If there’s one thing I loved in my cousins, it was their street smarts. They may not know what PS 3 [or it’s 80s equivalent] is, but they could climb a certain thorn tree, harvest its berries, and make the amazingest purple juice with nothing but sticks and a measuring jug. I never admired them more than the day we crossed a panya route and they picked some ‘weeds’, only for us to get home and turn them into the tastiest veg dish I had, ever. From that day I hassled my mum to teach me the ins and outs of traditional greens. 20 years later, I still don’t get it.

So, in these times of recession [when any free weeds are helpful – and note that I say weeds, not weed], and inspired by the magic Nelly worked with some pumpkin leaves and a coconut, I decided to give it a shot. I got a recipe from the Nation and hit the local genge. After ogling the vegetables and asking a few blonde questions, I established that mchicha have red stems, matembel[r?]e have thin leaves, and kunde has a rough texture. My next lesson will be equating those to Kenyan veggies – osuga, mrenda, apoth, managu and…okay, that’s all I can remember just now. Anyway, I bought my pumpkin leaves, a large jar of peanut butter, some milk, and off we went.

Princess was pretty excited about the cooking lesson. She was most helpful with the slicing and the dicing and the reading. The TV was off, for once, as was the neighbours radio, so it was just heat, mirth, and mother-daughter bonding time. Fun!

At some point, Princess got adventurous and tasted the peanut butter. The scowl on my angel’s face was enough to turn fresh milk sour. Home made yoghurt. Take one gorgeous little girl, and a pinkie-full of peanut butter…but I digress. Point is, the scowl set the tone. Princess started eye-ing my cookscapade a little less encouragingly.

I boiled the sliced veg separately, and tasted it. She approved. ‘Needs more salt’ was her only complaint. I threw in some onions, tomatoes, said salt, and veg. So far so good. Smells great too. I tossed in a jar of milk. Mmmmm, she likes milk. “Can I eat now mummy?” “Not yet hun. We have to add the main ingredient.” In goes the peanut butter. My milky white stuff turns a tea-ey shade of brown, and gets all thick and gooey. The scowl reappears.

“Mummy, I’m not eating that.”

“At least wait for it to cook first.”

The instructions say 15 minutes. I turn and stir and thicken [or is it thin?] with the water left over from boiling. It’s looking promising…okay, I lie. It’s looking brown, and nothing like the photo in the recipe. In fact, it’s looking very much like something else. Tastes great though.

Finally I am done, and dollop some spoonfuls onto Princess’ plate. Not very many – just two. She has made it quite clear that she isn’t eating it, but I insist. That’s what mummies are for – to make you eat icky green [and brown] vegetables. Besides, rice and tomato sauce may be our staple, but today we have garnish, so we might as well use it. Princess contorts her face in ways an acrobat would envy. It’s amazing she can do so much with just facial muscle!

I suggest she use tomato sauce to lighten the taste [which she hasn’t even had yet], and she proceeds to empty half a bottle on the two spoons of veg. Her plate is now a vibrant mix of white, brown, green and red.

She’s still scowling worse than the grumpiest gent I know, so I tell her to spoon it up quick and get it off her plate. She gathers some, holds the spoon trembling for a full minute…and starts to cry! Heavens! The scowl was easier! But mummy’s not buying this. I half threaten, half-cajole, and the veg starts to disappear. She doesn’t stop crying, and I’m afraid her food was quite well salted. I kept trying to pull the stern ‘eat up or else’ look, but I just couldn’t stop laughing – those frowns were priceless!!

She did finish the veg eventually, but stayed mad an hour longer because I ‘forced her to eat it’, and even by bedtime she was giving me the silent treatment. She needed her hair tied up and attempted to say so in sign language. Of course I played dumb and forced her to speak to me. She did say please but wouldn’t say goodnight. I may have taken my daughter’s vego-phobia to a whole new level.

Elsewhere, my niece has such a rich meat diet that she’s literally sick of it. If you want her to do something, you say ‘Fanya ama nikupikie nyama.’ So now I think I have a new weapon for my daughter ‘Fanya au ntapika mboga!’ Mwahahahahah!! She doesn’t mind Nelly’s vegetables though…and no, it’s not my cooking. It’s the peanut butter. Honest! At least that’s what Princess said when she finally quit sulking.

PS: Our regular shopkeeper has traveled for Easter and left us a temp. He’s not doing too well. Today he gave me low fat milk, the nerve of that man. I just noticed the pack is blue instead of red. I wonder if that affected my recipe.

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