How to Play Poker


The book Hat presents to me is beginning to shed leaves, its spine is collapsing, and the pages are glued together with age and the ancient escapees from many mixing basins.

It was mine, and the childish handwriting that denotes ownership indicates I can only have been seven or eight.

Look! I Can Cook! it says on the front cover. Not that it worked for me, necessarily, or I wouldn’t need to do what I’m doing now. But it was a lofty challenge delivered by my mother, I think, for a birthday. Perhaps my 7th?

It sat squarely and brightly upon a kitchen shelf alongside Katie Stewart and the unassuming Kenya Cookery Book, and its jacket, for all the colour and the confident assertion of culinary success, made you want to pluck it out and pursue the baking of Lemon Meringue Pie or Lazy Daisy Cake.

Cooking with mum as a child brings back memories as warm-sweet as the jam tarts we made (with their syrupy-strawberry insides and papery-flakey pastry cases which we ate with a dollop of fullfatfarmfresh cream because we were little and cholesterol hadn’t been invited). Something about the togetherness and teamwork that came from being captured in the same small space and then, later, sitting down around a table, carefully laid for tea, to enjoy the sticky fruits of our labour.

My brother and I stood upon upturned crates so that we could see what Mum was doing on the too-high kitchen counter, we deliberated carefully about which recipe to tackle (and sometimes the deliberation was cut short because, as in the Outpost of the noughties, Kenya in the early seventies, lacked gastronomic delights). Katie Stewart’s Cherry Russe remained a figment of mouth watering imagination forever and eternally replaced by sturdy Scotch Pancakes. Which never sounded as exciting on the page but which – when warm from a griddle and saturated with treaclesweetness – were just as eagerly devoured so that the Cherry Russe was quite forgotten.

We assisted with the gathering of ingredients, sifted flour and left a dusting of snow across the floor, we beat eggs and sugar with an electric hand whisk and when we were done and our offering in the oven we licked the paddles clean, sitting on the kitchen floor and carefully regarding one another’s prize for any signs of unfair distribution of the spoils.

Delicious. The taste and the recollection.

And so Hat brings to me the same book and asks if she can make Chocolate Cake and I, because I am hell bent on some new sanity-saving exercise (namely to anchor my fleeting self in food and words) leap from my chair and offer my services.

Together we gather flour and butter and sugar. Together we seek the paddles for a similar hand whisk (not the same one but one almost as primitive to satisfy the craving to do things in precisely the same way I did with my mother 35 years ago) and together we begin to weigh flour and cocoa.

Hat beats the ingredients until the mixture is feather light and fluffy and so air filled it seems to sigh with pleasure as bubbles rise to its velvety surface and pop languidly. We tip it into two tins greased using newspaper so that the butter has blackened from the ink and we put them in the oven.

Later we sandwich them together with a butter icing stained with instant coffee. As a child we flavoured our own with Camp Coffee Essence.  But Camp doesn’t exist anymore, and definitely not in the outpost so Hat and I improvise with Nescafe. And with the two halves clinched together in a mocha kiss, we decorate the top with glace icing  and I show Hat – just as mum showed me – how to spread it with a knife dipped in boiling water so to iron it to a glossy satin sheen.

Hat doesn’t lick out the bowl – a long ago experience of giving all my children salmonella poisoning on account of raw eggs has left me nervous of bowl licking.  Instead it’s for the washing up, not the dogs as was the post baking habit of a friend called Sue who laid the empty basin on the floor for her Labradors.

We eat thick slices later playing cards by candlelight during a power cut and Hat announces that she plans to teach us how to play Poker.

And I thought I had her adult education in hand with cooking lessons?

Chocolate Cake

6 oz of each: butter, sugar, self raising flour (a bigger cake and you just increase proportionately)

3 big eggs (4 if you’ve been tempted to go for 8 oz of each …)

A hefty spoon of cocoa powder

Bung the lot into a basin and beat until smooth and creamy.

Tip it into greased sandwich tins and bake until the cake has risen and is coming away from the sides.

When cool, remove from the tins and ice with whatever takes your fancy: cream if you have it or, as we didn’t, butter icing and a cocoa glace on the top.

Eat whilst playing Poker.



15 Responses to “How to Play Poker”

  1. Mud Says:

    Yum. You’ve brought back many childhood cooking memories, eating raw pastry being a particular favourite, and the agony of waiting until the cake has cooled enough to eat!

