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Pumpkin’s biggest booster. November 21, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If you’re a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, you know that the agency’s founder, Precious Ramotswe, loves her pumpkin. Apparently pumpkin is a staple dish in Mma Ramotswe’s native Botswana, and she turns to it as a comfort food, and to preparing it as a way to calm herself when thinking about a perplexing case.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, we might turn to Mma Ramotswe for tips on new ways to serve up pumpkin. And fortunately, we have some clues from Stuart Brown, who wrote Mma Ramostwe’s Cookbook (Polygon, 2009). Problem being, most of us Americans (including yours truly), measure things in numbers and cups and the like—3 large butternut squash, 4 cups vegetable broth, 2 tablespoons olive oil—and Mma Ramotswe’s cookbook is British, which means that everything is measured by weight, and oven temperatures in degrees C rather than F. Ow!

Fortunately, one of the pumpkin recipes the book offers is so straightforward, even I could make it. Apparently, Mma Ramotswe favors pumpkins with greenish rinds; over here, we might consider them to look more grey. Consider this alternative to sweet potatoes as you plan your Thanksgiving menu:

Steamed Pumpkin Slices
Serves 6

Sugar (optional)

To steam, place slices of pumpkin in a pan with a little water, salt (and sugar, if you love your sugar as Mma Ramotswe does). Cover with a lid, ensuring that the water does not all evaporate. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the outer skin is soft (the greenish pumpkin has a thicker skin). Serve with butter.

“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems in life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That gave you a reason for going on.”
—Precious Ramotswe, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Precious Ramotswe weighs in. May 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Have you noticed that sometimes your favorite fictional characters tend to take on a life of their own, sometimes appearing in your own life and offering advice? I’ve found this to be true of the characters in Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series.

I’ve been savoring the latest book in the series, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. It involves the ongoing adventures and misadventures of the two lead characters, Mma Precious Ramotswe, the “traditionally built” (aka elephantine) and solidly grounded founder of the agency, and her somewhat more eccentric but always passionate and almost invariably accurate (even if extremely tactless) assistant detective and former secretary, Mma Grace Makutsi, best known for her enormous glasses and weakness for new shoes.

Mma Makutsi’s shoes have a disconcerting habit of talking to her, generally in an attempt to bring her back down to earth and point out the sensible path back to everyone’s best interests when she’s been getting a little, shall we say, carried away. In the same vein, I discovered today that Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi (along with my favorite character, Mma Potokwane, indomitable matron of the Botswana orphanage and purveyor of irresistible fruitcake) were apparently trying to communicate with me.

It all came about this way: Every Saturday, I’m confronted with the prospect of cleaning the filters in our two aquariums. I have the choice of lifting out the filter pads, rubbing them vigorously in the sink to remove the accumulated slime from the previous week, and replacing them in the filter, or tossing and replacing them with new filter pads. Let me just say upfront that I hate touching filth and slime. One of our friend Ben’s most endearing qualities is his willingness to wash the pots, pans and dishes after I’ve cooked our meals.

I’d already washed one of the filters, and was contemplating whether to wash out the filter pad in the smaller aquarium or decide that after five weeks’ washing it was time to give it the heave-ho and replace it, when I suddenly heard a voice. I realized that it was Mma Ramotswe, and she was trying to get my attention:

Precious Ramotswe: Excuse me, Mma. I can’t help but notice that you’re thinking about tossing that aquarium filter rather than wash it out in the sink and put it back in the tank.

Silence: You’re right, Mma. I’ve already washed it out five times, and I absolutely hate touching filth, so every single time has been a torture. I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to just toss it and replace it with a nice pristine filter pad instead. 

Mma Ramotswe: But Mma, just think! Isn’t it a perfectly good filter, with lots of life in it yet? Think of my tiny white van. I loved that van, despite its shortcomings, and I’m sure it loved me. I never wanted to get rid of it just because it took some extra effort to restore it to working order. I was devastated when Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni decided to replace it with a newer van, and have never ceased to search for it every day.

Silence: Yes, but Mma, your van! A vehicle has a personality and life of its own. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we have our ancient red Volkswagen Golf, the Red Rogue. It is used, but not yet late, Mma. Many people have told us it should be late, that we should trade it in on a less-used vehicle, Mma. But we will not consider that until the tiny red Golf has breathed its last. It is ours, and we are loyal.

Mma Ramotswe: True, but a fish filter is not a vehicle, Mma.

