A few years ago, I read a book called In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption. It had many fascinating observations, but one that has stuck with me was the advice to make sure my home has objects representing my kids’ cultures. I’ve made efforts since then to ensure my Black kids see their African American and Kenyan cultures reflected in our white-centric home, but it’s proven trickier than I expected, partly because of budgetary constraints and partly for lack of ideas. What exactly makes a house scream “East African” or “Black American culture”? Art, of course, but art is not cheap. Is the wooden “karibu” on my daughter’s wall sufficient? What about the Jackie Robinson books on my son’s shelves? My mother-in-law made Lydia a comforter with African print fabric, a friend handed down several African print dresses her daughter had worn, and I love my Kenyan tablecloth purchased from an online fair trade store, but I’m always on the lookout for more ideas of Black or African items to add to my decor. I want my kids to see themselves reflected in their home environment.
Recently, the Denver Post published an article about the best cookbooks coming out in the fall. Two caught my eye. In Bibi’s Kitchen has recipes from East African grandmothers as well as interviews with those grandmother cooks and a brief history of her country of origin. The cookbook covers the eight countries that touch the Indian Ocean, including Kenya. The Rise tells the story of Black cooking in America and showcases the diversity of black recipes. It claims so much of what we love about American cooking can trace its history to black cooks.
I love to cook, and my kids love to help me in the kitchen (although I don’t always enjoy having them *both* help me at the same time), and I wondered if cooking with them through these cookbooks would count as exposing them to their cultures. My kids are not adventurous eaters, so my premise is probably shaky — hey kids, let’s try this recipe full of ingredients you’ve never heard of! — but I want to give it a try. I learned a lot from my previous attempt at cooking with them; for starters we won’t try to cook something new every day, and I’ll probably take turns with each of them.
We’re unlikely to get to Kenya in the near future, so this is a great way to explore Kenyan traditions at home. In normal times, there are plenty of opportunities to expose my kids to Black American culture, but COVID-19 has made it a bit more of a challenge to take advantage of them in a way that is engaging for kids.
I was going to start with the first recipe and work my way through, but In Bibi’s Kitchen has several flatbread recipes, so I decided bread might be an easier onramp for this project. Soon after the cookbook arrived, on a recent snowy weekday, when bread of any kind is extra comforting, I made Somali flatbread, called sabaayad. I intended to use it as a replacement for pita to go along with hummus and cut veggies for our dinner that evening, but I made it in the morning, and of course everyone wanted to sample it at lunch. It was delicious. Good thing the recipe made 8 pieces! We could each have one for lunch and there was enough left for dinner. Lydia was so enamored she declared she wanted only the flatbread for dinner. Ordinarily I’d be frustrated by her rejection of proteins and veggies, but this day I was just happy the first recipe was a success.
I made sure everyone knew we were eating Somali flatbread, but I didn’t share anything else about East African culture this time. We have a whole cookbook to work through, so I figure I have plenty of time to educate my family about what they’re eating and the cultures from which the foods come.
I’m excited about this project. Looking through the book, I think The Rise recipes will be weekend ones; they appear to need a bit more time to prep (six hours to cure eggs, for example). But I’m particularly excited about this book because the author, Marcus Samuelsson, is adopted. He dedicates the book to his birth mom.
And even if Lydia pushes the plate away in disgust (as she’s taken to doing with any new recipe I try), at least I’ve made one more effort to expose her and Teddy to their cultures.