    Pure pleasure.

  2. rosiero Says:

    That looks good enough to eat. The knife in boiling water to glaze the icing is new to me. How do you do that exactly?

  3. Nola Says:

    Beautiful. Am I wrong to romanticize power cuts and lack of food choices? I know whenever it rains hard here in New Orleans there is a good chance we will be without power for at least several hours, so I invite friends and we have a party. By daylight, by moonlight, by candlelight, by gaslight.

  4. BG Says:

    I’m sitting here (in Arkansas) ready to meet my folds for a late lunch. Reading your post was not wise as all I can think of now is chocolate cake. It does look yummy. Thanks…I’ve copied the recipe.

  5. Potty Mummy Says:

    That looks delicious. And I thought I was over the chocolate thing…

  6. Mwa Says:

    Mmm – I’m almost tempted.

  7. daisyfae Says:

    lovely… and simple… i have a few fond memories of holiday baking with my mother, but many more baking with my children when they were young. no better lesson in “effort = reward” math!

  8. Pig in the Kitchen Says:

    that looks delicious, and it sounds like such a lovely mother-daughter moment. I hope you didn’t wish TOO hard that your others were there to share it…

  9. carol Says:

    Now – that is something I would definitely eat!! Looks great – maybe I should write the recipe down as my choccy cakes never rise properly so you always end up with a dip in the middle – which I try to hide by icing, but once (Ollie’s 2nd birthday) – it just left a puddle in the middle, which again I tried to camouflage with smarties which all promptly sank!! Kids ate it all though so I wasn’t too disappointed.

  10. gaelikaa Says:

    Lovely. I remember that book. I wanted it, saw it on TV but I never got a copy. God something else instead.

  11. Paradise Says:

    Lovely photo. I like the candelabra. Dripping wax & dripping icing. Sensually atmospheric.

  12. R. Sherman Says:

    Well done. This post reminded me of a cookbook my mother got us when we were kids. Ultimately, it morphed into my brother and I cooking supper every night so Mom could relax.

    Good times.


  13. Grannymar Says:

    You brought back many memories of hours spent in the kitchen with my mother, baking and cooking. I remember the days when we had to beat the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until it was soft, pale and fluffy. At this time of year it would have been Christmas Cakes and puddings with a kitchen full of steam!

  14. Leah M Says:

    It has taken me 2 days, but I have read from day one until the present.

    I loved the descriptions, the feelings, the heartfelt emotion and honesty. I have since ggogled Outpost Tanzania and many variations but cannot pinpoint where you are. I admire your writing ability and your honesty in your posts and only dream that I could offer so much to so many.

    I’m a 40 year old now single female in Canada with an accounting degree and a relationship gone bad after 15 years. I am not looking to be a missionarie as I have not had religion in my life for 30 years, nor am I a do gooder with hopes to change just one piece of the world. I am a single female who would like to visit Africa and meet some great people. I have many years of business to offer and a pro women attitude.

    I love the fact the you are open and hesitant about home schoolling Hat yet I can read into the love and devotion that you give to this important job and the heartfelt departures of Ben and Amelia, but you sacrificed yourself for them as any mother would do.

    Have you ever thought of having a guest for a month or four, building a room for them and living as a part of your family? The life you live is one that most of us can only dream of and is an experience that many would want to live. I think that with a little marketing you could have your own project….or Hat could have her own project, her own work experience, and her first intoduction to business. A business all her own, with the help of Mum and Dad, Gran, Household staff, etc….but all hers. A business to be wreckoned upon,

    Sorry if I am overstepping boundaries but I saw this as a unique oppertunity and a great learning/teaching experience. I am not looking for charity, instead I am lookinf for a safe but realistic Africa experience that lasts for more than 3 weeks where I will feel safe and can begin to teach the skills I have to offer.

    If this is not for you then please let me know….I enjoyed your blog and will continue to follow it as it holds my interest. What I had was only an idea of what I would like, but I am sure there are many more out there looking for the same thing.


  15. Debbie Says:

    OMG!! I *have* Look I can cook too!!! Still in my cookbook cupboard in sim state to yours. With dedication from my folks on occasion of my 5th (now 39 years ago!). Obv a rite of passage thing in Erfrigga,

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