that each girl I saw in this style of coat was wearing heels in addition to their already towering height. They gave the appearance of models even if they were merely holiday shoppers.

As I moved into the more crowded portion of the shopping center, I started counting the number of fleece jackets with " The North Face" label on them. This is made easier by the fact that this ski wear/ outerwear company places its' name on the outside of its' apparel. I only became aware of this company within the last several years though it has been around for quite some time. Their fleece jackets are warm, expensive and the "must have " item in my community. A Columbia or Lands End fleece jacket will not do. To be "in" here you need to have a North Face on or you will feel the chill of the status conscious community. I stopped counting when I reached twenty North Face jackets, reassured that I was still on top of the current trends in outerwear.

I could not help but notice the lack of fur. This did not really surprise me as I tend to meet more people who are horrified by fur then those who revel in its' comfort and luxury. My personal experiences are not in line with the recent trends reported by The New York Times. A recent article in this esteemed paper reported that the fur industry is experiencing a huge boom and sales of furs have increased dramatically. Most of the boom in furs is in foreign markets, but a huge increase in American sales was reported. While Americans may be buying furs, I am not sure where they are wearing them. I did not see one fur during my personal coat fashion show and I cannot remember when I have seen more than just fur trim on women in my community.
While the anti-fur movement may be loosing steam internationally, it is alive and well in the heartland of America.

On the way out of the shopping center I viewed a woman leaving a department store in a parka worn with a skirt, tights and unattractive shoes. This gal was frumpy. After seeing the coat parade, I wanted to rush her back into the department store to give her a makeover. I normally would not have even noticed this shopper but for my recent immersion into the land of outerwear. Seeing a large number of people in stylish outerwear reminds you of the impact we all have when walking down the street. In the winter your outerwear choices can be more important then any other fashion choice you make. Your coat and accessories create your first impression on any group of people. Sometimes we forget the importance of that impression. The impression may be casual or dressy, luxurious or minimalist. The impression your outerwear makes is often your first impression on the people you meet. This makes your choice of coat as important a fashion decision as anything else you will buy.

Having said that, I will admit to having worn layered sweats to the coat parade. I finished my holiday shopping as my knees slowly gave out and while I enjoyed my own personal fashion show I had no urge to join the parade. I dress to be a spectator, not a participant in the fashion wars that occur on a daily basis in my retail driven community. I do have to admit that my coat experience did get me thinking about my own outerwear choices.

In terms of casual coats, the North Face may have their hold on the rest of the community but I am not tempted to buy. Years ago I purchased a fleece coat at a local discount store for five dollars. It was off season and on the super clearance rack. The next year an identical coat was featured on the front cover of the Lands End catalog, for more than five dollars. I also inherited several Columbia fleece jackets from a family member, and I find they keep me just as warm as the more expensive fleece jackets on the market. I still have my hooded parka from many years ago and it serves when the fleece jackets are in the wash.

I did consider whether my dress coat was passe. My coat has a fur collar and is by no means tailored. It is a luxurious coat, and brings to mind a well loved mistress more than a conservative wife or business professional. It is a coat that amuses me and I enjoy wearing it, even if I do not wear it very often. I began to consider it may be time for a more conservative coat, like those I had seen on the tall girls in heels. I decided to take a walk in my coat to give the matter some thought. My decision? Well if I am going to make a fashion statement with my dress coat, it is not going to be one of stylish restraint. Let the young gals take that road. I am keeping my "mistress" coat with its' fur ( fake) collar and cuffs and fabric covered buttons. The coats unstructured lines hides a multitude of figure flaws that a tailored coat would merely accentuate. My coat does not present the image that turned my head during the coat parade, but it is the image I am going to project if I choose to be a participant rather then a sweat jacket wearing observer of a outerwear fashion show. I am old enough now to find my own sense of fashion rather then follow the dictates of the masses. Who knows, maybe I'll start a trend for in your face luxury around this staid little town.

No new dress coat for me. My fashion focus tuned into coats and while I enjoyed the experience, and considered changing my own personal style, I am not buying outerwear this year. I am not sure what parade I will view next. Spring is just around the corner and I have not replaced my rain coat in awhile. If I go to the shopping center and see model type women in rain gear in freezing weather I will let you know. Stranger things have happened, but not for awhile.

Next time you are out and about, give yourself your own fashion show by focusing on one clothing item and see what people are wearing and how they are wearing it. Pick a shopping venue where people dress to shop, and you too can have your own personal fashion show.

Monday, January 1, 2007

You Get What You Pay For: LCD TV Buying Guide

A few years ago big screen plasma TV's were all the rage, but with complaints about picture quality and the cost to have those giant plasma TV's wall- mounted, much of the hoopla died down. These days LCD TV's have seem to have stolen the plasma's thunder as the hot new electronic item to have.

Over this past Christmas season prices for LCD's were slashed, which made them affordable for just about anyone. But as with anything-- and especially with electronics-- you get what you pay for. An LCD television that costs under 200 dollars may not the best buy out there.

Size. LCD TV's aren't as gigantic as plasmas. Most LCD's go up to about 37 inches. This makes for better picture quality and also more ease when it comes to mounting the TV on the wall. Small size LCDs, at 15 inches or so, are perfect for small corners or kitchen areas. LCD's range in price from under 200 dollars to over 2000 dollars. That's a pretty big price range, but then again there's also a pretty big range when it comes to size and quality.

Wall mount. NO matter how much you spend on an LCD TV, you must take into consideration the cost of mounting the TV to the wall. Most LCD's come with stands and are slim enough to fit on narrow TV tables or half walls. That may be sufficient for you at first. But the beauty of owning a thin TV is the ability to mount it to the wall so that it is out of the way. LCD TV wall mount kits vary in price. If you have a small size LCD, you may be able to get away with a discount store wall mount kit. Some of these can be purchased for as little as 30 dollars. Larger LCD's will need a more high-tech kit, which can run up to a couple of hundred dollars. Allot yourself at least an hour to mount the TV to the wall-- it may seem like an easy project but you need to be careful so that the TV doesn't come crashing down.

Picture quality. Cheap LCD sets will have cheap looking picture quality. Trust me. I can home with a Black Friday bargain 19 inch LCD TV for 179 dollars. The quality is so bad that we've decided to put the TV down in our basement workout room. Actually the main problem lies with the color and contrast-- people looks somewhat orange, but not on all of the channels. Still, it will be nice to have a wall mount TV in those close basement quarters and we don't use a TV down there much anyway-- otherwise I would just take the cheapo LCD back. Even worse than the picture quality is the hard-to-use remote control-- it's very small and you have to push the buttons very hard to get them to work. And the channel graphics are so tiny that I can't even see what channel I have on when I'm across the room. 179 dollars. Like I said, you get what you pay for.

Other features. If you're looking for high definition quality, go to a TV or electronics store that has lots of models side by side. And just because you've never heard of a brand doesn't mean it's not a good one. I had never heard of Akai Brand, thought it was some cheaply made foreign model. Then I saw an Akai high def set at my local Radio Shack. I could not believe how crystal clear the picture quality was.

Where to get good buys. Don't discount wholesale clubs like BJs, Sam's Club or Costco. These places get all sorts of good quality LCD models in-- you need to check back each time you go to see what they've got in stock. Discount stores like Target or Kmart generally have lesser known brands-- you'll have to shop and compare quality (Target does carry Magnavox brand, which is pretty good). Department stores like Sears often have a good selection. For the greatest selection, check out best Buy or Circuit City-- but make sure to comparison shop for the best price. Websites like Overstock and Amazon often carry high end models at reduced prices. You can also check around for refurbished models.