Mma Makutsi, breaking in: Besides, Mma, have you noticed the price of new fish filters? Fish filters are not cheap, Mma. A package of fish filters costs almost as much as a new pair of shoes, at least, if the shoes happen to be on sale and the shop proprietor happens to know my fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop.

Silence, now terminally confused: Uh, you don’t say?

Mma Makutsi: Not that I’m suggesting that you bring up Phuti’s name in order to bring down the price of fish-tank filters, Mma. Rather, I suspect that continuing to wash the filters rather than replacing them would be a wise economic move.

Mma Makutsi’s shoes: Good thinking, Boss. 

Silence: Uh, did you say something else, Mma? I’m not sure I caught that. 

Mma Potokwane, scenting trouble and screeching up to add her two thebes: Mma Ramotswe! Mma Makutsi! Mma Dogood! I’ve just dropped by to see if anyone wanted to come back with me to the orphanage for red bush tea and a slice of fruitcake. Make that two slices.

Mma Ramotswe, visibly brightening: What a wonderful idea, Mma! Unfortunately, we seem to be stuck at an impasse here regarding Mma Dogood and her aquarium filters.

Mma Potokwane: What’s the problem, Mma?

Mma Ramotswe: Replacement filters are pricey, but cleaning off encrusted, slimy filter pads, as she must every weekend to keep the aquarium water clean and fresh, grosses Mma Dogood out.

Mma Potokwane, thinking quickly: Mma Dogood, I heard a rumor that your Rra our friend Ben is rather fond of desserts.

Silence: You heard right, Mma.

Mma Potokwane: I think I saw that today’s Wall Street Journal had a special feature on Key lime pies.

Silence: Right again, Mma, OFB and I were reading that article just this morning and I was thinking how easy it would be to make one, even embellishing it with fresh blueberries or raspberries.

Mma Makutsi: Aha! So you could use the money you’d otherwise have spent on new fish filters to buy those berries for the Key lime pie!

Mma Makutsi’s shoes: Excellent point, Boss.

Silence: Hmmm, you’re right, Mma.

Precious: And wouldn’t you and OFB enjoy a nice, luscious Key lime pie more than a new fish filter?

Silence: Of course, Mma. But what about the poor fish?!

Mma Ramotswe: As my dear daddy, the late Obed Ramotswe, often said, “Precious, cows are cows.” Wash the filters and give them another week.

What would Mma Ramotswe do? September 14, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. You’re probably all familiar with the bracelets, bumper stickers, mugs, and the like bearing the initials “WWJD” for “What would Jesus do?” Their intent is to get people to slow down and think before they act, so their behavior is less impulsive and more Godlike.

But as our friend Ben points out, God is a rather intimidating role model. Surely there must be someone on the continuum between Jesus and Homer Simpson to whom we could relate without feeling the need to be perfect. I nominate Mma Ramotswe.

For those who don’t know her, Precious Ramotswe is the heroine of Alexander McCall Smith’s marvelous No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, which are set in Precious’s native Botswana. (My favorites are Blue Shoes and Happiness and Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.) Mma Ramotswe is “traditionally built”—which is to say, so enormous her van actually lists to the driver’s side when she is heading off somewhere—and her heart is even bigger than her hefty build. Her big heart, her traditional values, her gentle spirit, and her sympathy for the human condition are what put the heart and soul into the beloved novels.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels have finally been turned into a TV series for HBO. Sadly, OFB and I don’t get TV reception here, and have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the series to come out on DVD. Finally, we discovered through Netflix that the series was available, and I wasted no time ordering it (along with a tour of Botswana hosted by Alexander McCall Smith himself) from Amazon. OFB and I have been enjoying a nightly episode ever since, and are dreading the day when we run out. (But we hear a second season is in the offing.) Though, as always happens, none of the characters are quite as I’d imagined them from reading the books, Mma Ramotswe is, indeed, precious. And all the supporting characters are endearing.

So, what would Mma Ramotswe do? She would support the traditional values of respect, courtesy, and consideration, of love for one’s family, one’s fellow man, one’s country, and the land. She would say that using common sense and kindness can do more good than following the letter of the law no matter how much damage it inflicts. She would point out that all of us are brothers and sisters under the skin, and it’s about time we started acting like it. She would say from personal experience that neither a wrong choice nor personal tragedy has to ruin your life; you have the choice to learn and grow rather than wilt and die. Above all, I think, she would say that the only right action is an action grounded in love.

Hmmm. I think Jesus would approve.

            ‘Til next time,