Illustration by L. Nichols
My grandmother was born in a little village in Uganda when it was still British East Africa. As a girl she helped my great-grandmother cook traditional Gujurati Indian dishes, and as a young wife in Kenya, she replicated those dishes for her husband (who liked to cook as well but was busy founding the Kenyan ice cream company Dairyland). As they traveled my granny developed a taste for other things, returning home with a heart-shaped waffle machine, a ceramic fondue set, black lacquered chopsticks. Her culinary repertoire, along with the rest of Nairobi's middle class, was expanding.
At one dinner party, my gran served an enormous Floating Island in a cut crystal bowl, the poached egg whites striped with caramel. But she had infused the custard with saffron and cardamom instead of vanilla and topped the confection with pistachios rather than almonds. After nightcaps, friends wobbled home with her recipe and handed it to their cooks. It became a kind of summer smash.
I asked my grandma for a few of my favorite recipes once, including her Floating Island, a couple of African curries she made particularly well, and a pea-filled pastry. "Why not a whole book?," was her ambitious reply. Together we imagined a gigantic collection of traditional East African Asian foods divided into chapters that would include road trip tiffins, tea time snacks, cocktail parties, dinners, early breakfasts, and brunches. But we never started the project. That was nine years ago. Last week she called to ask if there was a dot in the middle of my email address and if I still wanted those recipes. She was having trouble getting started, she said.